We Must Be A Welcoming Community To Grow

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Column: A Drop of Ink

By Reed Anfinson-Publisher

Afghanistanism.

It’s a term we learned early in our journalism career that meant writing about subjects other than those that were strictly local and important in the lives of your readers. You weren’t supposed to do it unless there was a direct connection – a soldier coming home from war; a student studying aboard.

It was at a time before the internet when metropolitan and regional daily newspapers were strong and widely circulated in rural America. Over the past 20 years, the news environment in which we live has changed dramatically.

Daily and regional newspapers have pulled reporters from rural areas. Once loyal readers of both a daily newspaper and their hometown paper have dropped their daily subscriptions.  In too many cases, they have also dropped their community newspaper, leaving them ignorant of important decisions being made by local leaders.

Today, much of the news consumed by people living in rural areas isn’t much different from what those in the big cities read and watch. People in our rural communities can know more about what is happening on a state and national level than they do about their own hometowns.

We also know that our television news programs have evolved from a few mostly non-partisan stations to now include several extremely divisive programs.

We have also witnessed the internet’s increasing influence on our political and social outlooks. Too many of our residents have become more rigid in their thinking. They are more polarized and less accepting of diversity.

At the same time as our news environment has changed, so has the complexion of our communities – literally. Our communities are seeing more diversity in race, ethnicity, and religion. These trends have benefited our communities. We have new stores on our main streets, more children in our schools, more homeowners to pay property taxes, and more shoppers to buy goods and services from our businesses.

However, we face a threat to our future growth. Racism. We aren’t born with it. It is kindled in homes where prejudice is taught. It comes through the internet encouraged by self-serving political leaders and news programs.

We saw a particularly terrible act of hate directed toward southeast Asians in the killing of eight people in Atlanta. Six were of Korean descent, making new lives for their families in America. While the shooter has apparently said the shootings didn’t involve race, it is hard to separate who was killed from the act.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to change our lives last spring, the incidents of hate crimes against Asian-Americans have increased by nearly 70 percent. There have been close to 4,000 hateful acts recorded from simple slander and harassment to murder.

In 1918-1919, the deadliest flu virus in modern times swept the world. It was particularly deadly to young, healthy adults and children.

In Minnesota, it is estimated that 12,000 people died of the 1918 flu. In the U.S., 675,000 people died. Three to 5 percent of the world’s population, an estimated 50 to 100 million people, died from this influenza variant. Based on the world’s population today, the death toll would be between 231 and 385 million. U.S. deaths would be between 9.8 and 16.3 million.

It was dubbed “The Spanish Flu.” The name stuck despite its roots being tracked to rural Kansas.

In the spring of 2009, another variant of the H1N1 flu virus spread across the world. It would kill as many as 350,000 people.  Its origin was tracked to hog farms in rural Mexico, earning it the name “swine flu.” That name would devastate the U.S. hog industry despite there being no risk of catching the deadly virus from eating pork. Demand plummeted, with 27 nations blocking the import of U.S. pork products.

Researchers who study infectious diseases are constantly on the lookout for new virus variants. They focus their efforts on places where dense populations of animals and humans live in close contact.

Southeast Asia and China have always been hotspots for disease development. They have “the world’s largest concentration of humans living in close contact with enormous populations of pigs, poultry and aquatic birds such as ducks and geese. These avian species are the natural reservoir for the (flu) virus,” Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker write in their book “Deadliest Enemy.” Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Mammals and birds don’t just carry flu viruses. They are also hosts to coronaviruses that have caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). So, it was no surprise to disease experts when a new coronavirus was diagnosed in China, which we know as COVID-19.

Unfortunately, it was also called the “Chyna Virus” with rumors that it was created in a Chinese lab. This label is closely tied to the increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans.

“There are lots of data and lots of evidence, as well as previous examples of this coming from nature,” Kristian Andersen, PhD, a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, told CIDRAP. “The new coronavirus clearly originated in nature, ‘no question about it by now.’”

In western Minnesota, we have a jewel of higher education in the University of Minnesota, Morris. It hosts students from across the world. It has a significant number of students from China. We have Oriental dining places operated by new immigrants in our communities.

How will these students feel about returning to Morris or considering it in their future education plans? What must the Asian-American families living among us today feel about their place in our communities and the safety of their children?

As a community, we must do all we can to show we are welcoming, accepting, and ready to condemn any acts of racism. We must educate our children to be accepting. At the same time, we must push back against discrimination and hate any time we as adults hear such words spoken.

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