"You are an enemy," a Judge told Elfrieda Senn in 1942. Elfrieda had come to Minnesota from Germany when she was seven months old. Her parents had become citizens, her siblings had been born in the US, but Elfrieda was an enemy. The Judge wanted to know if she spoke German or wrote to people in Germany. He told Elfrieda that she was not allowed to have a shortwave radio or guns in the house. He also told her not to leave Pelican Rapids without permission.

Unfortunately, Elfrieda’s youngest son needed to be hospitalized in St. Paul. While she was packing for the trip, a man from the Immigration Service showed up at her door and told her not to go.

"I’m taking my baby to the Gilette Hospital," Elfrieda said, squaring her shoulders. The man followed her on the bus to Minneapolis, on the streetcar to St Paul, and back again.

"When I got home I wrote the Judge a letter, telling him what I’d done," Elfrieda continued. Later, the Judge called her to Fergus Falls and asked her a series of questions, one of which was ‘Did you ever leave Pelican?’

"‘Yes,’" Elfrieda said, "I told him, ‘I took the baby to the hospital in St Paul, but I wrote you a letter.’" Elfrieda paused. "He turned that page in his book and there was my letter."

"If you had said ‘No,’" the Judge told her, "we’d have sent you to the concentration camp. Elfrieda had felt American all her life, but now she was 100% American.

 

"The community has had their challenges because of us," Howard Carlson admitted. Howard encouraged Pelican Rapids to build a turkey processing facility in 1955 and became the first manager. To meet the need for new employees, he hired women in 1958, residents from the state hospital in 1963, and Hispanics from Texas in 1971.

"The Mexicans shook up the place," Howard admitted. "We knew that it would be difficult, or uncomfortable," his wife Teddi said. "After they had been here for a couple of months," he continued, "a local constable told me he was a little unhappy because one of our new employees would go down to the liquor store and buy a gallon of wine. Then he’d pass out and be sleeping under a tree between downtown and the plant. I said ‘There are Norwegians in town who haven’t drawn a sober breath in twenty years, but they can go home and sleep it off in their own beds." Howard’s eyes were hot. "It kind of irked me."

"Some time later," he said, "a lady stopped me on the street. She said ‘You know, I started locking my doors when you brought the Mexicans to town.’ She smiled. ‘Those are nice people, I don’t lock my door anymore.’’

Howard Carlson believes that West Central Turkeys saved Pelican Rapids. "Those communities that didn’t come up with some payroll are gone or dying their last gasps," he said. "I’m very proud of our community."

 

"I come the first time to the United States, illegal," said Jose Juan Zavala with a sigh. Eighteen years later, he is a good citizen. He has worked as a lead person at West Central Turkeys for the last seven years, with thirty people working under him. He and his wife Raquel bought a home. He also volunteers in the community. "I spend most of my time at church," Jose explained. "I am a teacher for the young people."

As a teenager, Jose picked fruit for three summers in the orchards of California, returning to Mexico at the end of the season. "They don’t have no much work in Mexico," he explained. Life as an illegal immigrant was a very cautious existence. He was careful not to get into trouble, not to be stopped by the police.

Between April 1985 and April 1986, illegal immigrants who had worked in the US for 90 days were allowed to apply for green cards. Jose got his green card along with thousands of other immigrants.

In 1990, Jose came to Pelican Rapids to work at West Central Turkeys. In 1991, he brought his wife and child here. The couple’s next two children were born in the US and became US citizens automatically. His oldest son became a citizen last year.

Jose became a US citizen in 1998. "I had to wait five years before I could put in an application for citizenship," he said. Immigration checks an applicant’s records, does an interview, and judges the applicant’s English and writing ability. "They ask a lot of questions," Jose explained. "You can’t make any mistakes on the questions."

