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Connecting Across the Cannon River: Town Colleges and NGOs partner with the Latine community in Northfield

The Latine population makes up about nine percent of the Northfield population but is ever increasing. Whereas they were once underserved, today there are multiple NGOs, such as Growing Up Healthy, pushing to advocate and partner with Latine families. 

Northfield is known as the city of cows, colleges and contentment. The primary attraction is mainly on Division Street, home to various restaurants, antique shops, clothing stores and more. During the school year, college kids roam the streets. 

What some do not know is that just across the Cannon River lives a large and mostly segregated Latine community in the Viking Terrace & Riverside mobile home parks (formerly known as Florella’s) and the Northfield Estates apartment complex. 

Between the 1990s and 2000s, there was an increase in Latine migration to Northfield, MN due to the presence of the food-processing industry and other similar jobs. Latine immigrants have preferred small rural towns like Faribault and Northfield for their more affordable housing, lower crime rates and better overall quality of life. Most of the families in Northfield trace their roots back to Maltrata, Veracruz, Mexico

After years of migration to Northfield, the Latine community has grown, and thus has the support of local NGOs and colleges. Growing Up Healthy is a nonprofit that focuses on connecting and partnering with Latine and immigrant families in Northfield and Faribault. Other nonprofits like the Community Action Center and Healthfinders have collaborated with one another and the community to best engage with Latine families in Northfield. 

“The more we get out there, the more we talk about it, the more we tell the stories, the more aware people are going to be,” said Jennyffer Barrientos, the director of Growing Up Healthy. 

Persistent barriers have encouraged colleges to step out of their bubbles and work more closely with local community partners. 

“We take in a lot of information and really think about where we put our resources and our efforts. One of the things we have chosen is a focus on Greenvale Community School,” said Erica Zweifel, Assistant Director for Community Impact at Carleton College. 

The Greenvale Community School, located in a predominantly Latine neighborhood across the Cannon River, provides academic support and community engagement. The Carleton Center for Community and Civic Engagement leads many volunteer opportunities and partnerships with the school. 

“I have realized that a lot of the Hispanic community has been very interested and appreciative of any interactions that their kids can have with a college student,” said Barrientos.

Colleges face barriers of their own when trying to reach  their communities, as they have to provide transportation for students and work around organizations’ working hours. 

“The other one is the language barrier; they’re so grateful when someone can speak in Spanish,” said Zweifel. 

There is a consensus about the language barrier when college students or the city interact with Spanish-speaking community members. Barrientos specifically explained the disconnect between sharing city positions and opportunities with Latine families to partake in, without any way to bridge the language gap. 

“Yes, we have people that are interested, but are those [positions] translated? Is somebody going to be there to provide translation services?” asked Barrientos. 

Despite these obstacles, the Latine community continues to thrive. Northfield has a radio show, El Super Barrio Latino, dedicated to Spanish-speaking Latines and created by the Latine community itself. In 2020, Northfield elected the first two Latine members of the Northfield School Board and City Council, expanding Latine representation in positions of power. And now, a new family-owned and run restaurant named Coco’s Place has joined Kahlo on Division Street. 

As Latine visibility and support rises, the city of Northfield, its colleges and its residents must remember to build and unite together. 

“Don’t give up on these families,” Barrientos says. “If you are going to host an event or meeting and you’re going to provide translation services, don’t expect for these families to all show up to the first one. It takes time for trust to build, and it’s many, many years that we’re talking here. Slowly but surely, it will happen.” 

Growing Up Healthy hosts events with Latine families in Northfield.
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