This story was originally published by Minnesota Reformer.
Election day 2020 in Long Prairie, the county seat of Todd County in rural central Minnesota, was a beautiful sunny late autumn day. I’d already voted by absentee ballot, but I was scheduled to pick up my friend Francisco and drive him to the polls. He’d tried voting in 2018, but the election judges apparently questioned his documentation and, as a result, he didn’t vote. Francisco speaks only Spanish.
When I arrived at his daughter’s house where he lives, Francisco was waiting outside with his 17-year-old granddaughter, who was out of school due to Covid-19. She’d be eligible to vote in 2022, so I was delighted she was coming along. They were both masked up and suggested that we drive to city hall separately for safety reasons.
When we arrived, my daughter-in-law was waiting for us, and she snapped a photo of Francisco and his granddaughter, whose name is Itzel, at the Vote Here sign. Inside, we were pleased to discover that Francisco was already registered as a result of his attempt to vote two years earlier.
Francisco got his ballot and, with the help of Itzel, cast it.
As previously reported in the Reformer, more than 70% of Todd County voters cast their ballots for former President Donald Trump in 2020. Francisco and I are anomalies. A couple of days later I called him, and we had a little telephonic celebration. Our guy won! Viva Biden!
On November 15th the Washington Post had lots to say about places like where Francisco, Itzel, and I live:
Some call it the urban versus rural divide, but it is also a digital versus blue-collar split. Increasingly, blue America is diverse, college-educated and heavily invested in professional and tech businesses. In contrast, red America is more white, less likely to have gone to college and reliant on blue-collar sectors like manufacturing, construction and energy.
The urban/rural divide in this leading paragraph is cavernous and filled with blue urban ignorance and hubris. The Post reporters, so full of their certainty about who they are and who we are, didn’t even look at us.
Our town is red but not more white. And, I venture to guess, we are more diverse than much of urban America. My white grandson plays nightly with a Dominican boy whose dad keeps his hair braided beautifully day in and day out. Across the street is a mixed Mexican-American and American couple who have taken legal custody of two boys whose father, a relative, was deported back to Michoacan, a state in central Mexico. Two doors down from the two Mexican-American boys is a Puerto Rican family known by their elderly white neighbors for their raucous all night parties.
So, we are all mixed together in this little rural village. That the mixing together can be measured, and not just anecdotally demonstrated, can be seen with a quick look at the Minnesota Department of Education’s 2022 enrollment statistics for the consolidated Long Prairie-Grey Eagle School District.
As of October 2021, 57% of Long Prairie-Grey Eagle students identified as Hispanic or Latino, according to MDE. Just 38% identified as white, with the balance being other races including a substantial group of Pacific Islanders. Among the 480 Hispanic students are many Spanish speaking Afro-Caribean students.
Out of this beautiful evolving rainbow of diversity in our little town a wonderful thing happened last fall. Itzel, who is a star athlete, was elected Homecoming Queen. Way to go, Itzel!
When Itzel was a baby the few Mexican-American kids in school had to brawl with the majority white kids to protect their dignity. Now Itzel is the Queen of it all. And she’s going vote this fall.
So, how did the Washington Post get it so wrong. Red America — or at least my red and rural America — isn’t less diverse or more white. I’ve known that all these years Itzel has been growing into young adulthood. I saw it coming during the 2020 Census when Long Prairie as a whole was one-third Hispanic.
Of course one town does not make a trend. However, with my limited resources on the wrong side of the digital divide, I located four other rural communities with similar demographics. Worthington, in Nobles County, has a student body that is 59% Hispanic and about 25% white. St. James, in Watonwan, has a 53/46 split; Pelican Rapids, of Otter Tail County, is at 30/53, and Melrose, in Stearns County, is catching up with a 25/73 split.
At what cost is it for the centers of power, such as the Washington Post, to not just overlook my friends Francisco and Itzel but to deny their existence. And by denying their existence the urban power centers cancel the need to address the hard realities of all rural people. Those include the fact that poverty is higher in rural America than it is in urban America. Job creation is higher in urban America and educational opportunities are greater than they are in rural America. A higher percentage of people with disabilities live in rural America while, at the same time, resources for the disabled are fewer. Per capita giving by philanthropic organizations is substantially lower in rural America.
There is indeed an urban-rural divide between red and rural Minnesota, and urban America, but it is not of rural America’s making.
I will not vote for Trump, or trumpists, in the upcoming elections, but I can’t promise you Itzel and Francisco won’t join the majority of Todd County voters and do so. Why wouldn’t they?
Tim King has been a vegetable and sheep farmer and a freelance journalist for the past 35 years. He was co-founder and publisher of the bilingual monthly newspaper La Voz Libre and the community foundation Dreams United/Sueños Unidos.
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