A ‘thanks giving’ dinner of a different kind

Billings mayor plans multi-linguistic dinner to celebrate Magic City’s diversity

By: - November 25, 2021 10:00 am

Billings Mayor Bill Cole reads an opening invocation in Sanskrit from the Bhagavad Gita during the June 14, 2021 meeting (Photo from Community 7 Television)

Billings Mayor Bill Cole doesn’t just talk about diversity as the leader of municipal government. He wants people to really see Montana’s largest city as diverse.

Statistics say Billings is more diverse than average, even by Montana standards. Roughly one in five residents are non-White.

In June, Cole led an effort to read a Hindu prayer in Sanskrit just to demonstrate the tolerance and diversity in Billings.

However, Cole is also literally putting his money where his mouth is: He is sponsoring a Mayor’s World Language Dinner that will feature fluent or native non-English languages. The idea is to gather a wide array of foreign language speakers to enjoy a dinner together, make new friends, and see the diversity in Billings and have a better appreciate for the multi-cultural nature of “The Magic City.”

Originally, the dinner had been planned for October, but it’s been rescheduled for April because of still-high COVID-19 numbers. Cole is uncertain about the number of people interested, but it’s continued to grow as he’s organized it.

The dinner will have tables where attendees will speak another language besides English. Those include indigenous languages of Montana, such as Crow and Cheyenne, as well as more commonly spoken ones, for example, French and Spanish.

“The idea is to demonstrate and celebrate the ethnic language and diversity of the community,” Cole told the Daily Montanan.

He’s been working at recruiting speakers of Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Farsi.

“We might even invite a few Canadians,” Cole joked.

He said it’s important to connect people, while also demonstrating an important point to residents.

“This is going to provide an opportunity to connect people who share an important characteristic that English is not their first language,” Cole said.

He said events like this help demonstrate that Billings has a more diverse base than some may think.

“People assume incorrectly that Bozeman or Missoula are the only places that have ethnic diversity, but that’s not correct,” Cole said. “The message to the community is that we need to attract highly educated, qualified workers and that diversity is a highly valuable drawing card.”

While this inaugural dinner has already been moved once, Cole said he wouldn’t mind if it had to move in future years.

“A larger venue in the future would probably be a great problem to have,” Cole said.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.