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With growing numbers, Hispanics could shake up Nov. election

As the 2020 election gets underway, political analysts believe Hispanic voters could flex their political muscle in a way they haven’t before. Even though turnout among the community remains low, this year’s elections will mark the first time that Hispanic will be the nation’s largest non-white voting block.

The community has unquestionably seen dramatic growth in recent years. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that in Minnesota, Hispanic population quadrupled from 1990 to 2010 and has increased dramatically since. Nationwide, they have accounted for a majority of U.S. population growth over the last decade.

Growth has been slower in Rice County and Minnesota over the last decade, but still approximately one in five new residents over that time period have been Latino/Hispanic. That’s increased the share of Hispanic residents statewide to 5.6% statewide and 8.5% in Rice County.

Reaching out

Despite a perception that many Hispanics are undocumented, local community organizer Cynthia Gonzalez noted that approximately 4 in 5 are actually U.S. citizens. However, while local organizers anticipate strong turnout among younger Hispanics, they fear many older Hispanics could skip the elections altogether. In hopes of achieving high turnout, Gonzalez said that her organization is focusing on social media, radio and phone banking. With help from students at Carleton College, Gonzalez’s organization will release a series of videos to make the case for civic participation.

About 127,000 Hispanic Minnesotans are eligible to vote, comprising 3.1% of eligible voters. In the 2nd District, which includes Northfield and the southern Twin Cities, the figure is 3.9%, and in the 1st District, which includes Faribault and southern Minnesota, it’s 3.6%.

That’s more than enough to tip a close election, which both districts are notorious for having. However, just 18% of eligible Minnesota Hispanics voted in the 2016 election, according to Rodolfo Gutierrez of Hispanic American Center for Economic Research — an extremely low share in a state known for high voter participation.

Traditionally, Democrats have dominated the Hispanic vote. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton won Hispanic voters by a more than 2-to-1 margin over Republican nominee Donald Trump. Former President Barack Obama performed even better.

Diversity of thought

However, Hispanics are not a monolithic bloc, and significant differences exist depending on the nation of origin. In Minnesota and nationwide, a majority of Hispanics are of Mexican heritage, but a growing minority have other cultures and heritage in their background.

“Sometimes people don’t see that not everyone just because they speak Spanish is not from Mexico,” said Angelica Linder, the Northfield Public Library’s Outreach Coordinator. “Here in Northfield we have people from Colombia, Spain, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.”

Carleton College Professor Emeritus Steven Schier said that despite Trump’s success in courting many Hispanic voters in Florida, he doesn’t believe that either presidential candidate has managed to tap into the full strength of the Hispanic vote.

“They have to identify where they are first, they have to find the right language to address them and you have to figure out what message is important to them,” he said. “The pandemic has made all of that difficult.”

Due to the pandemic, Schier said he expects even lower than normal turnout among Hispanic voters. While voting in person remains an option in Minnesota and most states, many are worried about safety and applying for an absentee ballot may be hard for some.

“I think you’ll see that Hispanics will be less likely to apply for absentee ballots,” he said. “Traditionally, it’s the people who don’t have much of a voting history or tradition that fall off (when voting becomes more difficult), and many Hispanics fall into those categories.”

Still, COPAL (Communities Organizing Latinx Power and Action) Minnesota President Francisco Segovia said that his organization has been working hard to turn out the Hispanic vote. His organization has already received pledges to vote from thousands of Hispanic Minnesotans and plans on following up with them further.

Segovia said that in past elections, the large majority of those who signed COPAL’s pledge to vote followed through on it. Himself the son of an immigrant, Secretary of State Steve Simon has also worked hard to help voters who may speak English as a second language. According to Simon, the Secretary of State’s office has provided services in 11 languages and is adding a 12th for this election. He noted that the state has a rich tradition of helping immigrants to vote with election materials in their own language, starting as early as 1896.

Simon proudly keeps copies of election materials from that time, printed in languages like Norwegian, Swedish and German. All that’s changed now, he says, is nothing but the language in which they happen to be printed.

Gonzalez said that for her part, she’s committed to getting as many Hispanics out to vote this far, regardless of which party they decide to vote for. Her organization, Community without Borders is particularly focused on mobilizing young Hispanics, with more turning 18 every day.

“Do not underestimate the power that exists among the Latino vote,” she said.

Faribault Chamber to honor historic Woolen Mill

Though 2020 may be a year like no other, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism will celebrate the history of perhaps the city’s most iconic business at its Business Awards Luncheon.

For more than 150 years, the Faribault Woolen Mill has been synonymous with quality and comfort. Established the same year the Civil War ended and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, the mill has earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Due to economic changes triggered by the Civil War, the 1860s were a booming time for the Woolen Mill. Thanks to the savvy business skills of Carl Klemer and his descendants, Faribault’s Woolen Mill grew while others failed. In 1882, the Klemers moved the business into a stone building on the Straight River. Over the next decade, a series of fires devastated the building before destroying it entirely. Undeterred, the Klemers quickly rebuilt with the fireproof brick building that stands to this day.

Over the years, the number of mills slowly dwindled but the Faribault mill thrived. Its contract with the U.S. military, which dates back more than 100 years, coupled with its strong share of the consumer market, made its popularity durable.

While the Great Depression largely marked a death knell for the industry nationwide, with the number of U.S. mills dropping from 800 to 80, the Faribault mill thrived. By the late 1930s, nearly every major department store in the country was carrying Faribault blankets.

