The face of Minnesota is changing. The state's ethnic make-up, which is still overwhelmingly white and German with large concentrations of Norwegians, Irish and Swedes, has long lent itself to Minnesota Scandinavian stereotypes.
From the name of our professional football team to the storied feasts of lutefisk at holiday time, the Scandinavian label is the one that seems to have stuck on Minnesota. Ole and Lena jokes are a still a staple at just about any Minnesota chamber of commerce dinner. A 1960s television show featured Swedish actress Inger Stevens as a Minnesota farm girl who serves as a nanny to a congressman in Washington D.C. A 1947 movie by the same name featured a similar character, although the state was never identified according to a movie Web site.
Minnesota is still mostly white, Senior Research Analyst Barbara Ronningen of the Minnesota State Demographic Center said Tuesday, and is likely to remain so for awhile. The racial mix, however, is changing, Ronningen said. The number of non-whites and Hispanics in the state doubled between 1990 and 2000, she said.
On Monday night the first in a wave of 5,000 Hmong who are expected to settle in the state arrived in the Twin Cities. They'll join an estimated 60,000 Hmong who constitute the nation's largest urban concentration of Hmong. The state's population of Hmong is now at 60,000, an increase of 32 percent since the 2000 census. The Latino population jumped 22 percent to 175,000 during the same period. Minnesota's Somali population more than doubled in the last four years, increasing by 124 percent and raising their numbers up to 25,000.
In the Brainerd area, where these trends are a little slower to manifest themselves, it's easy to forget that our state is not the same as it was in 1974 or 1944.
The influx of immigrants poses challenges, particularly for school districts, but it also can offer the state some incredible opportunities. Many of the immigrants, like their German, Swedish and Norwegian predecessors, are hardworking and industrious, if only because they have to be to survive.
Minnesotans shouldn't be surprised if their new neighbors come from a different culture with different languages and traditions. These trends aren't likely to reverse themselves. And one day Hollywood might catch on that not every Minnesotan fits the blond-haired, blue-eyed prototype and says, "Yah, you betcha."
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