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A New Beginning: Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural Minnesota

Presented by:
Francisco J. González
attorney and community activist.
March 21, 2002 from 3-5pm at the Summit Center, Mankato

I. Welcome and Introductions


Good Afternoon. Buenas tardes. Galab wanaagsan.

My name is Francisco J. González, and I want to thank you all for being here today and
for your interest in participating in what I hope will be a good conversation on the topic of
immigration. But before that, I would like to take care of a couple of house-keeping details.
Please make sure that you grab one of the packages I am distributing, with the agenda for this
afternoon and also additional information that I thought would complement our conversation.
I hope that we can have a informal discussion, and feel free to ask questions at any time, but also
note that I have reserved time at the end for a full question and answer period. Also please help
your self to the Mexican cookies and treats.

Like I said, my name is Francisco J. González, and I am currently working as an attorney


with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services or Legal Aid, here in Mankato. However, as of
May 1st, I’ll be changing careers and joining the law firm of Somsen, Schade and Franta also here
in Mankato. I hope to concentrate my practice on immigration law. I also have about 10 years of
involvement with the local immigrant and minority populations of our area, and helped create two
non-profit organizations that serve these communities.

I am also an immigrant, but not from a foreign country. I grew up in the US Territory of
Puerto Rico. My father is Puerto Rican, and my mother is from Spain. I came to Mankato in 1988
to study at Mankato State University. I did not know anyone here, I spoke horrible English, and
the first winter made me extremely homesick for the warms tropical waters and sandy beaches of
Puerto Rico. However, I stayed, and 13 years later I am proud to call Minnesota “home”. After
finishing a Master’s degree in History at MSU, I worker for several years at the local welfare
offices here in Mankato., an experience that opened my eyes to the issues of poverty and social
justice. In 1997 I decided that the world needed ANOTHER lawyer, and went to Hamline
University Law School in St. Paul. I graduated in the year 2000, and began to work for Legal Aid
shortly after.
During my years here in Mankato, I could not help but notice the growth of the immigrant
communities. Those of you who a e life-long residents of this area undoubtedly remember the
days when there was hardly a non-European face to be seen anywhere around here. However, it is
important to remember that immigration is not a new phenomena, but an integral part of the
American experience. For centuries, the US has accepted millions of eager immigrants from
Europe, as well as forced “immigrants”(slaves) from Africa. However, immigration into the US
acquired a new dimension in the later part of the 20th century, as the “newcomers” now originate
mostly from Latin American, Africa and Asia. These new immigrants came in search of economic
and political freedoms, grateful for the opportunities available to them in the US. At the same

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time, these newcomers (for reasons outlined below) are both unwilling and unable to just
disappear into the mythical “melting pot” that swallowed earlier waves of immigrants.

The dramatic growth in the non-European population of the US, fueled by immigration, will
change the social, political and economic face of the nation. America in 2050 will certainly not
only look different, but also be better.

II. Immigration into Minnesota: what’s new?

1. Native American tribes and early European settlers


For centuries, Minnesota has attracted different groups of migrant populations. During the 17th
and 18th centuries, the Ojibwa and Dakota Native American peoples moved into the area, escaping
intertribal conflict and European expansionism farther east. At the beginning of the 19th century
Scandinavian and Central European settlers came to the forests and prairies of this territory.
During the 20th century, immigrants form all parts of the globe came too, seeking refuge and
opportunity. The current pattern of migratory agricultural laborers arriving in Minnesota during
the summer harvest months developed during the 1940's, as mostly Mexican and Mexican
-American laborers were recruited to work in the fields and processing plants all across rural
Minnesota. While the vast majority of these migrant laborers moved on at the end of every
harvest season, small groups began to settle in scattered pockets around the state.

In view of the history of this state (and indeed, of the United States as a whole), it is certainly not
unusual to see a large and diverse immigrant community in Minnesota.

