Saturday, September 30, 2006


I woke up early this morning in hopes of a bike ride, but the ground was wet, and there was a slight drizzle. So I did some reading and then made a call, ran an errand, and went to the local farmers' market. I'm not much of a cook, but I enjoy walking through the farmers' market. For one thing, it's great to see all the seasonal vegetables, fruits, and flowers. For another, it's the one place and time for me when the minority communities become really visible.

Like many areas in the upper midwest, we have a fairly significant Hmong immigrant community in the area, and many of the sellers at the local market are Hmong immigrants of various generations. Mostly they sell fresh veggies, produced, I guess, through labor intensive small farming. And like many areas of the upper midwest, we have local Mennonite and Amish communities, and some of the sellers come from these communities; mostly these folks sell dairy and baked goods. Then there are a couple orchards whose sales folks seem to come from one of the traditional Euro-immigrant backgrounds common in the area. If you just walked around town on a given day, you wouldn't get much sense of the ethnic diversity in the area, and I certainly didn't expect it when I first moved to the midwest, but I realize it more at the farmer's market.

I walked with a friend's mother-in-law and another colleague; they speak a common language which I sort of speak (and mostly understand), so there we were, adding to the mix, I suppose. I'm lucky they're so patient with my manglings of their language. I long ago gave up being embarrassed about my linguistic mistakes because native speakers have treated me with such generosity from the time I first learned; it's totally different from the self-consciousness I feel when I try to say something in the foreign language I supposedly studied in high school.

The thing is, my friend's mother-in-law comes from roughly the area where I learned the language (which has lots of regional accents and dialects), so when she speaks, it feels like home to me in a way.

I used to be considerably more fluent, but it struck me as I struggled with one word, and had to stop to "translate," that mostly I can still understand by thinking in the language rather than translating to and from English.

It was a good way to spend the morning. This market's one of the best things our community has done in 20 years, I'm told. I can't judge about the 20 years, but the market's the best thing I've seen change since I've been here.

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