Diverse Communities Enrich Minnesota Culture

By James Riemermann

The culture of Minnesota was created, and continues to be influenced, by immigrants. For centuries, wave after wave of newcomers have brought pieces of the old country into the new country, which has become far richer and more diverse as a result.

Midtown Global Market
Midtown Global Market, Minneapolis

Newer immigrant groups, particularly Hmong, Somali and Mexican populations, are bringing distinctive and exciting foods, music, art, handiwork and more to the region. Of course, Minnesota’s American Indian communities had a complex culture long before the rest of the world knew such a place existed, and African Americans, Europeans and others have been shaping Minnesota’s culture since before it was a state.

One of the best places to get a taste of many of these cultures, all at once, is Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis. This indoor market and meeting place is filled with a broad, family-friendly variety of ethnic dishes, gifts and groceries, from Mexican and Middle Eastern to Vietnamese, Indian, Swedish and Italian. Several of the food stands are outlets for full-service restaurants elsewhere in the Twin Cities.

Hmong Make Their Mark on Minnesota

St Paul Farmers Market vegetables_square
St. Paul Farmers Market

St. Paul is the heart of Minnesota’s Hmong community, and is home to the largest urban concentration of Hmong people in the country. Many Hmong and Vietnamese restaurants and shops are located in the Frogtown neighborhood, on and around University and Lexington avenues. Hmongtown Marketplace on Como Avenue and Hmong Village on Johnson Parkway on St. Paul’s East Side feature a wide variety of traditional foods, clothing, fabrics and crafts, as well as farmers markets.

Somali Community Enriches Minneapolis

Minnesota’s Somali community began its growth in the early 1990s as refugees fled civil war in Somalia, with the largest concentrations of residents settling in Minneapolis’ Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and along East Lake Street.

Just off Riverside Avenue near the University of Minnesota, the popular Afro Deli was named “Best Campus Restaurant” in 2013, with a second location in downtown St. Paul. Other outlets for Somali and African culture can be found at the Midtown Global Market, such as the Safari Express, a Somali-owned East African restaurant, and gift shops including the Mulki Shop and Simba Craftware.

The Somali Museum of Minnesota on East Lake Street features hundreds of traditional Somali artworks and artifacts as well as educational programs. Visits are by appointment; see somalimuseum.org for details.

Minnesota Offers a Taste of Mexico

Cinco de MayoThe first significant Mexican immigration to Minnesota goes back to the 1900s, and until the 1990s was concentrated mostly on St. Paul’s West Side and the city of West St. Paul. The area still has a large and lively Latino culture, but the Mexican community along Minneapolis’ East Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue has grown larger, and there are Mexican and other Latino communities throughout the metro area.  

In West St. Paul, check out the restaurants, shops and markets along Cesar Chavez Street, as well as Robert Street. El Burrito Mercado on Cesar Chavez Street is a standout, as is Boca Chica, at 50 years the oldest Mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis also has many contenders, ranging from modest but delicious neighborhood joints like La Teresitas and La Loma Tamales to elegant eateries such as Masa, or the Mexican-European hybrid La Chaya Bistro. There’s also great Ecuadorian food, at places like Chimborazo on Minneapolis’ North Central Avenue and Los Andes on Lake Street.

For exuberant Latin dancing, check out El Nuevo Rodeo on Lake Street, which also operates a restaurant.