The decision to become an American citizen wasn’t hard for Jose. "You can get better benefits when you are a citizen," Jose said, "and you can help your family." With a green card, Jose could only bring his wife and children to the US, but once he was a citizen, he could apply for his parents and his siblings. "Two years ago," Jose said, "I applied for my parents." A smile lit his deep brown eyes. "Right now they have a green card, and I think they are coming here this weekend."

 

KKO’s children escaped from Vietnam in a boat. "Mama Ha is a stronger woman than I am," KKO said, speaking of her children’s natural mother. "She allowed her home to be used as a safe house for people escaping from Vietnam. In exchange, the escapees took four of her six children with them. There was a fifty percent chance they’d die at sea."

"Those kids are the best thing that ever happened to me," KKO nodded, words tumbling over themselves as she spoke. "We’d had them half a year and suddenly I didn’t think of them as Vietnamese any more, they were my family."

They also still belonged to their Vietnamese parents; their father was in jail because he had worked for the Americans and their mother was very poor. The children felt responsible to their family back in Vietnam. They sent money whenever someone needed it. "I have trouble when they ship money to anyone who asks for it," KKO said.

"Mom, you’re just not thinking Asian," they say to her. "In Vietnam, we did it this way."

"Sometimes, the way you view life is different," KKO mused. Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tiffany Hong, her oldest daughter, said "You just do what you have to do and if you die, you die." At first, KKO was stunned and hurt by her remark, but then she realized that was the way Tiffany Hong had to be. When she and her siblings escaped by boat, if they lived, they lived.

Sixteen years after Mama Ha sent her children off to an uncertain future, they brought her to America to become a part of KKO’s American family.

 

’I love my job!" Elaine Johnson said, tears filling her eyes. "I have the best job in the school." Elaine teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) reading, writing, and citizenship for adults three nights a week. During the day she teaches ESL English and American history as well as acting as a resource for all the immigrant students in the junior and senior high school.

Elaine has been a resource in a variety of ways; prom dress shopping expeditions, teaching kids how to order at a restaurant, teaching some refugees about American ideas of hygiene, reading letters and legal documents, counseling students on how to handle problems, encouraging them, but not pushing to fast.

"I want my students to dream, to have goals. But I know that the challenges and abilities which are part of their lives may work against those dreams," she sighed. "Every different cultural group has a different view of education. The biggest change I’ve seen within a culture is with the Hispanics. We’ll have to go through an entire generation before the real desire to complete an educational plan will really be there."

Elaine walks down the aisles of adults sitting in high school desks, intent on the worksheets in front of them. Some of the students are still learning their letters, while others read and write with ease.

"I look at the photographs of past students on my wall and see somebody who is now a doctor, a teacher, a nurse," Elaine said, smiling. "You hope you’ve changed a life somehow."

 

’We weren’t afraid to hire a Norwegian," Phil Stotesbery said, straight faced, speaking of their decision to begin hiring non–white, anglo–saxon Protestants to work in their grocery store. "But, it wouldn’t be fair to a minority person to hire them until the community was ready," he continued, "specially putting a high school student in a position like that."

"After we hired Fonsi, our Laotian next door neighbor, about fifteen years ago," Phil said, "I remember another business person recommending not doing that because it would hurt our business. It seemed like we kind of broke the ice." Phil said, "I think the community was ready."

"The ethnic diversity has been a plus for us," his wife Cyndy said. "Look at the different foods we’ve gotten to try." The Stotesbery’s ask immigrants to bring in the packaging for items they would like the store to stock. Then Cyndy or Phil calls the importer listed on the box or can. "Sometimes, they didn’t know a name, but they could show us what they did with it, sort of," she smiled. "I looked up a word in my dictionary for a Mexican man and thought he wanted soup. Turned out he wanted soap."

"I went into an Asian store, down in the Cities, with Fonsi’s family," she continued. "You really know how they feel when you’ve gone into their territory and you’re the only white person among all the Vietnamese and Laotians, the only one who is not speaking the language." She smiled, "but, the more you are with them, the more you forget that they are different."

