I recently participated in a discussion on storytelling and getting to know your neighbors at the St. Cloud Library. It was so nice to interact with people I had seen in passing and, of course, meet new people in the area. I actually ran into a woman who remembered me interviewing her in 2007 when I was an intern for the St. Cloud Times. Talk about a good memory!
There were about 30 people who participated in the gathering. The whole idea was to share your story and listen to those from as many people as you can. Before the discussion there was a panel whose members shared their stories and what brought them to central Minnesota. I was a panelist with Hao Nguyen, assistant city prosecutor for the city of St. Cloud. I remembered the name “Nguyen” from a newspaper article I read previously, but to hear his story up close was even better. He shared how his mother risked her life guiding her family out of Vietnam, protecting them for two years in a refugee camp and then bringing them to St. Cloud in 1987. He shared his experience with having to learn English and his mother’s dedication to maintaining his cultural identity by allowing him to speak only Vietnamese at home. Nguyen told the audience he is one of several of his friends that speak the language fluently while many lost that part of their culture.
After we kicked off the discussion with our stories, we broke off into groups to talk more. A moderator supplied questions as prompts to get conversations going. Several people shared how they have lived in the area for years and interact with people they know because it’s familiar. Some said they don’t easily engage people they don’t know because of a fear and/or a lack of time to socialize. It can be a little uncomfortable for some to speak to someone whom they have not spoken to before. By the end of the evening, several attendees said they would try to be more engaging to their neighbors or even join a multicultural book club to expand their social circle. Those are just some of the examples of what some attendees took away during the event.
I’ve always liked people. It’s why I became a journalist, to share stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told unless I helped others share them. Journalists have to have the courage to walk up to complete strangers at a moment’s notice and convince them they can be trusted. It’s not an easy job but I love it. During the storytelling event, I observed attendees go from a little nervous to a little more at ease as they moved from table to table. Yes, it took about an hour for this transition but it was nice to see it.
While that was just one event, it reminded me of what can come from simply saying “hello” to the local store clerk or asking the postal worker if her children are ready for summer. St. Joseph might be a smaller town than St. Cloud, but it’s because of that small-town friendliness neighbors get to know not only one another but their children’s children. I think that’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t have to stop there.
I encourage residents who might know the families in the four or five houses down the street to go around the corner and introduce themselves to those families as well. They’re your neighbors too.