HUDSON, Minnesota – American Muslims from across the St. Croix River in Minnesota were invited to share potato salad and stories at Hudson’s Lakefront Park, Minnesota, where more than 350 people met on picnic tables spanning over 160 feet.
“I am so happy to see the Hudson community reaching out to Muslims, saying, we want to put a face and a name to Muslims,'” Hanadi Chehabeddine, who works as a public speaker on Islam and as a diversity consultant, told Hudson Star Observer.
“We don’t want them to just be the ‘other’ or ‘them.’ Now it’s ‘Hanadi,” she added.
The event, hosted by the Hudson Inclusion Alliance, was designed as an opportunity for people to build stronger ties with area residents and discuss ways to make Hudson more inclusive.
Attendees were encouraged to bring a shareable dish and sit with those they didn’t know.
“(The Longer Table) is a complete success,” said Petrona Melgarejo, who has shared in previous interviews and at a Common Council meeting accounts of anti-immigrant language in Hudson.
“It refreshes my heart to see that people are tolerant of people and appreciate coming together regardless of who they are or what they look like.”
These warm feelings were welcomed by American Muslim families who made it to the event.
“Now that we’re in Afton, Hudson is right in our backyard,” said Naaima Khan, who serves on the boards of the Twin Cities-based Islamic Resource Group and the Eastern Twin Cities Islamic Center, which recently opened a mosque in Afton.
“We really see Hudson Inclusion Alliance and similar efforts as supplementing our work. We can only do so much as an organization … If you’re talking about building bridges, you need something on the other side to come to meet you.”
Chehabeddine stressed the importance of boosting Muslim voices and talking with Muslim experts rather than spreading misconceptions.
“In a democracy, there needs to be a conversation,” she said. “This has got to end. Really, this is America. This has got to end.”
Khan, from the Islamic Resource Group and the Eastern Twin Cities Islamic Center, said that the “Longer Table” event was an example of an effective way to counter intolerance.
“You’re basically saying, hey look, we have this vision of a really great, integrated, diverse society. And we’re moving forward with it. So you can either come and sign on, or you can stay where you are,” she said.
“From the perspective of a person of color, there is a lot of work to be done (in all communities)…in order to build that intercultural competency,” she said.
“But I think the very first step in that is coming together and recognizing the common goal. I think this event is really loud and clear about that goal, which is to be an inclusive community for everybody.”