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Listening to ‘all our stories’: An insider’s guide to #OHA2017 in the Twin Cities

A few weeks ago we began counting down to the OHA Annual Meeting, which is now just around the corner. Today, as promised, we bring you an insider’s look at Twin Cities from Gabriale Payne, who will be our correspondent on the ground throughout the conference. Enjoy her tips, and add your own suggestions in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #OHA2017.

“Bridging the gulf between us is hard… But what alternative do we have? The demographic makeup of Minnesota, like the rest of the country, is changing rapidly and radically…. If we are to sort ourselves out and make good lives for ourselves in this ever-more-multicultural landscape, we’ve got to start by talking less and listening more.

We can listen—really listen—to one another’s stories and learn from them. Collectively, we can learn to tell a story that includes all our stories… fashion a mosaic-like group portrait from those stories that we all can agree truly does resemble people like us.

–David Lawrence Grant, “People Like Us,” in A Good Time for the Truth: Race in America, edited by Sun Yung Shin

Over the past year, events in Minnesota’s Twin Cities have made national headlines more times than one can count – at least not without the use of fingers and toes. As much as the residents of Minnesota might appreciate gaining some national attention for something other than their state’s 10,000+ lakes, its famous Juicy Lucy burger, or its exceptionally frigid winter weather, recent news has rarely been good. From the death of Prince – beloved son of Minneapolis – in April 2016, to the July 2016 shooting of Philando Castile in the Saint Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, to the more recent August 4th bombing at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in the city of Bloomington – the states’ fourth largest city – it would seem that Minnesota is in urgent need of some good news. But Minnesota is far from alone in this need. If anything, the Twin Cities, and their suburbs are in good company with many other cities across the nation as Americans everywhere begin to brace themselves in the face of mounting international challenges. Fortunately for those attending OHA2017, the Twin Cities have much more than negative publicity to offer its visitors.

The Twin Cities are home to a variety of institutions which continually illustrate the difference oral history can make in expanding our understanding of the past, particularly with regards to the experiences of marginalized communities in Minnesota and abroad. The Minnesota Historical Society maintains the largest digitized Oral History Collection in the country, with a special focus on Voices of Minnesota, the US Dakota War of 1862, and Immigrant Oral Histories. In addition, in 2013, the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center launched the Immigrant Stories project which works to collect contemporary migration stories through digital storytelling, all preserved in their archives, a well-renowned archive and library for the study of immigration, ethnicity, and race. The Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies, at the University of Minnesota Libraries, maintains over 3,000 linear feet of material which helps to provide a record of GLBT thought, knowledge and culture for current and future generations. Each of these archives are available to students, researchers and members of the public, providing Minnesota’s diverse communities with the opportunity to hear “one another’s stories and learn from them,” to produce stories that truly “resemble people like us,” and to reconstruct our social values in ways that better reflect our states’ and our nation’s multiculturalism. All of these institutions are well worth a visit to anyone attending OHA2017.

There are also several exhibits at the Minnesota History Center that can provide a deeper understanding of our state’s multicultural history. The museum’s Then and Now exhibit provides visitors with a unique perspective on Dakota history and culture through a presentation of Bobby Wilson’s poetry and visual art. The exhibit also provides a concise but detailed glimpse into the history of one of St. Paul’s displaced African American communities, which was once situated close to Rondo Avenue before it was supplanted by Interstate 94 in the 1960s. Moving beyond the borders of Minnesota, the museum’s WWI America exhibit provides visitors with the opportunity to explore the histories of both remarkable people and social movements, including mass immigration, women’s suffrage, and racial politics, with the use of a variety of original artifacts. The Minneapolis Institute of Art will also have a number of exhibitions that can help visitors learn more about the histories and experiences of marginalized communities in the Twin Cities and beyond. Their “I Am Somali”: Three Visual Artists from the Twin Cities exhibition celebrates the work of three Somali visual artists from the Twin Cities: Hassan Nor, Aziz Osman, and Ifrah Mansour. These artists’ stories help us to examine and better understand experiences of exile as well as questions of memory and identity from multiple geographical, historical, and contemporary standpoints.

For anyone searching for a safe space to ponder some of the difficult questions that shape our contemporary international circumstances, try a stop in at the Walker Art Center to visit their I am you, you are too exhibition, which brings a diverse international and multi-generational group of artists together for critical reflection on how we memorialize the past and understand the social, geographic, and political structures that shape us. The Guthrie Theater’s production of Watch on the Rhine – a political thriller centered on a German anti-Nazi immigrant living in 1940’s Washington – is another great option here as well, presenting audiences with a timely opportunity to engage with questions of moral duty.

Last but not least, for those looking for a more basic tourists’ view of the Twin Cities, be sure not to miss an opportunity to peruse the shops at the Mall of America. And, though it may be a bit too chilly for most, outdoorsy types will enjoy some time on any one of Minnesota’s scenic byways; the Chain of Lakes is exceptionally picturesque. And, if at the end of the day you still have the energy to burn, visit a few well-known food spots on Eat Street for dinner, followed by drinks and live music at one of Minneapolis-Saint Paul’s hottest spots.

Whatever you decide to do while you are here, make sure to “listen—really listen” to the stories you hear so that when you return to your own communities, you can help us to spread “all our stories” in ways that “truly…resemble people like us.” Do this, and I can assure you that your time here will be more than just memorable…it will be worth remembering, too.

What are you most excited to see during #OHA2017 in the Twin Cities? Let us know in the comments below or on TwitterFacebookTumblr, or Google+.

Featured image credit: We can fall in love with this city together by JFXie. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

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