Panelists share personal culture in We Are Klamath event

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We Are Klamath speakers, in the front row left to right, Bonita Fillmore, Raquel Poteet and Laty Xiyavong are surrounded by those who attended the event to hear about their cultural history.

We Are Klamath speakers, in the front row left to right, Bonita Fillmore, Raquel Poteet and Laty Xiyavong are surrounded by those who attended the event to hear about their cultural history.

We Are Klamath speakers, in the front row left to right, Bonita Fillmore, Raquel Poteet and Laty Xiyavong are surrounded by those who attended the event to hear about their cultural history.

It was a dark and stormy night when 42 people braved the elements to learn more about their friends and neighbors.

The We Are Klamath speaking panel featured Czech descendent of Malin’s Victorine family Bonita Fillmore, Raquel Poteet, an immigrant from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Laty Xiyavong, a Laotian immigrant of Thai heritage. Invited speakers from the Klamath Tribes and the Hispanic community were unable to attend.

While the speakers came from distinctly different backgrounds, each expressed a common theme in the willingness of those already in Klamath to help them find a home here. Fillmore shared that the Czech settlers arrived in September 1909 and immediately set out to clear sagebrush. W.C. Dalton provided his personal equipment on loan, as long as the borrower left a note written on the Dalton barn door.

Xiyavong’s parents received help in establishing the family restaurant Thai Orchid from local people who provided information and support in obtaining a building lease and opening a bank account. He believes the 17 years the family has lived in Klamath is the longest span the Xiyavongs have lived anywhere.

For Poteet, she needed to gain personal confidence in her new home. An educator in Brazil, her first job here was cleaning houses. Taking psychology courses at Klamath Community College prompted her to seek a job closer to her calling. She spent time as a preschool teacher, but now works with families through the Women Infants and Children program at Klamath County Public Health.

She says she has not experienced discrimination here, and feels at home with the Hispanic people and culture. The foods are very similar, and the people are inviting. Poteet and her husband have discussed leaving Klamath, but she is insistent that they keep a house in Klamath, as this is home.

The continuity of connection is something Xiyavong sees through the family restaurant. Many of Oregon Institute of Technology’s international students find their way through the establishment’s doors. The food and familiarity feels like a visit home.

Food is not the only connection to the past. Fillmore related that less than 20 years after the Czech settlers established Malin, the community hosted a large Sokol, or gymnastics, competition, drawing participants from across the United States. She also mentioned that Malin is named after an Eastern European town where horseradish is grown, as settlers found horseradish while clearing fields. Also, the Czech settlers brought the cultivation of potatoes to the Klamath Basin.

In a divisive period of American society, it is not always easy to see the commonality of humanity. For 90 minutes on October 24, it was easy to see that we all crave connection, communication and a place to call home.

We Are Klamath was sponsored by the Klamath Regional Health Equity Coalition, a program of Klamath County Public Health. The coalition seeks to help all individuals attain the highest levels of respect, health and wellness.

Audio podcasts of the speaker’s presentations can be found at krhec.org.

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