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Cultural diversity takes center stage in Upper Minnesota River Valley

The Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity-USA.org, celebrates the area's cultural diversity with live performances that bring together people from different cultural backgrounds.

Leo Gunner Baker, a member of the Upper Sioux Community, and his children perform a Dakota prayer for attendees at a cultural diversity council celebration at the Hollywood Theater in Montevideo.
Leo Gunner Baker, a member of the Upper Sioux Community, and his children perform a Dakota prayer for attendees at a cultural diversity council celebration at the Hollywood Theater in Montevideo.
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MONTEVIDEO — Cultural diversity has taken center stage in Montevideo and the Upper Minnesota River Valley.

That’s by design — and for the sheer fun of it.

There’s just no better way for people of different cultures to get to know one another and build friendships than to join and make music and put on a show together, according to Debra Lee Fader, board member and one of the founders of the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now going by the name Diversity-USA.org.

“It really works,” Fader said. “Everybody loves to go out and celebrate.”

Debra Lee Fader is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
Debra Lee Fader is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
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That’s what the nonprofit group of citizens in Montevideo and the Upper Minnesota Valley area have been doing for more than a decade now.

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The group hosts an annual holiday or Christmas-themed show on the stage of the Hollywood Theater in downtown Montevideo. Local talent from different cultural backgrounds put on live performances featuring music, theatrics and more.

The council has supported a variety of other events to promote cultural diversity and friendships in the valley as well. The group hosted an exhibit by Granite Falls artist Jammie Niemeyer, “Diversity an Eye on Our Growth,” in which she explored her African American roots following the death of George Floyd.

Niemeyer's exhibit is now on display at the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council in Marshall.

The group has hosted and supported musical events, such as a mariachi band performance, and has also brought people together in prayer during Montevideo’s annual Fiesta Days celebration.

Jammie Niemeier exhibited her 44 art works exploring social justice and her Afro-American Heritage with support from the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity-USA.org. Her exhibit is currently on display at the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council center in Marshall.
Jammie Niemeyer exhibited her 44 art works exploring social justice and her Afro-American Heritage with support from the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity-USA.org. Her exhibit is currently on display at the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council center in Marshall.
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Just a fraction of the region's diversity

That tie to Fiesta Days is important.

Fader, who previously served as mayor in Montevideo, pointed out that the community has the nation’s longest-standing sister city relationship by virtue of its ties to Montevideo, Uruguay, that date to 1905. A statue of South American liberator Jose Artigas, a gift from Uruguayan school children, has been standing over downtown Montevideo since 1949.

This long-standing relationship, and its emphasis on celebration, has played a role in helping Montevideo welcome and embrace its Latin community today, Fader noted. Roughly 8% of the community of more than 5,000 people are of Latin heritage today.

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Students and instructors in the Richard Annerud martial arts program performed at the Hollywood Theater as part of a celebration hosted by the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity-USA.org.
Students and instructors in the Richard Annerud martial arts program performed at the Hollywood Theater as part of a celebration hosted by the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity-USA.org.
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The Upper Minnesota River Valley area is much like the state as a whole when it comes to growing diversity in its population. The Micronesian community represents roughly one half of the population of nearby Milan, and has a strong presence in Appleton as well.

Sandy Lynn Erickson is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
Sandy Lynn Erickson is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
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Ruth Ann Lee is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
Ruth Ann Lee is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
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The region is also the home of the Dakota people and the Upper Sioux Community. One of the most powerful moments in the annual celebration at the Hollywood occurs when Upper Sioux Community member and artist Leo Baker shares a Dakota prayer with those who join, Fader said.

The diversity council stumbled on its formula for promoting friendships in 2010, when current members Ruth Ann Lee — owner of the Hollywood — Fader and others decided to host a Christmas party featuring local talent at the theater.

“What we found is the people that were in our show were of so many diverse cultures,” said Fader. “We just started adding to it every year.”

Lee said the organizers decided to make things more formal, and obtained a nonprofit status to allow it to move forward.

“Music brings us together,” said Sandy Lynn Erickson, a member of the local group’s board of directors. She said communication comes down to two things.

One is a smile, she said, explaining that it is an immediate welcome to the other person.

And the second is music, which is the universal language.

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“Sometimes we don’t understand each other, but that smile and twinkle in their eye says I care about you,” she said.

Karen Stegeman is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
Karen Stegeman is a member of the board of directors for the Cultural Diversity Council of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, now known as Diversity USA.org.
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Good food helps too, she noted, and the council’s events and works always feature opportunities to enjoy the foods of the various cultures.

The COVID pandemic interrupted the group’s work last year. Fader put together a video presentation from the previous years of holiday performances to take the place of the annual get-together.

This year, it’s back to form. The Hollywood Theater will be hosting a salute to “Hometown Heroes” featuring performances by local people of diverse cultural backgrounds on Friday, Dec. 2, and everyone is welcome.

Details on this and other activities by the group can be found on its website, Diversity-USA.org .

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
What To Read Next
Exhibits on display in the next month
Fine arts and student performances at area colleges
Southwest Minnesota Arts Council events in the next month
Original programs scheduled for broadcast on Pioneer Public TV