"It works that way with customers," Phil added in his quiet voice. "When the immigrants first came into the store, our ears would perk up or we might tense up a little bit. But now it just seems natural."

 

’I went to second grade three times," said Sarah Huynh. "Once in Cambodia, once in Thailand, and once in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota." Sarah smiled, "the last time, I really liked school. The teacher didn’t hit me."

Sarah began her journey from Tra Vinh province in South Vietnam when she was three. Her father Phat had helped the Americans during the Vietnam war and spent over five years in jail. When he was released, he escaped to Cambodia. Shortly before Sarah’s mother died, she took her children to Cambodia to live with their father. Phat raised lettuce, bananas, sugar cane, potatoes, rice, and 500 ducks, for their eggs. "I remember we sleep on a bed and the ducks were under us, squawking." Every morning, Sarah and her brother Eric gathered eggs. In the afternoon, they took the ducks to the rice fields to eat.

The egg buyers became Phat, Sarah and Eric’s guides through the jungle to a refugee camp in Thailand. The guides cost the family $350 to $400 each, but were necessary because of land mines and Cambodian soldiers. They walked for two days and one night. "I remember falling down many times as we walked along the jungle trail," Sarah said.

"I carried her piggy back through the jungle," Phat added, "“Eric walked beside us." Soldiers stopped them and wanted their money. Phat told them he had none; he had sewn his gold into the children’s waistbands. The soldiers took Phat deeper into the jungle and shot at him to frighten him. "We were so scared," Sarah said. In the next two years they lived in three refugee camps; sometimes conditions were so crowded that they only had an arm’s length of space to call their own. There was no privacy. They left with nothing but a set of clothes, a small picture album, and their paperwork from Thailand.

"The airplane to the US was more frightening than going through Cambodia’s jungles," Sarah said.

Phat was surprised by the freedom he found in America. "I can do anything over here," he said, "with nobody looking over me." Their lives here are a combination of old and new. They celebrate Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, as well as American New Year. They celebrate Christmas even though they are Buddhist. They buy American food, but cook it in Vietnamese ways. Phat owns his own home, Sarah is going to college.

 

’I became a different person in 1990, when I met the refugees,’ Dianne Kimm said. She worked as a volunteer with Vietnamese refugees for ten years before she accepted a job as Refugee Program Manager for Lutheran Social Services. ’They were people without any power, with no political clout, no voice, right here on my doorstep,’ Dianne continued. ’Somebody had to help them.’ Dianne helped and helped and helped, usually putting in at least an hour and a half a day, every day, reading mail, helping with homework, driving to doctor and dentist appointments, solving problems, and being a friend.

’The Vietnamese took all the spare time I had,’ Dianne said. ’Others stepped up to the plate and did with the Bosnians what I had done for the Vietnamese. Somebody always comes forward, but you never know who it will be.’ When the Ministerium sponsored the first Vietnamese refugees, Dianne, and a group of ministers and friends stepped forward. When the Bosnians came to town in 1995, West Central Turkeys and a different group of volunteers became involved, coping with an influx of over 100 new refugees in the two weeks before school started in 1996. By the time the Somali population swelled from 15 to 150 in three months in 2001, Dianne was working for Lutheran Social Services. With guidance from Minh Tran, the retiring Refugee Program Manager for Lutheran Social Services, and a different set of volunteers, she again had the job of teaching a new group of refugees how to live in America.

’The Vietnamese population really do a good job of looking out for one another,’ Dianne said, ’and the Somalis are approaching that, with their elders and mutual assistance.’ The Bosnians, as is true of the rest of the refugees, feel that the only thing they can really rely on is the strength of their own families. In general, refugees continue to need help after they first come to town. The volunteers, the schools, and Lutheran Social Services continue to help. ’You feel such tenderness for them,’ Diane said, her smile soft with memories. ’You want to make their life easier, but not necessarily by doing everything for them.”’ She straightened. ’The idea is for Jeff and I, for Lutheran Social Services, to work ourselves out of a job. But we aren’t quite there yet.’

