Most of my family lives in Faribault, Minnesota, a small town in the Southern part of the state. My parents grew up there, my grandparents still live there, and I spent my formative years going to elementary school there.
It would be misleading to classify Faribault as an ultra-diverse town since the vast majority (82%) of its population is white, but it is home to a substantial number of Somali refugees.
This fact isn’t too surprising when you consider that one third of the US’ Somali population lives in Minnesota (mostly in St. Paul, an hour north of Faribault), but still their arrival was a shock to many of Faribault’s residents.
The average Faribault citizen did not know anything about Somali culture, which has caused many misunderstandings and conflicts to arise over the years. This “Us vs. Them” mentality is only perpetuated by the fact that the Somali community is very much separate from the rest of the community, at least when it comes to the adults.
There is quite a different story when it comes to the children. No matter how different their cultural backgrounds or life experiences may be, all of Faribault’s children have one thing in common: school. When a child goes to school they are given the opportunity to learn and play side by side with people who may be different than them. This teaches respect and acceptance, lessons that are important for everyone to learn, no matter their age.
Knowing that children are being exposed to things that will make them into more tolerant adults gives me hope for the future.
When I was in Darmstadt, a Syrian man asked me if I thought America could ever be as open and accepting of refugees as Germany has been, and I think that, although we definitely have some work ahead of us, this shows that it’s possible.