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Bridging the gap between new and old

Waves of immigrants have been coming to the Grand Forks region for a long time and they've had the habit of annoying whoever was already here at the time.

Got Culture?!
From left; Jasper Youngbear, B.J. Rainbow and Allan Demaray of the drum group Rivers Edge perform a traditional song at a special closing ceremony of the Got Culture?! Exploring our Diversity conference at the Hilton Garden Inn Monday. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Waves of immigrants have been coming to the Grand Forks region for a long time and they've had the habit of annoying whoever was already here at the time.

That's certainly one conclusion that can be drawn from many of the speakers at UND's immigration conference Monday.

When the Norwegians came for land, the American Indians of the area weren't too happy, one Norwegian-American, Larrie Wanberg, explained. When the Germans came for land, the Norwegians weren't too happy either, he said.

When the French-Canadians came, the other Europeans were prejudiced against them, said Evelyn Landis, a French-Canadian.

Nowadays, new immigrants from East Africa have caused anxiety among some segments of the population, said Kristine Paranica, director of UND's Conflict Resolution Center. It's gotten to the point that she's heard of a woman who won't take her kids to a certain park because there are too many Africans playing soccer there, she said.


The center organized the conference to overcome such fears and increase understanding, she said. The rest of the week will see workshops for teachers, lawyers and social service providers to help them bridge the gap between the new comers and the established population, she said.

Today and Wednesday, for example, there will be instruction on how to use group discussions to help people from different ethnicities talk about cultural differences.

Good track record

For all the friction, historically, North Dakota's had a good record of accepting immigrants with a minimum of fuss, the exception being Indians, according to Rev. Bill Sherman. The first mosque on American soil was built in North Dakota, he said, and the Muslims who built it got on well with their Christian neighbors, some even going into politics.

They've since intermarried and been absorbed into larger Norwegian and Metis communities, he said, indicative of minimal prejudice.

"I'm convinced that out here in the frontiers of North Dakota, we tend to overlook the differences. We need each other. If we drive along the highway and we see a guy on the highway, we pick him up. It doesn't matter if he's red or black. It's another human being!"

Not all encounters are filled with friction, though.

Some speakers who arrived in smaller groups found the area very welcoming.


Aimee Cole, a Filipina who met her American husband while he was stationed in her country, moved here when he was re-stationed to Grand Forks in 1976. The first few years were hard, she said, but she found that being friendly made her lots of friends and the couple, neither of whom are from here, stayed.

Sukhvarsh Jerath, a UND professor who moved to the United States from India in the 1980s, said he came here for an education and for the opportunities and found them. In his homeland, for every 10 university applicants, one gets in, he said.

- On the web: For more information, visit the CRCs website at http://conflictresolution.und.edu/conf.php

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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