 

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"I don’t want to kill nobody," said Izet Hajdar. "The same people who lived together a couple of years before fighting." The Bosnian refugee shook his head, "that is a stupid idea."

"If you weren’t soldier, you didn’t have job," Dzemal Hajdar, Izet’s brother, added. There were worse things than not having a job. Their children hid under the stairs when soldiers and fighting came near. Around them, neighbors were attacked and killed. "A soldier come to our house, say ‘I need it, you leave.’"

So the Hajdar families immigrated to Pelican Rapids. West Central Turkeys sponsored the two families, found apartments for them and gave them work. Because his wife was ill and couldn’t work, Izet earned extra money by butchering lamb, a favorite Bosnian food, for local farmers. Volunteers brought food, bedding, cookware, clothing and furniture to the families. The volunteers took them to doctor and dentist appointments, helped them fill out forms, and taught them how to drive. The families met their helpers with small cups of strong, sweet Bosnian coffee.

The Hajdars told their relatives still at home in Bosnia or living in refugee camps, about the small town in which they lived. "Pelican Rapids is very special," Izet said. "Is very easy for start."

"Small town good for children," Dzemal agreed.

When their relatives immigrated to Pelican Rapids, Izet and Dzemal greeted them with roast lamb. "Family is number one," Izet said. Concern for family, for their children huddling under the stairs, hiding from the violence around them, drove these two brothers from their home to a country they couldn’t even imagine. Concern for family has kept them together building lives for themselves and sending down roots on which their children will thrive.

 

"I can remember before the refugees ever came, feeling just a little bit, that I had missed something by never meeting somebody that was different than me," Jim Ruud said. He lives on the farm he has lived on all his life. "I’ve enjoyed helping people since I retired from dairy farming," he added. The first refugee Jim helped was a Bosnian who needed a mattress. "We went to a rummage sale and bought a bed and some mattresses. We got them up into his apartment and he threw himself on the bed and said ‘Ahhh!’ He’d been sleeping on the floor."

Jim and his wife Anna Mae became close friends with their next group of refugees. They shared meals, reminisced about flower gardens, exchanged stories. "I felt we were a lot alike," Jim said, "except we talked a different language." He smiled. "It’s kind of interesting trying to talk to people you don’t understand." Jim spoke softly, his gray blue eyes fixed on the distance, as he repeated a story etched in his memory. "I went down there one day and Medo got out a can of pop for me and we sat there. Pretty soon she said ‘Mother shot in leg, many times.’"

"Did mother die?" I asked. "No, mother didn’t die."

"She sat just a little," Jim continued, "then she said ‘Sister shot in head.’"

"‘Did sister live?’ I asked. ‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘Sister live too’"

Jim sighed. "Then she got kind of quiet for awhile, and then she got kind of weepy and agitated." He held his hands out. "She said ‘Six week old baby blown out of my hands.’"

The families moved on after six months, but the impact they made on each other is permanent. "I’’l never forget them," Jim said. "We received one card from them that said ‘Now I believe in miracles because you have been my friend.’"

 

"You brought these people here, why don’t you teach them English, why don’t you teach them cleanliness?" Denise Gubrud still gets comments like that every couple of weeks. "I listen to them and give them some options; I explain that the US government brought the refugees here, we’re just trying to make them self–sufficient. I suggest they could voice their opinion to their congressman." Denise smiled, "I always ask if they want to volunteer to tutor."

Denise began looking into the possibility of bringing Bosnian refugees to Pelican Rapids to work at West Central Turkeys after seeing images of skeletal men behind barbed wire in refugee camps. With the help of Lutheran Social Services refugee resettlement director Ming Tranh, she persuaded Lutheran Social Services to settle two families of Bosnian refugees in Pelican Rapids and persuaded her employers at West Central Turkeys to sponsor those two families. It was a successful relationship, so Denise and her husband Paul sponsored another Bosnian, Drago Nemec. Like the Hajdars, Drago became a good friend.

