Minnesota, known as the “land of ten thousand lakes,” is a northern state that lies along the border of Canada. People travel from all over the world to visit its natural beauties like the Great Lakes and the Boundary Waters. The Mall of America, is another grand Minnesota attraction. It is the biggest mall in the United States at 3.6 million square feet, and with over 40 million visitors a year, it receives two times as many visitors as the most visited amusement park in the world, Magic Kingdom. It contains over 500 stores, 50 restaurants, an amusement park, and an aquarium!
Then there are the famous Minnesota sports teams that draw in fans from all over; Vikings football, Minnesota Twins, and the Wilds hockey team. While Minnesota might not be well-known for its cultural diversity, by taking a deeper look at the immigrant and refugee presence in the state a beautiful aspect of Minnesota society and culture comes to light.
According to the American Immigration Council, of the 5.65 million Minnesota residents, immigrants make up 9 percent of the population with around 485 thousand foreign-born individuals. Over half of the immigrant population are American citizens, and over 81,000 are eligible to become citizens. The most popular countries of origin of Minnesotan immigrants are Mexico (12 percent), Somalia (8 percent), and Ethiopia (5 percent).
In their published research, two academics, Caitlin Katsiaficas and Maki Park, share statistics on Minnesota’s Superdiverse and Growing Dual Language Learner Child Population. According to their research, the child dual language learner population grew by 77 percent between 2000 and 2011-15. The demographics for the dual language learners (DLL) show that these students are much more racially diverse than non-DLL students, but unfortunately, they’re twice as likely to be living in a low-income household and/or in poverty.
Over the past several years Minnesota has been investing in increasing English proficiency for non-native English speakers. Katsiaficas and Park explain the importance of Minnesota to progress their dual-language learning capacities of schools, “building the capacity of systems and services to meet the needs of diverse families with young children is key to providing responsive, effective early childhood services.”
Some dual language programs located in Minneapolis can be found here.
As can be seen from the chart below, DACA students, who are a sub-group of undocumented immigrants, are extremely beneficial to the economy by contributing millions of dollars in spending power and paying millions in federal, state, and local taxes.
Many of these students go on to fill essential worker and critical skill positions. The Minnesota DREAM Act provides eligible undocumented students (including DACA recipients) with access to state financial aid. Undocumented students may also be eligible for financial aid through their public college or university if they meet the state’s residency requirements.
Arts and Media
Latino Art Midwest is a collective whose goal is to work together to understand the role that the arts and creative expression have among Midwestern Latinx communities. This group is made up of all types of artists and academics that want to spread their message within their community and beyond, “the arts, we believe, reveal the ways in which the Midwest exists not as a singular place, but rather as a conjunctural space comprised of innumerable places with transnational and transregional flows, and everyday social interactions and interconnections extending out and into Latin America.”
Dr. Swami Lucky Dougie Padilla is one of the artists that are part of the Latino Art Midwest collaboration, he is “a self-taught visionary artist of Norwegian/ Mexican/cowboy roots living in the wilds of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota”.
La Matraca is a Minnesota-based news outlet that is geared toward the Spanish-speaking individuals living in Minnesota. Every article is published in Spanish. La Matraca shares Latinx stories with their readers, and also make everyday news available in the native language of the Latinx community.
Minneapolis is home to more Somalis than any other city in the U.S. and overall, they make up the second-largest percentage of the immigrant population in Minnesota with nearly 40 thousand in total. This has led to the creation of many Somali media outlets in Minnesota. The Somali American is a Minnesota newspaper that focuses on news for and about Somalis in the community.
Immigrants’ Role in Minnesota Economy
Around half of the immigrant population in Minnesota is living in Hennepin and Ramsey county where the most populous Minnesotan cities are. Metropolis areas provide the most job opportunities, which explains why there are over 20 thousand immigrant entrepreneurs in these two counties alone, which is a 34.5% increase since 2014 according to a 2019 New American Economy article. The following infographic gives an overview of the immigrants’ essential function within the Minnesota economy.
Non-Profit Organizations that assist Immigrants and Refugees
There are many non-profit groups that help immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. Two standout groups are the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and the International Institute of Minnesota.
The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) provides immigration legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. Part of their mission is to, “educate Minnesota communities and professionals about immigration matters, and advocate for state and federal policies which respect the universal human rights of immigrants.” Over the past 25 years, ILCM has helped tens of thousands of immigrants in securing work authorization and American citizenship. Beyond that, they work with DACA applications and renewals and help people detained by ICE.
The International Institute of Minnesota assists refugees in transitioning into their new community by providing them with a one-time grant of $925 and 90 days of case management. Their website explains that “starting over in a new community is an immense challenge, especially if you’ve experienced trauma — from learning a new language to entering a new culture to processing the crisis from which one has fled.” Along with the financial assistance, they provide additional services, including:
- Finding and furnishing housing prior to refugee arrivals
- Enrolling refugee children in school
- Connecting adults with ESL classes and employment counseling services
- Applying for social security cards, selective service, and public benefits
- Shopping for groceries and household items
- Accessing medical care
The International Institute of Minnesota does its best to create a welcoming community for refugees, and to provide refugees with opportunities to thrive.
Are Immigrants Welcome Here?
The governor of Minnesota, Democrat Tim Walz, is a strong supporter of immigrant and refugee rights and welcomes them with open arms. In 2019, after an executive order by former President Trump for the number of refugees permitted to settle in the United States to be reduced to 18,000 in 2020, Walz publicly denounced the order. In a letter to, the then Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Walz wrote,
“Minnesota has a strong moral tradition of welcoming those who seek refuge. Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy.”
Under the current Minnesota administration immigrants and refugees seem to be supported and welcomed in the state. Of course, there are always those who fight progress, but rather than shining a light on those people, this article aims to highlight the resources available to immigrants and refugees and spread awareness of the immigrant presence that enhances the culture of Minnesota.
Jessica recently graduated with her Master of Arts in Spanish Literature at Texas Tech University, where her studies inspired her to follow a career in non-profit work advocating for the Latin American and immigrant community in the Americas. Working with Latina Republic gives her an opportunity to pursue her dream by sharing stories and spreading awareness about the beautiful and rich cultures of Latin America, and the difficult lives Latin Americans face in and outside of the U.S. For Jessica, this is the beginning of a long career in advocacy for social, political, and environmental justice for all.