Something didn't sit right with Louis Hoglund. He slept on it, but when he woke the next morning, he was still troubled.
The managing editor of a weekly small-town newspaper in western Minnesota sat down to write a tongue-in-cheek column: "With deep regret, the staff and management of the Pelican Rapids Press feel obligated to report that the local newspaper is 'Anti-American.' " Several graphs later, he wrote: "True ... because Facebook said so."
Two weeks earlier, the paper — which has just four staff members — published photos from Pelican Rapids High School's commencement ceremony on its Facebook page. In a city with a Jennie-O turkey plant that for decades has drawn large numbers of immigrant workers, it was not unusual that the images featured several Somali students donning hijabs beneath their graduation caps.
A few days later, one of Hoglund's staffers showed him a racist comment left on the Facebook post attacking the paper for sharing the photos of the graduates and calling its coverage "anti-Americanism."
The Press removed the comment, and Hoglund chided its author in his column. At the end of the piece, Hoglund invited the Facebook commenter to write a letter to the editor and made a plug for Pelican Rapids' annual Friendship Festival on June 22.
When Hoglund's column was published online, it received nearly 100 comments in less than a day.
"Pride is probably the most frequent comment that I saw on Facebook," Hoglund said. "They're really proud of the community and how it's accepting."
Readers extolled the diversity of their small town of about 2,500, where residents embrace a melting pot of cultures.
The turkey plant first brought a group of migrant workers from south Texas and Mexico in the 1970s. Refugees came to Pelican Rapids from Southeast Asia in the '80s and Bosnia in the '90s. A large number of Somali immigrants began to arrive in the early 2000s. The town likely would have ceased to exist were it not for its willingness to adapt and welcome newcomers, said Joan Ellison, a founding member of the Pelican Rapids Multicultural Committee.
It is rare to see an overtly racist comment like the one posted to the Press' Facebook page, Ellison said, but that doesn't mean there aren't people who are unhappy with how Pelican Rapids has changed over time.
"The turkey plant always said we will teach them how to work in America, if it's the community's responsibility to teach them how to live in America," Ellison said. "And Pelican [Rapids] always responded to that."
Over the years, the town has created a number of services to help immigrants assimilate into the community. The Friendship Festival is a celebration of those efforts, with food and entertainment from local cultural groups. It's evidence of how Pelican Rapids has become a home for people from many cultures over the years, Ellison said.
"What more could a community ask for," she mused, "than people who love being where they are and work to make it a better place?"
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478