Fremont residents say community embraces diversity, despite ordinance requiring legal status to rent property

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Daniel Moran (right) poses for a photo with Edna Suarez in her bakery Artesan Bread in Fremont on May 7, 2024. He dropped off her sticker to put in the front door. (Photo by Kassidy Arena/Nebraska Public Media News)
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By Kassidy Arena, Senior Reporter Nebraska Public Media News

Daniel Moran got out of his car in front of a business in downtown Fremont with a handful of envelopes and papers. He opened the door and walked into la panadería, or the bakery, called Artesan Bread. Owner Edna Suarez greeted him with a warm welcome.

Moran was dropping off a sticker for Suarez to put up on her front door. It said “Les invitamos a practicar su español aquí.” In English, that translates to “We invite you to practice your Spanish here.”

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“Les invitamos a practicar su español aquí” translates to “We invite you to practice your Spanish here” in English. Daniel Moran said it’s more about opening spaces for students to feel comfortable speaking Spanish and less so about exhibiting perfect grammar and pronunciation. (Photo by Camila Fowler/Nebraska Public Media News)

Ten other businesses will have matching stickers. It’s part of Moran’s project to help students in the area build a positive connection to the language. And, he said, they’ll do so with the help of Spanish-speaking business owners.

“I wanted [those business owners] to know that they have something that is valuable to our community,” Moran said.

Moran, the dual language program coordinator and kindergarten teacher at Washington Elementary School, teaches students all subjects in both English and Spanish. He felt like his students could potentially lose some of that Spanish language knowledge during the summer months, so he came up with an idea to connect Spanish-speaking business owners with students.

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The vast majority of students (80% of the 394 students) at Moran’s school are Hispanic. And almost half of the 5,333 students enrolled in Fremont Public Schools identify as Hispanic, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

“Since we are not a monolingual school or community, the opportunities outside of school or within the community should be multilingual,” he explained.

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It’s exactly this kind of project that some residents feel more accurately reflects their city than some national attention Fremont has received. The city was featured in national news for an ordinance that requires all people renting property in Fremont to sign a declaration they are in the U.S. through legal means.

Some residents said it just keeps everything in order, but others worry it paints the city in the wrong light. And that the ordinance is not what Fremont is about.

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Daniel Moran teaches kindergarten at Washington Elementary School and coordinates the dual language program in the district. Right now, the school is under construction. (Photo by Camila Fowler/Nebraska Public Media News)

“I’d love to just put that all behind,” said Brenda Wilberding, president and CEO of the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce. She started in the role about 10 months ago. The ordinance was put in place in 2010.

“What I’ve seen though, is cultural embracing of the people in Fremont,” she said. “I mean, I feel like the people here are culturally aware and culturally diverse. And I do feel like people are trying really hard. And this program sets the stage for that.”

Census data shows more than 16% of residents in Fremont identify as Hispanic or Latino, and more than 6% of residents are not from the U.S.

And as programs like Moran’s gain more attention, that could bring tax dollars into the economy through the public school system, according to Wilberding.

Wilberding added she feels like Moran’s programming has made Fremont’s diverse community much more visible, and that both the dual language program and Spanish-speaking project is helping set up Fremont’s business owners for success.

Multiple businesses in Fremont have signs welcoming customers in Spanish. This ice cream shop has both the sticker to invite people to use Spanish, but also takes the first step by painting “Welcome” on the wall next to the front door. (Photo by Camila Fowler/Nebraska Public Media News)

“If they know they’re needed and they know that they have a demand, and there’s people that need to learn from them, I feel like it makes them feel very, very confident in the services they provide,” she added.

Back at the bakery, Suarez can attest to that.

“I like that Daniel has supported our language because our language is beautiful and we are spoiling it,” she said in Spanish.

Suarez has noticed her two children start to lose their Spanish. She wants to make sure the language is preserved and valued in Fremont.

Plus, she said, it doesn’t help that she tends to use slang native to her birthplace of Puebla, Mexico. This slang sometimes can combine English with Spanish resulting in words that don’t always translate well, such as lonche for the word “lunch” instead of the more acknowledged translation of almuerzo.

“Sometimes parents speak English and that’s why the kids don’t want to use it,” Suarez continued in Spanish. “So many of our kids don’t speak it. So, in that case, our language is even more lost.”

Daniel Moran places a sticker in the front window of a business in Fremont on May 7, 2024. Moran said he wants his project to become a natural part of the community so people will feel more confident speaking Spanish. (Photo by Kassidy Arena/Nebraska Public Media News)

Moran said it’s not so much the slang that he’s concerned about, since slang is part of a region’s culture. But he doesn’t want students in Fremont to lose Spanish or risk not being exposed to it at all. He, himself raises his kids by only speaking to them in Spanish. So much so, he said, his daughter often translates for him out of concern for his lack of English.

“My 4-year-old daughter thinks that she is teaching me English,” Moran said with a laugh.

Moran orients his curriculum around three main criteria: aptitude, motivation and exposure.

“And with the element of exposure, there are a lot of limitations,” he said. “Exposure is, I’ll even say it’s a problem. It’s difficult for families to provide exposure to Spanish… It’s tricky for families to create exposure outside of school or outside the home, especially for second and third generation families.”

And he’s not the only one devoted to bringing more Spanish to the community. Moran received some of the money he used to buy the stickers from a second grader at Washington Elementary School who donated all her earnings from her lemonade stand to Moran’s program. His project with the stickers cost about $70 for printing and shipping.

Edna Suarez immediately placed the sticker that says “Les invitamos a practicar su Espanol aquí.” It lets students know they can come into her business to practice their Spanish. (Photo by Camila Fowler/Nebraska Public Media News)

“I think it would be great to see an environment where Spanish isn’t just accepted, it’s invited,” Moran said. “I think that there’s an important difference between saying it’s okay to do something and saying it’s good to do something.”

Moran said he wants his project to become a natural part of the community. So that one day, people will feel more confident speaking Spanish without a sticker encouraging them to do so. That way, he added, Fremont will be more known for its valuable diversity.

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