Cristina Montanez, a Spanish and psychology major in her senior year at the University of Minnesota Morris, asked neighbors at the Morris Listening Session on February 21st if they were interested in helping her brainstorm how to integrate and get to know the Hispanic population. The population has risen 274% in Morris over the past ten years. Many are employed at the local dairy farms, and in nearby Hancock. Cristina, born and raised in El Pablo, Texas, has enjoyed being able to speak Spanish with patrons at the new local Hispanic grocery store, La Tienda. She wants this population to feel welcome and to stay here. She’s well aware of a language and cultural barrier between the Hispanic community and others living in Morris.
Group discussions led by Montanez suggested exploring the community’s interest in creating a new Spanish class to complement the existing ESL classes, which were originated by a fellow student, Abe Henry, and are now being held on the University of Minnesota Morris campus. Here, more than 50 Hispanic students and community members volunteer to provide child care or to teach the ESL class, like Robert Frishman of Riverview Farms.
Other strategies? Expanding efforts like the bilingual/cultural exchanges and daycare services offered through the Jane Adams program; the summoning of historic artifacts from the hispanic community to include in the local history museum; more visibility of Community Meals by the Center for Small Towns on Monday nights, including introductions at the beginning of the evening with descriptions of the menu and perhaps, following the Native American lead, asking an elder to lead the cultural discussion about the food; Wednesday night soccer games – held in local high school and elementary gyms through UMM’s organization, Lazos: and building up the town festival celebrating Mexican culture in June.
“I loved the Listening Session and I wish more people would go to them,” said Cristina, who enjoyed the networking that night. Six Listening Sessions are currently being held in the Upper Minnesota Valley by Clean Up the River Environment with InCommons. This session was also sponsored by The Center for Small Towns. “My favorite part was meeting other people who are interested in improving the community in so many ways and who care about their community,” said Montanez. For her, the most exciting result happened at the end of the evening when she met and started brainstorming with author, poet and teacher Athena Kildegaard. They now want to collaborate on creating a Latino-themed Art Exhibit with the Hispanic community to be featured at a popular art gallery on Main Street in Morris, The Prairie Renaissance Art Gallery. Montanez wants to work through the Jane Adams program to prepare the show because “they’re so good at creating bi-lingual cultural exchanges that encourage families and community members to come together and get to know each other. “ “ I love it here in Morris,” she said.