Cover Story

Fargo: No longer Far-gone

"Fargo: No longer Far-gone" Continued...

Today, Hogstad is a co-pastor at RCC and spends cold winter evenings throwing balls in the house with his three young kids. He loves the friendliness of Fargoans and the diversity of newcomers: He calls the city one big suburb with a cute, quaint downtown: “We could leave the doors unlocked at night if we wanted to.”

Snowy heaven

Daniel James Devine

Low unemployment, low crime, and inexpensive but decent housing make Fargo a surprising resettling ground for international refugees. “There’s no such thing as a ghetto in Fargo,” said Darci Asche, a resettlement supervisor at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. The agency coordinated the arrival of 285 refugees in Fargo and West Fargo during fiscal year 2013, mostly from Bhutan, Iraq, and Somalia. 

For immigrants accustomed to hot climates, the region’s cold temperatures and 52 inches of snow each winter come as a shock. Hasta Basnet, 28, saw snow for the first time when he arrived in Fargo three years ago. He lives with his wife, parents, and sister in a three-bedroom apartment that is modest but brightly decorated with balloons, colored lights, and artificial flowers. Rent is $765 a month. When I visited, his parents offered a head bow and the Hindu greeting “Namaste!”

Hasta’s father, 81, wore a topi atop his head and red and yellow strings around his wrists—a protection against evil spirits. His mother, 70, wore gold rings in her ears and nose, and sat cross-legged on a rug, twisting cotton balls into small wicks that are dipped in oil and burned for prayers. They were watching an internet video of a Hindu religious ceremony. “The place where we came from was like hell, and now the place we are in is like heaven,” Hasta explained.

About two decades ago, the Basnets fled their home in Bhutan at midnight, cutting their cows free and carrying away only a little money, food, and the clothes on their backs. Along with thousands of their Hindu neighbors, they settled in a UN refugee camp in Nepal, escaping religious persecution from Bhutan’s Buddhist government. Hasta was about 5. After 20 long years, the International Organization for Migration helped the Basnets resettle in the United States in 2011.

Today Hasta works for Lutheran Social Services as a Nepalese translator. He helps other Bhutanese refugees (there are around 1,500 in the region) find work at restaurants, hotels, and stores like Walmart. “It’s not that hard to find a job here in Fargo,” Hasta said. The Basnets say it’s “too cold” in Fargo, but they agreed Fargoans are friendly and welcoming. “The problem is we don’t understand what they are saying,” complained Hasta’s parents, in Nepalese. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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