Minnesota as an Emerging Gateway
Though Latinos have been in Minnesota since the end of the nineteenth century, it is only recently that the population has increased at a notably rapid rate. Minnesota is still a predominantly white state. As of the year 2000, 88 percent of the state’s residents were non-Hispanic whites, and 85 percent had European ancestry. Yet, the rate of increase in Minnesota’s foreign-born population has been among the highest in the nation. In the past 15 years the number of Latinos in Minnesota has increased by over 500 percent, accounting for 24 percent of the growth in the state’s labor force. As such, Minnesota has been characterized as a reemerging migrant gateway, a state that was at one time a migrant hub but that until recently has had very little migration activity.3 At the beginning of the twentieth century Minnesota was a pull for northern European migrants, but migration waned for decades until the recent influx of Latinos, Southeast Asians, Somalians, and Ethiopians.
The growth of Minnesota’s migrant population, and particularly of the Latino population, has occurred in response to shifts in Minnesota’s economy, specifically
the expansion of low-wage jobs in manufacturing, construction, services, and food processing. Whereas manufacturing, construction, and services have drawn Latinos to the Twin Cities, the food processing industry has recruited thousands of Latinos to small towns in rural Minnesota. As a result of the latter, Latinos have become much more visible in places that have a history of European migration. Moreover, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of large farms in many of these areas, which has spurred the out-migration of white residents and which has further increased Latino visibility.
As an example of the changing demographics of rural Minnesota, in the 1990s, 16 to 25 percent of the populations of Worthington, Willmar, St. James, and Madelia were Mexican. These numbers have likely grown since. Another demographic shift spurred by migration has been the expansion of Latinos into the suburbs of the Twin Cities. Latino neighborhoods are now well established in Shakopee, New Hope, Crystal, Chaska, South St. Paul, and Inver Grove Heights.
The majority of Latino arrivals to Minnesota continue to be Mexican, most originating from the rural states of the Mexican central plateau. Others are Mexicans who have migrated from California, Texas, or other midwestern agricultural states. In 2000 there were 42,000 Mexicans in Minnesota. This number continues to increase rapidly. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, in 2004 there were 175,000 Latinos in Minnesota, the majority Mexican. This number is most definitely low, as it excludes the undocumented.
Minnesota’s response to and reception of the growing Latino population has been mixed. Though Latinos report feeling an overall sense of welcome by Minnesotans, they also report incidents of discrimination and racism.4 Much of the racism and discrimination is rooted in the beliefs that Latinos are taking Minnesotans’ jobs, abusing the welfare system, and changing the traditional culture. Negative feelings and actions toward Latinos have emanated from civil society as well as from local political leadership. In the 1990s, for example, political leaders in Willmar and Moorhead introduced legislation to curb welfare use by Latinos. In Moorhead this was accompanied by a spate of racist attacks aimed at Latinos, including the painting of swastikas and other racist graffiti in public places.
In 1992 racial tension around the issue of Latino newcomers was exacerbated by an INS raid of Heartland Foods in Marshall, which resulted in the deportation of many workers. Though this specific raid did receive support from around the state, it also met with vocal and active resistance from the Latino community. Specifically, in 1993 a strike and protest by Heartland workers against unethical compensation practices resulted in the company agreeing to release the paychecks of deported workers to their families.
Discrimination against Latinos continues. A 2001 Minnesota state study found that Mexicans were stopped, fined, searched, and frisked by police more often than other groups. In fact, Latino complaints about police treatment have been registered throughout Minnesota.5 Discrimination has also been cited in the
housing market. In 2004 a study by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) found that Latinos are three times more likely than whites to be denied mortgages in the Twin Cities, which has led to a sharp difference in home ownership between these two groups.6
Racial tension and discrimination exist not only between white Minnesotans and Latinos; problems also exist within the diverse Latino community. For example, on the west side of St. Paul, Latinos who have been in Minnesota for generations, and who are thus English-Speaking citizens, are often hostile toward the newly arrived Spanish-speaking Latinos. This hostility is most often directed toward poor and undocumented newcomers. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, for example, has a bilingual and a Spanish-language mass, and attendance is segregated; longtime Latino residents usually attend the bilingual mass, whereas the newly arrived residents attend the Spanish-only mass. In another example, in September 2006 Neighborhood House hosted a rally in support of migrants rights, but only a few longtime residents showed up to lend their support.
The trend was similar throughout Minnesota. Indeed, few Latinos who are now citizens participated in the protests against proposed anti-immigrant legislation.7 Furthermore, a study by HACER of Latinos in rural Minnesota found that there is a high level of mistrust between Latinos who have been in the area for a long time and those who have recently arrived. This mistrust has been a barrier to implementing supportive services for the community.
Yet, despite these challenges, Minnesota’s Latino community has achieved notable economic and cultural representation in the state. For example, La Prensa, Minnesota’s first Spanish-language newspaper, now has a circulation of over 14,000. In Minneapolis, Latino entrepreneurs sell their wares in the cooperatively owned Mercado Central, the commercial heart of the large south Minneapolis Latino community. In addition to the economic contributions and media presence of Latinos in Minnesota, several large Latino service organizations including Comunidad de Latinos Unidos En Servicio (CLUES), Centro Cultural Chicano, La Oportunidad, and Centro Campesino defend the interests of the Latino community. The strength of Minnesota’s Latino community has also attracted attention from abroad. In 2004 Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox visited Minnesota, and in 2005 the 46th Mexican consulate in the United States opened in St. Paul.