Minnesota, Nice or Not?

The Minneapolis Foundation

Reprinted with permission from The Minneapolis Foundation’s “Immigration In Minnesota”

Veiled African women wrapped in long gowns on their way to work, Mexican youths playing basketball, a Russian couple strolling in a mall, a Hmoung family buying groceries. These are Minnesota’s newcomers, a second wave of immigration that has significantly increased our foreign-born population.

They’ve come for the same reason the first wave did – opportunity. And they go through the same kind of readjustment stress – language barriers, culture shock, isolation, sense of loss, confusion and resulting health problems.

They also bring the same cultural richness and hard-work ethic as the first wave. Our vibrant Twin Cities art scene is already a testament to their influence, and their entrepreneurship is obvious in the large number of successful small businesses and self-help organizations they’ve started. Immigrant and refugees are part of the new workforce that’s helping Minnesota bridge its labor shortage and keep its economy healthy.

Sometimes we can’t help staring at them their interesting clothes, unfamiliar language and unusual customs. But we may not take the time to learn more about them. We probably should. It might help us understand how much a friendly word or gesture can mean when you’re in a strange place surrounded by people you don’t know. It might take us a risk and offer to help, or just a little patience and empathy. It might make us remember that, 100 years ago, our own families were the newcomers.


  • Minnesota has the largest population of Somalias in the United States.
  • Most have arrived in the past five years.
  • Refugees in Minnesota: 15,000
  • Language: Somali
  • Common Occupations in Minnesota: Parking lot attendant (often hired for their honesty), taxi cab driver


  • Most Russians in the United States are Jews who fled religious persecution in the late 1980s.
  • Immigrants in Minnesota: 6-7,000
  • Language: Russian
  • Common Occupations in Minnesota: professional positions such as doctors, teachers and engineers


  • Mexicans have been settling in Minnesota since the late 19th century where Mexican men found work. Each summer between 15-20,000 migrant farm workers come here to work.
  • Immigrants in Minnesota: 125,000
  • Language: Spanish
  • Common Occupations in Minnesota: meat packing, food service or agricultural industries.


  • Since the late 1970’s where the first wave of Hmong immigrated to Minnesota from refugee camps in Thailand
  • Immigrants in Minnesota: 8,000
  • Language: Hmong
  • Common Occupations in Minnesota: medical and dental fields and business support services.


by Garrison Keillor

Heroes, all of them,at least they’re my heroes, especially the new immigrants, especially the refugees. Everyone makes fun of the New York cab drivers who can’t speak English: they’re heroes. To give up your country is the hardest thing a person can do: to leave the old familiar places and ship out over the edge of the world to America and learn everything over again different than you learned as a child, learn the new language that you will never be so smart or funny in as in your true language. It takes years to start to feel semi-normal. And yet people still come from Russia, Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos, Ethiopia, Iran, Haiti, Korea, Cuba, Chile, and they come on behalf of their children, and they come for freedom. Not for our land (Russia is as beautiful), not for our culture (they have their own, thank you), not for our system of government (they don’t even know about it, maybe not even agree with it), but for freedom. They are heroes who make an adventure on our behalf, showing by their struggle how precious beyond words freedom is, and if we knew their stories, we could no keep back the tears.

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