“Don’t ask me where I’m from — I’m me — see me.” This quote came from Mónica, a teacher at Ellen Hopkins Spanish Immersion School in Moorhead. She and her colleague, Juan Carlos, came to speak at an MLK Day session titled, “United Together: Voice and Advocacy for Immigrants in Fargo-Moorhead.” The session was hosted by Anna Kronbeck, a sophomore majoring in political science and global studies from Hawley, Minn.
Kronbeck was inspired by an Inquiry course (In Search of Home: Immigrants and Refugees in Our Community and Across the Globe) she took with Spanish professor Dr. Lisa Twomey in which students went out into the community to work with New Americans and English Language Learners. After the class, Kronbeck wanted to keep working with this community and to let their stories and voices be heard by a larger audience.
With help from an Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (URSCA) grant, Kronbeck embarked on a research project during Summer 2022. She collected 20 stories from a variety of people of all ages, talking about how they ended up in Fargo-Moorhead, the struggles they had, the things they learned, and their journey through life.
The MLK Day session invited individuals who Kronbeck had interviewed to come in and have a dialogue on the themes of settling in Fargo-Moorhead, struggles, what “home” means, building friendships, and how to get to know someone who is “different.” Kronbeck looked at this from the lens of reaching out and learning more about the people in her community by asking the questions, “What can I do?” and “What must I do?” and to be intentional in the approach to learning.
Kronbeck facilitated the session by asking Mònica and Juan Carlos questions and letting the conversation flow from there. One recurring idea was the question of “immigrant” — what does it mean and where does it put people, with the resounding answer: You can’t put people in boxes, and you shouldn’t try to. Mònica told students, “As soon as you label me, you negate me.”
Attendees were encouraged to be curious and to ask polite questions of the world around them, and to try to take things they are not used to and frame them in a constructive light; “Wow, that’s weird” could easily become “Oh, I haven’t seen that before.” This session highlighted the many differences there are in people but also the common ground to be found. It was a reminder of being open, accepting, and welcoming to everyone because you don’t know their story until you listen.
“The interactions I have had in the Fargo-Moorhead and greater Minnesota communities have been incredibly encouraging and uplifting,” Kronbeck said. “The response to this project I have received indicates that cross-cultural interaction does have a place and hold value in our community and beyond.”
Kronbeck created a website where people can read the stories and learn more about the project: Global Narratives, Local Stories: A Collection of Immigrant Narratives in the Journey to Normalizing Cross-Cultural Interaction
Written by Emma Skuza, World Languages and Cultures Administrative Assistant