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Making the homeland connetion

Inside Fargo's Asian & American Grocery, just west of the McDonald's on Main Avenue, a grey-haired man returns the eight VHS tapes he rented about three days earlier. Moui Gao, a 71-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, doesn't need much time to watch one of his favorite television series, especially when it's a new release.

"He rents a lot," said George Ley, who opened the store in 1996 and has since amassed a library of about 2,000 tapes. In Ley's store, Southeast Asian customers can find the music videos, television shows and feature films they used to watch before emigrating.

For the growing immigrant population in the Fargo-Moorhead area, finding entertainment from one's homeland often begins at a handful of local ethnic stores, such as Ley's. From there, the search often leads online or down Interstate 94.

Ali Mohamed said he visits Minneapolis' large Somalian community about once a week to shop.

"They have everything there," said Mohamed, a 22-year-old student at Minnesota State University Moorhead.


His cousin, 19-year-old Asha Kassim, said she has spent up to $500 during a single shopping spree in Minneapolis.

"Money's like nothing when you go there," Kassim said.

Asha's friend Ubah Sharif has bookmarked some of her favorite Somalian Web sites. She said it's easy to get the things she wants online.

AmSoma International, 122 23rd St. S., is about the only place to go for African items in Fargo, Mohamed said. There customers can buy a cassette of popular Somalian singer Zeinab Labadhagax or tapes of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie translated into Arabic.

Next door to AmSoma, local Bosnian residents can shop for home-styled food and music at the Balkan Food Grocery Store. Owner Jasmin Fazlovic and his wife, Tanya, said their store is the only place in town that sells Bosnian music.

That's one store for about 2,000 Bosnians, the city's largest group of new immigrants. Even so, Tanya Fazlovic said, "People are pretty satisfied with what we have." The Fazlovics get their music from a St. Louis distributor and make special orders on request.

The F-M International Market, formerly the Asian Market, has been stocking movies and music for the Asian community since 1993. Shipments of new videos, sometimes carrying as many as 100 tapes, come every week, even though the rentals aren't a big money-maker, manager Tiffany Nguyen said.

"(The tapes) money-wise don't make it," she said. "We do it for entertainment for the Vietnamese community."


While her Chinese videos are pure entertainment for Fargo's Vietnamese community, Nguyen said, the native shows and films are more meaningful. In Vietnamese movies, she said, her customers can visit places from back home that they've never seen.

"It reminds them about their country," she said.

Nguyen also takes special orders for Vietnamese magazines, and when she goes to the Twin Cities, she brings back copies of Ngày nay Minnesota, the state's leading Vietnamese newspaper.

In Moorhead, Morningside Video and Tanning uses a $300 monthly budget to buy new Hispanic titles for its diverse neighborhood. The store's Spanish language section of about 150 movies does good business, manager Todd Miner said.

Morningside Video isn't planning to expand its selection for other immigrant groups, but such a move is always a possibility, Miner said.

Meanwhile, a bundle of posters featuring movie stars and pop singers from Southeast Asia wait behind the counter at Asian & American Grocery. Ley, the store owner, gets the posters to advertise new releases from the same California company that supplies his tapes and DVDs.

Ley's video selection has grown so large that he has to jam the tapes together like books on a shelf, two rows deep and nine shelves high. Hundreds more are piled up in back storage rooms.

"We don't have enough room," Ley said.


The tapes, which run in Vietnamese, Cambodian or Chinese, rent for $1 a movie and 50 cents a television episode. Some series are more than 30 tapes long, Ley said, so people might rent 10 tapes at once and watch them over a week's time.

Gao, who moved to Fargo 15 years ago, said he would drive to Minneapolis every week to rent Vietnamese videos before Ley opened his store.

His latest rental, whose title translates into "Lady Stealer," is a sword fighting action series that he likes to follow.

"It was good," Gao said in Vietnamese.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538.

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