Perhaps something different, ;br; something good is coming

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 1999

In the Nov.

Tuesday, November 30, 1999

In the Nov. 22 Washington Post Weekly, poet, essayist and farmer Wendell Berry is quoted from a summary story of the 70s, "Nearly every one of us, nearly every day of his life, is contributing directly to the ruin of this planet . . . The mentality that exploits and destroys the natural environment is the same that abuses racial and economic minorities."

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Poignant – even today.

Perhaps the new millennium will give birth to helping others and not a "culture of narcissism" as the Post feature described the 70s.

There’s a wonderful opportunity to do something along these lines here in Austin. The Hormel Foundation recently announced a $5 million contribution to assist with the needs of Austin’s changing face – an opportunity to grow together in the community.

I have to wonder how these funds will be dispersed. Certainly, housing is an issue. There’s talk of a kind of ‘trickle down’ effect. New homes will be built to accommodate those looking for $100,000 plus dollar homes. These will be purchased by people wanting to ‘move up’ making available their homes which are worth less, perhaps $40-$60,000. The result intended is to assist this newcomers one of these homes while someone with more pay moves up the household ladder. Perhaps there is merit in this, perhaps it will serve the new immigrants coming to Austin looking for a better life, a better job, better schooling for their children.

Sunday, I listened to Marn Frank, from the Adult Basic Education Program, discuss the English as a Second Language Program at a St. Olaf Church forum. It is an ESL program separate from the Riverland Community College program. In Marn’s classes, students pay $10 dollars for the textbook and come to class when they aren’t working. The biggest problem she said was attendance – because her students were working so many hours, 50, 65, 70 hours. Is this exploitation? Is this something Wendell Berry was talking about.

In her description Marn described these students – mostly adults – as "Contributing a lot." "Wonderful people to get to know." "They see education as a great opportunity to grow."

The deep reverence of the Asian to authority and the hours they all spend studying.

She next shared letters from some of the students – a good many of them sharing the gratitude of coming to Austin. Some describing their excitement in seeing snow for the first time.

Marn mentioned that she often received tokens of their appreciation in the form of little gifts. Their way of saying thank you.

Some liked the small town atmosphere. The quiet. Most of all, better life, better jobs and a chance for their kids to be better off. The same reasons, maybe, that my great-great grandparents sent my Grandpa and his brother here from Czechoslovakia.

Maybe the "new faces" coming to Austin for ‘better jobs,’ and a ‘better life’ will find these here in Austin. I’m sure they, too, will wish for better opportunities for their children.

Hopefully, their wishes will have a greater chance with the Foundation’s generous gift.

However, it will take more than money.

While one pointed out the "good people at Grace Baptist Church." another wrote, "Most of the workers discriminate." One young Miss wrote how she could "not believe how racist kids are here in Austin." She went on to mention having a brother in one of our schools and there wasn’t a day that somebody doesn’t say something about his color."

A ‘gringo’ friend and I once rode a trolley car across San Diego to the border. We crossed the border and made our way to the Tijuana bus station. The fare was 40 cents for the bus ride to Rosarita Beach 20 miles south of Tijuana. There was even a pig on the bus if I remember correctly. The bus would not have passed the ’emission test’ here. It exceeded the number of passengers permitted, the aisles were jammed. It didn’t follow the four lane highway down the coast.

It traveled inland, up and down the hills, on a rough road, stopping here and there to let off passengers. What struck me was that everyone, young and old alike, was talking and laughing, enjoying one another. Everyone, except us, seemed to be having a good time – a celebration of life.

Aboard the trolley car on our side of the border no one spoke. Everyone seemed alone. There was no festivity, no sense of joy.

"These people have something we don’t," I thought to myself then.

Maybe now that ‘something’ is coming to Austin. Perhaps it will rub off on our stoic "Norwegian" ways.

If you are interested in helping and would consider being a volunteer tutor, call Marn Frank. She can be reached at 433-0816.

Bob Vilt’s column appears Tuesdays