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A culture question-and-answer

The Culture Conference gives residents a chance to learn more about the cultures in their communities

Photo by Deb Gau Marly Wagner answered questions, as Sel Na Soe and Eh Mu Kutaw looked at a Day of the Dead display put together as part of the Culture Conference at Marshall Middle School.

MARSHALL — The two languages use the same letters. But learning the written form of the Hmong language is not like learning the ABCs in English, area residents found out.

A slide that presenters Kou Thao and Khou Lor cued up listed all the different parts used to write the sounds spoken in Hmong — consonants, vowels, and markers showing the tone used when saying a word.

“It’s kind of complex,” Lor said.

Fortunately audience members got to start slow, learning how to say simple phrases like “hello” and “goodbye” in Hmong.

Language lessons were just one way to learn more about about the people in southwest Minnesota, presenters at the first Culture Conference said Saturday. The conference, held at Marshall Middle School, included talks on history, celebrations, and more about four different cultures in the Marshall area. Somali, Karen, Hmong and Hispanic cultures were all highlighted during the event.

Organizers said the idea for the Culture Conference came out of discussions about community needs, like at recent Thriving By Design meetings in Marshall.

“We were just talking about how to build a better community,” said See Moua-Leske, director of Southwest Adult Basic Education North. At those meetings, people talked about how diverse area communities really are, as well as how important it was to build relationships with neighbors and community members.

While there have been past cultural showcases in Marshall featuring arts and food, “We wanted it to get deeper,” said Amanda Beckler, community education coordinator with Marshall Community Services. The idea of the Culture Conference was to have a space where people could ask questions, and get a more in-depth understanding of each other’s culture and history.

“Everyone has a different story, and we should be celebrating that,” she said.

Organizers reached out to groups like Marshall Public Schools’ parent student connectors, and the Cultures United group at Marshall High School, Beckler said. Speakers at the conference included area residents, parents and students from Marshall area schools, and educators.

“We’re really excited,” Moua-Leske said.

People attending the conference broke up into small groups, where there was plenty of interaction between audience members and speakers. During a presentation on Hispanic celebrations, presenters Jesus Reyes and Karla Reyes talked about a few of the holidays and festivals celebrated in Mexico, but audience members were also able to help answer questions and add their experiences with celebrations in other countries in Central America.

It was a challenge to try and narrow down the discussion of celebrations and holidays into a short talk, Jesus Reyes said.

One of the holiday traditions presenters shared at the conference was a demonstration of an ofrenda, a display of photos, food and other objects to remember loved ones who have died. It’s part of the celebrations for Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, Karla Reyes explained.

“Day of the Dead is not a sad time. It’s a day to remember your loved ones in a happy way,” she said.

For a new event, organizers said the Culture Conference had gotten a good response. They estimated around 30 people had pre-registered for the event.

“This is a pretty good turnout for a Saturday,” Moua-Leske said.

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