Less than a year later, over 100 Roma from Bosnia arrived in town two weeks before school started. The Roma were secondary resettlements, coming to Pelican from other parts of the United States. They hadn’t learned the survival skills necessary to life in the US where they had been previously and didn’t want to learn them in Pelican.

"Hygiene was the biggest issue," Denise said, shaking her head. "You keep trying to improve things, but the gypsies did a lot of it on purpose to keep people away. They didn’t make it to appointments on time, or take care of their apartments, or send their kids to school every day. They didn’t want people interfering with their relationships, their families, their children. "You need to clean up your act just a little bit in order to fit in," Denise told them.

"They need to change enough to become self sufficient," Denise concluded. “"Dealing with life skills is one thing, you want it to be better for their kids. But you also want to allow them to have their customs, their culture; as long as they fit in."

 

"We have a social emergency on our hands and you have to come and help us before someone dies," Jim Christianson told the Otter Tail County Commissioners in the fall of 1996. Sixty to eighty new Bosnian Roma had arrived in town just before school started. When Jim stopped at a one bedroom apartment to ask if he could help enroll their kids in school, the family asked him instead to take one of their children to the doctor. Several hours later he rushed the mother to the emergency room, septic and near death from the placenta retained when her husband had delivered their tenth child the night before.

"I went back and visited them," Jim said. "Grandma was asthmatic. I found her lying outside the door, curled up in a fetal position, gasping for breath in the fresh air from the stairway.

"The issues were so great for the others too," Jim continued, "that we decided we needed to do something. There was no one to help these people locally, so some of us went to the County Commissioners." Malcom Lee, Pelican’s commissioner, found a Family Services Collaborative grant that could be used to fund a refugee office with a paid coordinator and translator.

An emergency committee met at the clinic. "We had major health issues with these people," Jim said, "and transportation issues and housing issues." He paused, "Things were just really on the edge."

Pelican had never dealt with illiterate people who didn’t want to assimilate, who wanted to remain by themselves, and live as they had in the past. "These were the first of the ethnically cleansed, the bottom rung of any social ladder," Jim said "The culture that they have had is going to be swallowed up. The Roma want to survive, but we don’t have gypsies here in America." At one time there were twelve Roma families in Pelican Rapids. There are four left. "The symbol of the Roma is the wheel," Jim said, explaining why the families suddenly appeared in Pelican and just as suddenly left. "The story of how we’ve assimilated Roma families in Pelican Rapids, stopped them from constantly moving, and the fact that they feel comfortable and safe and that their kids want to stay here, is remarkable."

 

"In one day, I lose everything. They bombed, burned, destroyed my town and my house," Irfan Beganovic said. Five years after the war came to Sanskimost, Bosnia, Irfan, his wife Kosa, and their four children walked to a refugee camp. "My wife and my kids, they walk through the wood, 50 mile or so, for a few days. We carried the kids," Irfan said.

The family immigrated to Colorado when Kosa was seven months pregnant. Unable to find work, lost in a world of English speakers, Kosa and Irfan kept moving until they came to Pelican Rapids where they were hired at West Central Turkeys for awhile. "It’s a hard life," Irfan said, "especial with so many kids. Everything you work for, you work for your bills." Kosa stood at the counter, kneading bread. "You work for $1000 per month," Irfan continued, "your bills $900. What’s left?"

"I can’t do any more for jobs I used to do." Irfan said. "I injured my low back, I get injured my neck, I get asthma." He gestured with his cigarette. "I work for six years. Social services put me on sanction for one year for almost nothing I did wrong.

"I looking for job, I apply every day for job, but is now tough time."

"Me got some food stamp help from social services. Sometime $400, sometime $200. Everything depend how much we make. But 400, 500, is nothing for seven people." Kosa began peeling potatoes. "We are people from different culture." Irfan said. "We eat different kind of food for breakfast, for lunch, for supper."