At its peak, Faribault’s mill had a staff of 175 employees and produced a majority of blankets in the U.S. However, the company began to fade during the last part of the 20th century, facing tough competition from imports and a series of difficult leadership changes.

In the wake of the most devastating economic slowdown since the Great Depression, the mill closed in abrupt and shocking fashion in 2009. It stood empty for two years before piquing the interest of Paul Mooty and his cousin Chuck, a former Dairy Queen CEO.

When Mooty entered the building, it was still full of messes that had been left by employees who had abruptly left one difficult day, along with damage from recent flooding. Nonetheless, he came to appreciate the iconic, historic nature of the business. He reopened the building with many of the same employees and much the same pitch, and the company quickly caught fire. It’s now one of the last vertically integrated mills in America, with high-quality products made by experienced craft people on traditional machines.

Last year, the Woolen Mill moved to expand its reach further, merging with Twin Cities Startup Circle Rock LLC, which produces men’s clothing and leather accessories. The business is still based in Faribault and largely assumes the Woolen Mill’s name.

CircleRock’s founder and CEO Paul Grangaard now serves as chairman and CEO of the combined company, with Circle Rock co-founder Ross Widmoyer as company president and Mooty as vice chairman of the board.

Now, CircleRock’s modern offerings complement the Woolen Mill’s traditional products, including smart, casual vests, blazers and shirts for men, and scarves, wraps and ponchos for women. All products sold under the new brand are made out of sustainable, natural materials.

Mooty said he didn’t know that themMill was under consideration for any honor from the Faribault Chamber. He said that he was delighted, surprised and grateful when Chamber President Nort Johnson called to tell him that the business would receive the Chamber’s Legacy Award.

Mooty said it’s an honor to stand on the shoulders of the Klemers and all of the hardworking employees who built the mill into a legendary company. To this day, he said the mill’s employees continue to set the gold standard for quality craftsmanship. Beyond that, he said the entire Faribault community has been incredibly supportive, treating the mill as a treasured institution. Without their tireless support, he said there’s no way the mill could have made it this far. Thanks to it, the sky’s the limit.

“I’m humbled, grateful, happy and thankful for everything that Faribault has given us,” he said. “Everyone has really been behind us.”

Faribault’s Alex Sullivan moves past a Rochester Mayo defender Thursday at Bruce Smith Field in Faribault. Sullivan had a quality scoring chance in the first half that sailed over the crossbar in a 5-0 loss. (Nick Gerhardt/Southernminn.com)

BBBS needs 97 mentors for virtual partnership with local students

Making a difference in a middle school student’s life doesn’t always require a huge time commitment or even in-person contact.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota recognizes that youth need as many supportive adults in their lives as possible to foster confidence and encourage them, particularly during a pandemic.

“We know the pandemic is hard on all of us,” said Michelle Redman, BBBS of Southern Minnesota executive director. “It’s hard for adults to understand, but youth really are struggling with this. Giving youth as many extra positive people in their life, that’s our goal.”

To increase those connections, BBBS created a new mentor program specifically for eighth-graders in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) programs at middle schools in Faribault, Owatonna and Waseca.

Redman said Owatonna Middle School students involved in the REACH program already meet one-on-one with BBBS mentors every other week. The organization decided to expand that model to another program, and AVID came to mind.

“I am very excited to partner with BBBS with our eighth-grade AVID students and mentors they will provide,” said Heidi Oanes, AVID advisor at Faribault Middle School. “Anytime we can provide students with positive role models and mentors from our community it is a win-win for all.”

AVID started out as a program for youth preparing to become first-generation college students within their families. The program assists students who want to succeed, but may need extra resources to access their potential. Students must apply before being accepted into the AVID program, and every school runs it a little differently. Within the program, students work hard at college and career readiness.

To ensure every middle school student in the three schools has a mentor, BBBS needs nearly 100 adult volunteers to commit a half an hour every other week to meet virtually with their student matches. The program will serve 40 Faribault students, 30 Owatonna students and 27 Waseca students. Redman asks volunteers to contribute two years to the program so they can follow up with students as they transition from middle school to high school.

As they do for the regular BBBS program, staff will interview adults and students and match them according to their common interests and compatibility. Since AVID helps students plan for their futures, one goal of the partnership is to help students learn more about their desired career paths by talking to mentors within those occupations.

BBBS will provide various activities and talking points for adult and student matches, many based on college and career readiness. Faribault Middle School students will use their class time to visit with their mentors online, but students in Waseca and Owatonna will set aside time on their virtual days to connect.

“It’s as simple as logging into a platform and connecting in whatever way works best for the volunteer,” Redman said. There’s zero prep work, and they can just really be a positive influence on a child’s life. From what history has told me with BBBS, I know volunteers will also get a lot out of it.”

The virtual connection fits into the schools’ current policies, which limit visitors at the buildings during the pandemic. However, Redman said the virtual format offers benefits beyond protecting students and mentors from possible illness. Since BBBS wants working adults to participate in the program, they won’t need to leave work to impact a mentee. After the pandemic, Redman said her staff will assess whether or not to continue with the virtual format.

“My dream is that at the end of the school year we can do a pizza party and they can meet in person,” Redman said.

“We always ask our Bigs, ‘Do you have any regrets about being a Big?’ and when I ask that question, most of them say, ‘I regret I didn’t do it sooner.’” Redman said. “So that tells me the impact is not just on the youth; the impact is also on the volunteer.”

Said Oanes: “A heartfelt ‘thank you’ to our community members who will be serving as the mentors this year. Eventually, we would like to expand this partnership to other grade levels at FMS.”