County workers grasp diversity at workshop

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 11, 2000

There are new colors in the rainbow of faces in Mower County and no rose-colored glasses can change the image.

Thursday, May 11, 2000

There are new colors in the rainbow of faces in Mower County and no rose-colored glasses can change the image.

Email newsletter signup

What residents can do is "connect" with each other.

That was the purpose behind the first-ever multicultural workshop Wednesday in the county’s Government Center in downtown Austin.

The Identity Project debuted. The courthouse corridors were decorated with flags of other nations.

Inside the county commissioners’ meeting room, more colors greeted participants in Nitaya Jandragholica’s workshop.

Jandragholica is Mower County’s cultural diversity director. She also is a certified court interpreter in Minnesota’s state court system.

The Identity Project is a pilot project of Jandragholica’s, which she said was designed to "connect people."

As the number of Hispanic workers at Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin grows, the city has rallied to deal with the influx of new residents with diverse backgrounds. Issues such as housing are being addressed, but the success of bridging the cultural gap rests upon individuals.

With the endorsement of the Mower County Board of Commissioners, Jandragholica will attempt to bridge that gap.

County officials and employees assembled in the commissioners’ meeting room Wednesday. It was a diverse group of its own.

Mower County Sheriff Barry J. Simonson was there. So was Austin Police Chief Paul M. Philipp.

Mower County Third District Commissioner David Hillier, Mower County Correctional Services Director Tom Neilon and dozens of county employees were there, too.

But, the stars of the workshop were Maria Noyola of El Salvador, Abdifata Said Hasan of Somalia, Predag Prodanovic of Bosnia, Huong Luu of Vietnam, Milka Prodanovic of Bosnia, Svetlana Kovach of Russia, Mohamed Jama of Somalia, Ahmed Kobeey of Somalia, Omot Bawar Omot of Sudan and Miguel Angel Spada of Argentina.

The panelists of Riverland Community College students told of their own cultures and listened to the county officials and employees tell of theirs.

According to Jandragholica, "The idea is to educate both ways and trying to get people to know each other. I would like people to know more about each other one-on-one."

Julie Tufte told how the Minnesota League of Women Voters in Austin also is attempting to bridge cultural gaps in its own way.

Tufte described the Community Circles project, which promotes interaction with ethnic minorities.

The Identity Project is similar, according to Jandragholica.

"There are three levels of identity," she said. "What we think we are, what other people think we are and what we really are."

The workshop’s facilitator is part-Thai and part-Chilean and lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, before moving to the Upper Midwest.

She said a specific set of characteristics determine what a person is known by: biology, culture and "his-story/her-story."

There will be more activities involving The Identity Project, which the county’s cultural diversity director had a simple, but important purpose: "to connect people with people."

In addition, Jandragholica hopes to "establish good relations and understanding."