"I can’t change myself," Irfan explained. He returned to the topic of money, an overwhelming concern. "It’s a hard life. If I know I gonna come to the United States, I never have five kids, maybe one. In my country, I own my own house, my land."

"I want my kids to have nice job, big house, more money, go to college," Kosa paused, "not to work in turkey plant."

"Not like me," Irfan said, his voice almost a whisper.

 

"The Bosnian immigrants were very fearful of the police because in their home country when the police showed up at your door, many times you didn’e home, you just disappeared," said Police Chief Scott Fox. Lots of people ask Scott about all the problems with the immigrants. "What problems are those?" Scott asks them. "The biggest problem we have with anybody who is non–english speaking is to be able to communicate."

Fox grew up in Pelican Rapids and joined the force in 1978. "I saw the immigration process start when I was a child," he said. "It happened so gradually, there was just this change of faces and nationalities on the street. It happened day by day by day." First there were Asian kids in the school, then the Hispanics began to stay, to buy homes. Then came the Bosnians and the Somali.

Scott credits his Chief, Greg Ballard, with setting the tone for how the town dealt with these immigrants. "Greg recognized the importance of winning over each of the different nationalities, and treating them fairly," Scott said. "He told us, ‘If you get invited to a birthday party and you’re on duty, go in uniform, make an appearance. It’s community service work."

Scott talked over the background chatter of the police scanner. "It could take us 45 minutes to take care of a problem. You would go to the house, you would be invited in and the men would sit at the table and the women would make coffee. You would have coffee and then you would push aside the cups and take care of the problem you were called in for." As police officers, they had been trained to go in, handle the situation and get back to work as quickly as they could. "Now we were told to take as much time as we needed." Scott continued. "It was just the greatest public relations thing, because people would see you on the street and they would know you by name. There wasn’t the fear. They knew us, they respected us, and they trusted us.

"We still do it to this day," Scott said, "we take the time and get to know the people."

 

"Do you know anybody who has a bed or shoes or clothes?" asks a new immigrant.

"Sure," Gladys smiled, "I do, in my garage." Gladys’ garage has been a storage space for household donations for almost six years. "I make sure all the things go to a good home. I don’t sell it, I just say ‘Take whatever you need.’"

Gladys knows what it is to need. She first came to Minnesota in 1986 from San Antonio Texas with Octaviano, who was heading for the beet fields along the Red River Valley. "I fell in love with him. He said ‘Let’s go,’ and I went." Octaviano worked as a live hanger at West Central Turkeys for twelve years. Gladys worked as a full time mother to their four children.

People from Pelican know Gladys and her family. She volunteers for the Salvation Army and for the Multi–cultural Committee. She translates for the clinic, for the police, and for new immigrants. "I try my best to get the confidence of the people here in Pelican," Gladys said.

In 1993, Octaviano had problems with the federal government. In June of 2002, the letter came saying that Octaviano was being deported back to Mexico. Gladys went looking for help to bring him back. "Immigration told me that I couldn’t help, that our marriage was not even legal because he is married in Mexico."

Gladys is filing for a divorce from Octaviano. “"All my family wants me to come back to Texas," Gladys said. "But I have friends who care about us here." She is working outside the home for the first time in her life. She can’t support her family on 15 hours of work a week and doesn’t want to leave her children alone at home while she works nights. Finding a suitable job has been a struggle.

Gladys Salinas’ life has changed radically from the day she left Texas with the man she loved, but her days still have room for the friends she has made in Pelican Rapids and her garage still has room for household goods for new immigrants.

 

"I grew up on Main Street in Pelican Rapids," Len Zierke said. When his family moved to town in 1954 it seemed like half of the conversations on the street were in Norwegian. "I felt like I was an outsider," he said, because he didn’t speak Norwegian. Now, he wishes he could speak Spanish, but he no longer feels like an outsider. "I moved back to Main Street in Pelican Rapids in 1974 to raise my kids," Len continued. He has been an insurance agent since he was 25 years old and is now the oldest businessman on Main Street.

