Someone told me recently that the first settlers who came to Minnesota were from the Nordic countries in Europe and were determined to preserve their traditions and beliefs in a pure and uncontaminated way. Their essence of privacy and modesty, of not showing emotions and being dedicated to good deeds and pure thoughts struggles today, with the challenges new generations are forcing upon them, trying to maintain thought purity in a world that screams of more inclusion, action, openness and most of all, change. All of this may explain why Minnesota can be so frugal and traditional in some aspects and so progressive and open minded in some others. Those differences make this people burst at the seams because The Times They Are A-Changin’…
When I first came to Minnesota, I wanted to walk the streets of Duluth where Bob Dylan was born and grew up. One of the coldest cities in the United States, with an all-time record of -39 degrees Fahrenheit (-39 Celsius) on January 15, 1972, Duluth is, as other cities in this State, a sharp mixture of tradition and refreshing, albeit uncomfortable, progressiveness.
It is fascinating to me how Bob Dylan was able to perceive and denounce so much injustice and greed in society.
Probably the stark contrasts he witnessed made him imagine how people live very different lives. Growing up in a town that becomes alive in the summer, with joyful, merry-go-lucky visitors who enjoy the beautiful lake views, and then dies during the winter months when walking outside turns into one of the most painful and dangerous experiences in the world, must have been a deep lesson in differences between humans and their realities. Those stark contrasts that can be applied to the very essence of humankind: people in Minnesota can be as unconcerned and carefree as summer birds or as committed to what is really important as the most extreme survivors in the planet.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
(Songwriter: Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A-Changin’)
And because this is a land of contrasts, I wanted to think of Bob Dylan’s origins from a Jewish family and those of the family of my friend, Irene, who came from Germany several generations ago.
A couple of weeks ago, Irene invited me to visit the consecrated land where her whole family rests. Not different, at first, from any other little town cemetery, the reality set in quite quickly, all these German names and the frugality they contributed to this State is evident in the solid stones chosen to mark the presence of these people who had to deal with frozen lands and scarce resources.
The deeply rooted traditions preserved for posterity and the knit-tight family bonds are still alive and well in the humble respect of Irene and the stories she tells about her ancestors. One of the ones that moved me: the devoted love between her father and mother.
The respect for the name and the bloodline is still breathing and well preserved here, even if a hint of big change is gaining momentum.
Minnesota is rich in tradition, many towns remind us of the people who came here to brave the elements and forge a destiny. Immigration should be understood as a normal process of humanity and doors should remain open out of respect for the traditions that are at the foundation of these lands.
Germans like Irene and Jews like Bob Dylan, thrived here, together, way before nationalist ideas divided them in hatred in the rest of the world. Nowadays it is the turn of Somalians and Latinos to come share this land of 10,000 lakes. Taken in full context, it is difficult to ignore the amazing melting pot Minnesota is, because even if some locals still try to hold on to their Nordic origins, reality is sinking in and showing them that the times they are a-changing.
Will the new generations take the time to visit these minuscule villages and pay homage to those first European ancestors or are these beautiful little towns condemned to be read as just one more page of the history of Minnesota that is maybe doomed to be forgotten?
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