2. Trends since the 1980's: economic and political factors


Since the 1980's, the immigrants settling in Minnesota have come from non-European countries.
This is the result of a number of factors: reforms to immigration laws beginning in the 1960's and
1970's eliminating restrictions on immigration from Asia and Latin America. Another important
factor was the US policy of accepting unlimited numbers of refugees fleeing from Communist
countries. During the late 1970's, many Protestant and Catholic churches in Minnesota established
programs to sponsor and assist the resettlement of refugees from South-East Asia and, later,
Central America.

In addition to people fleeing from war and political unrest, the 1980's also saw a marked increase
in the movement of economic migrants. Meat packing and agricultural processing industries
actively recruited Hispanic workers from Texas and northern Mexico in order to replace the
dwindling, and more expensive, local workforce. Towns like Austin, St. James, Le Sueur, and
Albert Lea experienced a rapid growth of their Hispanic populations at this time.

III. Local impact of immigration:

1. Demographic trends in rural Minnesota


Population growth in most or rural Minnesota has stagnated, and some counties have in fact lost
population steadily, since the 1970's. Lack of well-paying jobs, the demise of the family farm, and
the expansion of suburbs all have attracted young adults away from rural areas. In addition, the

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population in rural counties is aging. All of the counties in which more than more than one-fifth of
the population was 65 years or older in 1995 are in rural Minnesota. The percentage of
Minnesotans 65 years or older is expected to rise from 12.5 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in the
year 2025. Another measure of significance for rural Minnesota is the elderly dependency ration,
which is the number of people age 65 and older for every 100 people of working age. Up until
now, Minnesota’s elderly dependency ration has been relatively stable at 18 or 19, but is expected
to rise to about 31 by the year 2025. This means that in the year 2025 there will be 31 elderly
individuals for every 100 workers. Communities with high elderly dependency ratios typically
have a reduced demand for an assortment of services and products, and therefore support fewer
businesses. The ability of these communities to general additional tax revenue is also limited.

2. Role of immigrants in our economy


The importance that immigrant workers have in the current labor market does not represent just a
temporary trend. Instead, and regardless of the economic downturn in Minnesota or across the
nation, the role of these workers in the state’s economy can only increase in the future due to the
demographic trends outlined above. In addition, immigrant workers tend to be concentrated in
low-skilled and low-paying jobs, since most lack the skills (technical and also knowledge of
English) needed in managerial and professional work. Moreover, most native-born Minnesotans
are not interested in these types of jobs in the service and food processing industries.

3. Social services and immigrants


While immigrant labor provides an essential component to Minnesota’s economy, they also use
less social services and welfare programs than native-born population. The prevalent stereotype of
immigrants as drains on the social services and welfare programs is not accurate. First, most
immigrants (those who are here legally as well as undocumented aliens) simply are not eligible for
many of the programs available to US citizens. In addition, even those immigrants who are
eligible are reluctant to apply for welfare, since the receipt of public assistance would make them
ineligible, under immigration laws, to sponsor their relatives so they can join them here in the US.
Last, but not least, many immigrants are simply unaware of these programs, while others
(specially refugees fleeing repressive governments) are distrustful of government agencies and
reluctant to be involved with them.

IV. So, who are these new immigrants?


The two largest immigrant groups in south-central Minnesota are Latinos, and Somalis. Below I
will give a general introduction to these two cultures, beginning with the largest population, the
Latinos:

1-Latinos
a- What’s in a name? Hispanic, Chicano, Mexicano, Latino, Latin-American
It is important to begin this discussion by addressing the confusing issue of what to call this
particular population. The US Census Bureau created the term “Hispanic” in the 1960's as a
general category under which to classify the diverse racial, ethnic populations of Spanish-speaking
peoples living in the US. However, many US individuals or Mexican heritage preferred to develop
their own self-identification name: Chicano, which is a derived form the English pronunciation of
the term “Mexican”; of course Mexicano, is Mexican in Spanish. Latino was also created in the

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1970's by community activists as an alternative to the government-imposed term of “Hispanic”.
Latino gained favor among many non-Mexican immigrants, as those communities increased in
numbers and influence. Latin-American never gained much acceptance, because it refers to a
geographical area outside of the US and made little sense to apply to people living in the US!

