Author talks cultural diversity at KennedyPublished 11:03am Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Understanding and accepting those who are different is a theme of the Exploring Cultural Diversity class, and that was the message guest speaker Joan Jarvis Ellison hoped to instill in the eighth grade students.
Pelican Rapids author Ellison spoke to students about her book, “The Faces of Change,” Monday and Tuesday morning in Linda Bowhall’s two F.A.C.S. classes at Kennedy Secondary School.
The book tells the stories of several immigrants and refugees who have come to Pelican Rapids throughout the last 20 years.
The idea for the book started after the multicultural committee in Pelican Rapids, where one-third of residents are not native English speakers, decided one way to ease tensions between different cultures was to help people understand each other.
A photographer took portraits of families and individuals, and Ellison conducted 90-minute interviews to compile a photo documentary. Their work became a traveling exhibit with 250-word essays to accompany the portraits, but with so much information that couldn’t be included, Ellison decided to write a book with the stories, adding relevant historical facts for context.
“It’s really important that people get to know real people instead of replicas,” Ellison said. “It’s important to know why people do things and understand what drives them and what makes them cry and what makes them laugh because then you find out that they’re really a lot like you.”
Bowhall said the classes have always had guest speakers, but she was able to invite Ellison and purchase books for the class through a cultural collaborative project.
“After you get to know someone on a personal level, it takes you past the stereotype and you so often find the stereotype doesn’t fit — that’s when the acceptance comes in,” Bowhall said. “This is nice because it’s about families that just live 25 miles up the road, and we in Fergus Falls are noticing that we’re becoming more culturally diverse also.”
For the class, before Ellison came to speak, the students read one chapter in advance about a family of refugees who came to Pelican Rapids and later moved to Chicago. The students asked questions about the family, including what they eat, what kind of work they do now and their hobbies.
It isn’t uncommon for immigrants who don’t speak English to work at West Central Turkeys, the turkey plant in Pelican Rapids owned by Jennie-O, Ellison said. Once they have a better grasp on the English language, they may move to larger cities where more jobs are available, such as the family the class learned about.
Ellison, who raises sheep and writes in Pelican Rapids, said she believes teaching acceptance at a young age is important.
“Kids have more flexible minds,” she said. “I think it’s really important to teach kids to be open to other people, and that other peoples’ stories are significant and that they can make a difference in how those people feel.”