"We have a lot of Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese clients," Len said. Usually when non–english speakers come to his office, they bring an interpreter with them, often one of their children, as young as eight to twelve years old. "Children look at things different than adults do," Len commented. "Sometimes their grasp of English is not as good as I’d like to see it." He smiled, "But my grasp of Spanish is nil, no comprende."

He can get an interpreter over the phone at any time, but Len prefers working face to face, so he usually gets someone local. "Why not use the ability we have here," Len said. "We have a Spanish interpreter here who works well with the Spanish community. I assume someday he will be one of the leaders within that community."

Len and Annette also own the trailer court near the turkey plant. "It’s totally different from insurance," he with a smile, "it’s a stress reliever." One of the first things they did was to hire a Spanish manager to collect rent and translate. "The bulk of the renters are someone who could use help," Len said. "but they’re moving up. We try to keep the living conditions as clean as possible," Len continued. "With self owned trailers, the trailers and yards are better maintained." Len added "the more pride they have, the cleaner it’s going to stay." They hire young people from the park to help with their annual clean up day. Len and Annette have added two vegetable gardens to the park, and they donate grass seed and fertilizer to anyone who wants to seed their yard. A church group from Minneapolis installed a play area.

"We’ve enjoyed owning the trailer court," Len concluded, "it makes you feel like you’ve helped."

 

"We learned soccer by playing with a bunch of kids, we would just play," Elvis Saljevic said.

Fifth grade teacher Michelle Grinstead looked for a way to reach her Hispanic students. Often the kids started school with little or no English. They seemed to have no connection to the community and no direction. Soccer was the one thing that enlightened their lives. The kids played pick up games on the streets of the trailer park or on the playground at school.

Michelle found a second coach in David Brown, 10th grade English teacher and a long time soccer player. In the spring of 2000, they called an interest session. Most of the kids who showed up were too young, but of the best, three were sixteen, ten were fourteen or fifteen, one was thirteen and one was twelve.

Elvis immigrated as a refugee in 1998, his English was getting to be pretty good. Gabe grew up in Mexico and had also moved to Pelican Rapids in 1998. Miguel was so shy he didn’t speak at all. Ivan moved to America when he was in third grade. Moises spoke no English when he arrived in 1999. Jesus spoke no English when the team began playing together. Eventually everyone learned English, and Elvis, Heather, Kyle, and Matt learned enough Spanish to swear well.

They began practicing as a team, learning to play with each other, and to follow the rules of the summer soccer league. Other teams were pretty intimidated when they walked out onto the field to face Hispanic kids who weren’t speaking English, who were much more skilled, and who were the rookies of the league. Some teams were overtly racist.

The Tigers won games and the crowds of onlookers grew. High school students, teachers, administrators, town folk and family came to watch as they beat team after team on the old football practice field behind the grain elevator. When the team drove south on Highway 59, on their way to the final game of the state tournament, a caravan of people led by police cars with flashing lights, cheered them on, in the same way the town had sent it’s champion athletes to tournaments over the years.

In their final game, the Tigers played Woodbury, a team from a town of 42,000 people, with 2700 kids in their soccer program. Woodbury kept bringing in subs and Pelican had only four. The Pelican Rapids Tigers lost three to one. The Tigers lost the game, but they gained the respect of their community, perhaps the most valuable outcome a season of soccer could ever give to eleven Hispanics, a Bosnian, two American boys and a girl.

 

"I quit school at the age of sixteen; it was a huge mistake," said Israel Elizondo. "I have paid deeply for it."