In this presentation I will use the tem Latino to refer to people living in the US, who share a fairly
common cultural heritage, based in part on the language and culture of Spain.

b- Latino presence in the US and in Minnesota


Latinos have been a part of the fabric of the US since the very beginning: the first permanent
European settlements anywhere in the continental US were established in Florida by Spanish and
Cuban families. Some of our greatest cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco in California, and
San Antonio in Texas, were established by Latinos of Mexican descent. Of course, Puerto Rico
has the oldest European city in the US, San Juan, which was founded in 1519.

The presence of Latinos in Minnesota date at least to the late 18th century. From 1763 until 1803,
Spain ruled all the lands west of the Mississippi River. What is now Mexico was also a Spanish
colony at the time, and Mexican soldiers, missionaries and traders at the service of Spain traveled
all along the Mississippi river basin. After the territory was acquired by the US under the terms of
the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, there were few, if any, Latino settlers in this territory.

However, and as I mentioned before, since the 1940's, Latino migrant workers from Texas and
Mexico have come north to work in Minnesota’s farms and food processing plants. Currently
around 30,000 migrant workers and their families come to Minnesota every year.

Also, and beginning in the 1980's, there has been increased movements of Latinos migrating to
Minnesota from other parts of the US. While Mexicans and Mexican Americans comprise about
75 percent of the Latino population, there are also immigrants from Cuba, Dominican Republic,
Central America (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) as well as a vibrant Puerto
Rican community in the Twin Cities area.

According to the 2000 Census, there are about 143,000 Latinos in Minnesota, although this
number is most certainly an undercount, since many undocumented immigrants were not taken
into account. According to some estimates, there may be up to 10 thousand to 15 thousand
uncounted Latinos in Minnesota.

c- Cultural heritage
While all Latinos share many common cultural traits, there are also important differences.
- Mexico & Central America: Spanish and Native American
The culture of Mexican and Central American immigrants is a colorful mixture of Spanish
and Native American, or Indian, traits. This Indian heritage is obvious in the physical
appearance of Mexicans and Central Americans. There are also many individuals who to
this day speak Indian languages (such as Nahuatl, Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec) and follow
Indian traditions. Many of the typical foods (tamales), celebrations (piñatas) and beliefs
that are commonly associated with Mexico, for example, are of Indian origin.

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- Caribbean: Spanish and African
In contrast, the culture of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico and the
Dominican Republic) as well as parts of Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia and
Venezuela, is largely the result of the combination of Spanish and West African traditions.

African slaves, mainly from what is now Nigeria, were shipped to these areas during
Spanish colonial times. Again physical traits are also a legacy of this African influence;
about 90 percent or so of the population of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean is of African
descent. The music (rumba, salsa, mambo) are all of African origin, and the Spanish
spoken to this day on much of the Caribbean and surrounding areas contain many words
of African languages such as Yoruba, Ashanti and Mende.

d- Traditions:
-family structure
Traditionally, there are strong family bonds among a wider circle of blood relatives.
Grandparents, uncles/aunts, and cousins are all part of closely-knit family unit. Also,
people not related by blood but by social obligations (such as godparents) can also be part
of this extended family unit. Thus, members of such extended families do provide a safety
net: they are financial resources, they provide support and look out for each other. All
members of the unit are expected to contribute to, and be accountable for, the well-being
of the unit. While strongly patriarchal, women are in fact the “power behind the throne" in
most traditional Latino families.

-celebrations:
quinceañera-coming of age celebration for young girls who turn 15 years old.
Important rite of passage that signal their transition into adulthood. Elaborate
celebrations are the norm.

Cinco de Mayo- Literally, May 5th, this celebration commemorates the defeat of a
large invading French army by Mexican patriots on May 5, 1862 at the Battle of
Puebla. While this is a minor holiday in Mexico itself, Mexican-Americans living in
the US have adopted this event as the day to celebrate their culture and heritage.
Cinco de Mayo is becoming as popular, and as commercialized, as St. Patrick’s
day!

