PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. — A band played Somalia's national anthem in Sherin Park in this small Minnesota lakes country city on Saturday, June 22.
The world didn't end.
It looked, in fact, like the couple of hundred people enjoying the International Friendship Festival on the banks of the Pelican River weren't adversely affected in the least. They just listened to the music, clapped politely when the anthem ended and waited for the next song, which happened to be "The Star-Spangled Banner."
When the Band of Faith played that, folks stood and put their hands over their hearts. Those wearing caps removed them, including the two Enemies of the People journalists who were present.
Not present, notably, was the bigot whose cowardly comment on the Facebook page of the Pelican Rapids Press newspaper led to a column by managing editor Louis Hoglund that went viral around Minnesota last week. It didn't appear, in fact, that any bigots bothered to show up and confront their fears face-to-face.
This despite Hoglund specifically inviting the bigot who called Somalis "ragheads" and questioned whether the Press is owned by Somalis, all because some photographs Hoglund took at the Pelican Rapids High School graduation ceremony included (OMG) students of color.
The bigots were probably in their basements, hiding behind their keyboards and nodding their heads to Fox News.
Their loss, because the 2019 version of the Friendship Festival was a pretty good time, despite attendance being dampened by gray skies and the threat of rain. Gov. Tim Walz sent a letter regretting he couldn't make the event, but his Department of Education commissioner, Mary Cathryn Ricker, made the trek from St. Paul.
"Thank you for exemplifying what makes Minnesota a wonderful place to call home," Walz's letter read. "Your example shows all of us how we can work together and celebrate our differences."
Suleeqo Nuur wished the Facebook racist would've showed up. She'd like to talk with him. It seemed, in fact, like the Somalia native who came to this country in 2007 and graduated from Pelican Rapids High School in 2016 would be willing to talk with anybody who has a problem with immigrants and refugees, or anybody who believes Pelican Rapids is a deeply divided community.
"That one guy doesn't define everyone. But if he ever wants to talk with me, I'm ready to defend Pelican Rapids," she said. "This is a nice place, with nice people. I think in all the years I've lived here, I've had two times when somebody has bullied me or said something to me. And both of those times were in high school, so it was no big deal. They were kids who probably didn't know any better."
Nuur knows there are people, maybe many, in her town who think like the Facebook bigot. She knows racism exists in Pelican Rapids, like it does everywhere. She recalled a time recently when the N-word was spray-painted on a stop sign in town. But you get the sense she's too busy moving forward with her life to worry much about it.
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Nuur has two jobs in Pelican Rapids — one working with elderly memory care patients and another planning activities at a nursing home — as she studies nursing at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls. She looks forward to a full-time career working with seniors.
"I just love working with the elderly," she said. "It is rewarding and challenging. They are so pleasant. They just make your day."
Pelican Rapids Mayor Brent Frazier said the Friendship Festival was revived last year after taking a seven-year hiatus. The festival began in 1998 as a way to celebrate the many different cultures in this town of 2,500. Historically heavy with residents of Scandinavian descent, Pelican Rapids had an influx of Mexicans, Vietnamese, Serbo-Croatians, Somalis, Kurds, Russians and Cambodians who took jobs at the turkey processing plant on the city's north edge.
Saturday's festival included music and dance from Native Americans, Norway, Mexico and Somalia. The Band of Faith played national anthems from the U.S., Somalia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and other countries.
Frazier's opening remarks emphasized that the town takes pride in its diversity.
Later, he said, "What you see here in Pelican Rapids and many other places is the real world. People from many different cultures, some speaking different languages, all living together and getting along. This is reality."
Ricker, the state education commissioner, said she believes it's important for the state to support places like Pelican Rapids that have high graduation rates with diverse student populations. She said that is something to celebrate and wanted to come to the Friendship Festival when she read Hoglund's column.
"What happened wasn't bigotry in general. It was bigotry targeted directly at our students," Ricker said. "Those students had already graduated, but bigotry like that could affect the attitude of younger students who haven't graduated yet. We can't let that happen. It's important for me to send a message and do everything we can to nurture and support the efforts of the students and a school district like Pelican Rapids."
The bigots' response to that message isn't known.
They didn't bother to show their faces at the Friendship Festival.
Typical. Cowardly, but typical.