While communities across the country pitched moon jumps and grilled out as part of National Night Out, an annual event for neighbors to get to know each other and prevent crime together, the block party at Conway Recreation Center made a point to emphasize its burgeoning immigrant population.
A variation on the theme, International Night Out is a show of appreciation for St. Paul's African American, Native, Latino, and Asian American residents, says coordinator Clara Ware of the District 1 Community Council, whose purview includes Conway. In preparation for the event, Ware recruited Native American dancers, an African American youth drill team, and martial artists to perform for the 400 locals who turned up.
"We want to let people know that our cultures are very important to our respective identities," Ware says. "This event kills stereotypes and biases about our cultures, and will hopefully show everyone that there are a lot of good people out here in the world."
For members for the newly formed Minnesota Internship Center Drill and Dance Team, International Night Out was the latest in a long list of neighborhood functions where they've made a showing. "We love it. Everybody's coming together and having fun, with no drama or anything, learning about new cultures," says dancer Kealah Drummond, gesturing at a performance by East Side-based Aztec dance troupe Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli. "Like that, we don't do that, but it's fun to watch."
Squads of St. Paul police officers also dropped in throughout the two-hour event with a bent on testing stereotypes. Sgt.Tina Kill made Conway her 10th neighborhood block party of the night, passing out stickers and bracelets to kids who want to know if she's ever killed anybody (she hasn't), and whether they can try on her handcuffs.
"For some of the kids, this is their chance to see a police officer up close and personal, so I answer their questions," she says. "They always wanna see the gun, and I kinda deter them from that. Those little kids said they wanted to be cops, so I told them to call me in 20 years. Here in St. Paul, I think we get along a lot better than people give us credit for. Showing up like this, talking to people, that continues to build that trust."