Virgen de Guadalupe (Dec. 12)- The Virgin of Guadalupe is the most cherished
symbol of Mexican culture. The cult to the Virgin of Guadalupe began shortly after
the 1521 Spanish conquest of Mexico. The legend tells that the Virgin Mary
appeared one day to a local Indian who had recently converted to Christianity,
Juan Diego, and commanded him to build a chapel on a neighboring hill where an
old Indian temple stood. After the Spanish priests dismissed his messages, the
Virgin miraculously painted a picture of herself, with the physical traits of a young
Indian women, on Juan Diego’s tunic. Upon seeing the tunic, the Spanish
authorities realized that Juan Diego was indeed bringing a message from the
Virgin, and erected the chapel as requested. Millions of Indians, inspired by this
divine revelation, converted to Christianity during the next few years. The painted

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tunic, or tilma, can be seen to this day at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

2- BREAK- (10 minutes)

3- Somalis
Refugees from Somalia represent the newest, and second largest group of immigrants to have
settled in our part of Minnesota
a- “Not a country, a people”
The Somalis are an homogenous ethnic and linguistic group of peoples that inhabit the region of
the Horn of Africa. Of nomadic background, the Somalis established themselves all along the
region prior to the establishment of international borders by European colonial powers in the 19th
century. Somalis live in the country of Somalia (now effectively divided between the breakaway
regions of Punt and Somaliland), and also in parts of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

b- Somali presence in the US and in Minnesota

c- Cultural heritage
- Queen of Sheeba and the Land of Punt
- Persia (Iran) Arabia, Ethiopia
- nomads, Islam
- colonialism and Cold War
The ancient Egyptians knew the region which now includes Somalia as Punt, and the inhabitants
were referred to as the Black Berbers. The Kingdom of Sheeba, mentioned in the Bible, is thought
to comprise parts of Yemen in Arabia and also parts of Somalia, right across the Red Sea for
Yemen. For five centuries (second to seventh century AD) much of the area came under the rule
of the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum. Traders from Persia, India, Egypt and Byzantium had regular
contact with Somalia and influenced the culture. In the 7th Century AD, Arab tribes set up trading
posts along the coastline of the Gulf of Aden, where they found the sultanate of Adel, the main
port of which was Zeila. To the west there was a lot of trading done with the people living where
the Oromo, the Afars and the Eritreans now live. The Somali people began to migrate into this
region from Yemen in the 13th Century. The sultanate disintegrated during the 16th century into
small independent states, many of which were ruled by Somali chiefs. Zeila became a dependency
of Yemen, and was then incorporated into the Ottoman Empire.

During the 19th Century, Britain, Franc and Italy all carved part of Somali lands and created their
own colonial outposts. After World War 2, the Italian and British parts of Somalia united to create
the independent country of Somalia. The French retained their own colonial settlement until 1977,
when it became the independent country of Djibouti.

During the Cold war era, Somalia was first an ally of the Soviet Union, until the late 1970's, when
it provided bases for the US Navy at Berbera and Mogadishu. Civil war began in the 1990's, after
the overthrown of the corrupt regime of Siad Barre. Warlords began to struggle for power, and
the country disintegrated into chaos. Currently there is no central government in Somalia, but
local warlords have created semi-independent states in the north and south of the country.

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Sporadic fighting continues.
d- Traditions:
-family and clan structure

-celebrations: Ramadan (November 2001) Eid-al- Fitir (Dec. 16, 2001),


Neerosh/Dad-shid (July 27 or 28)

4- Other Immigrants:
a- Sudanese- Several ethnic groups such as the Nuer Fleeing civil war and persecution
Mostly Christian; Sudanese govt. wants to impose sharia and have control of new oil
fields.

b. Liberia and Sierra Leone- Several ethnic group, mostly Mende and Fula. Escaping
civil war and warlord fighting over control of diamond fields. Amputation of limbs used
against women and children to terrorize the population

c- Lao- Refugees from the Vietnam War era. Concentrated in Mountain Lake (Brown
County)

d- Khmer (Cambodian)- Refugees from the Vietnam War era

e. Hmong- Refugees from the Vietnam War era.