He grew up in a poor family. His parents were migrant workers, traveling back and forth across the United States in a station wagon crowded with their six children, their suitcases, and their cooking utensils. Israel spent the majority of his time helping his parents in the fields. They didn’t push him to stay in school. "In a poor family, you have no hope, really. You are not thinking of the future, you are living your life day by day, until you discover there is something more in life, an opportunity to be somebody and do something, a purpose."

Even after he met and married his wife, Zorahalla, in Renosa, Mexico, Israel continued moving from place to place, until he and Zorahalla found their purpose in Pelican Rapids. "We have a ministry at our church," Israel said. "I lead the service and my wife leads the singing." He also works at the Pelican Rapids Head Start Center. "I work more with Hispanic families. I interpret for meetings, translate forms, and work with the children as a teacher’s aide." Israel paused, searching for words. "There’’s always a way to overcome obstacles." He said, explaining his job. "We want to help them get self–sufficient."

Israel is still trying to improve his own self-–sufficiency. After three years at the Center, he finished training for his Family Service Credential. He is also earning his GED (graduate equivalency degree, or high school diploma). Israel and Zorahalla expect their children to go to college. They will not make the mistakes of their parents. "If my kids go to college and get their four year degrees, or more," Israel said with a smile. "I’ll be a happy father."

 

"When the war came, everything we had we left behind; we just flee with our kids," said Abdi Abdi. He had been a businessman in Mogadishu, Somalia where he owned a small shop that sold clothing, and dry foods like rice, kidney beans, sugar and spaghetti. When Mogadishu was attacked by soldiers of another clan, Abdi and his family fled to his mother’s home, a small village on the Somali border with Ethiopia. Life was hard there; he and some friends traded merchandise. When a nomad brought a goat to town, Abdi acted as the middle man.

One year later, in 1992, Abdi and his children, a four year old, three year old twins, and a one year old, fled ahead of the soldiers again. This time, the soldiers were chasing the President of Somalia who retreated to their small town. "We crossed a river into Ethiopia," Abdi said, hands in his lap, sorting keys, like worry beads. "We left everything behind a second time."

This time, Abdi also left his wife, Mariam, and their newborn daughter. His wife had been sent to the nearest town with a hospital just after the baby was born. The baby died, but Mariam escaped over the closest border into Kenya.

Abdi and his children stayed in Ethiopia with no news of Mariam. "Every person we ask, everybody we knew said ‘no, we don’t know anything happen to her.’" In 1997, they heard from relatives that Mariam was alive. She had immigrated to Pelican Rapids and was looking for her family. Abdi and the children joined her in 1998, six years after they had been separated.

Abdi found work at West Central Turkeys, but in his heart, he was still a small businessman. "I would like to open a small shop in Pelican, selling food and clothes, like I did in Mogadishu," Abdi said. "I need financial advice and assistance." He set a West Central Initiative business card on the table, his first step toward the dream of a business of his own.

 

"When we first met, we hated each other," Thip Phommachalinh said, glancing sideways at her friend Brooke Weishair. "In preschool, I really just didn’t like her," Brooke agreed.

But in the three years since fourth grade, the girls have become friends. They play basketball and volleyball together, playing the same positions. "We hang out," Thip said, "go to games. On Saturdays, there’s like"

"tournaments," said Brooke,

"that we go to watch if we’re not playing." Thip finished the sentence. "We like to shop," they grinned,

"at the Mall," Brooke added.

"We have a bunch of plans for the summer," Thip looked at Brooke again, and both girls nodded, "to go to Luther Crest, that’s a church camp, together and then to her aunt’s"

"lake place," added Brooke, "for swimming,"

"jet skiing," Their words tumbled over each other.

"and tubing." As if they read each others minds.

The girls’ lives are surprisingly similar considering that Thip’s father and mother immigrated from Laos to Pelican Rapids, and Brooke’’s parents lived in Minnesota. "Food is the most different," Thip said. "And language," Brooke added.

Communication, however, is not a problem between them. "We’re friends because we get along," Thip said. "We like to do the same things," Brooke concluded, with a smile at her friend.