f. Vietnamese- refugees form the Vietnam War era, also fleeing persecution of ethnic
Chinese by the Vietnamese government after 1979 war between Vietnam and Communist
China.

g. India & Pakistan- Mostly professionals, immigrated into the US under special laws
that encourage immigration by individuals with technical skills and professional degrees
(doctors, engineers, etc). Highly educated and English-speaking.

i. Bosniaks- Bosnian Muslims, persecuted by Serbs and Croats during the 1990's wars in
the former Yugoslavia

j. former Soviet Union (Belarus, Ukrainians,Uzbeks)- Most of these families came to


Minnesota escaping the unrest that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In my practice as an attorney, doing limited immigration work here in Mankato, I have also
encountered undocumented immigrants from Australia, Canada and Germany!

V. The Future
1. Increased immigration: demographics, political unrest, globalization (NAFTA-
Americas free trade zone; etc.)
Demographics
a. An aging White/European population, with a decreasing birthrate, will become more

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dependent on new immigrant & minority communities to provide the labor and skills
needed to run the country.

b. The younger, economically-active immigrant population will be called to provide the tax
base for funding the services that an aging, non-productive White/ European population
needs.

c. In Minnesota we can see glimpses of what this future will look like: Watonwan County
is 15% Hispanic, and in towns like Mountain Lake, Waseca, Marshall and Rochester
immigrants form Asia and Africa are becoming indispensable sources of labor for the local
economy.

Trade-Globalization
a- Free trade in goods and services must inevitably lead to free movement of people and
labor. The North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), created by the US, Mexico and
Canada in 1994, has in effect began the process of erasing borders between these three
nations. The US has also proposed expanding this free-trade are to the rest of the Latin
America and the Caribbean. In Europe, citizens of any of the 15 countries belonging to the
European Union can freely travel, work and live in any other member country.

b. Globalization will result in diminution not only of economic barriers, but also of
political barriers; state sovereignty will be diluted, and real decision-making power will be
made by global organizations as opposed to national governments.

Political unrest:
Unrest and war continues in many parts of the world, forcing people to find safe harbor
somewhere else. US involvement in many of these conflicts could also result in increased
inflow of refugees, just like it happened during and after the end of the Vietnam war.
The continuing civil war in Colombia and the growing US intervention in that conflict is a
case in point. Other areas of US military and political involvement, now in the context of
the post. September 11 War on Terrorism, are Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the
Middle East, and the Philippines. It is likely that refugees form some or all of these
countries may end up resettling in the US.

Multi-culturalism
The idea that new immigrants should be assimilated into the dominant “American” culture
is rapidly becoming obsolete. Because of technological advances, easy and reliable ways to
travel and communicate means that immigrants can maintain strong ties with family and
friends back home. The rise of democracy overseas also means that there are less political
restrictions to these contacts. Immigrants also realize that their culture, language and
traditions can be economic assets, in this era of global trade and free markets.

Immigrants are now shaping the culture of the US in many other ways: the growing
popularity of Latin music and artists, the acceptance among White/European-Americans of
traditional cultural and social traits of specific immigrant groups, ( Mexican & Thai food,
soccer, piñatas, etc.), all point out to a true mosaic of cultures, each contributing to the

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greater vitality and strength of the whole but without losing their individuality.

The US is increasingly becoming a multi-lingual society, with Spanish now an unofficial


second language across the nation. Vietnamese, Russian, Korean and other languages also
have widespread local importance.

Without question, the effects of the changing face of Minnesota will be felt across all aspects of
society. These changes are continuing, permanent and irreversible. However, we can see these
changes as opportunities to be seized instead of as problems to be solved. We will all benefit form
the strength, vitality and enthusiasm that these new immigrants bring, and join them in creating a
bright and prosperous future for all.

VI. Questions? Comments?

Good bye! ¡Adios! Salaam!