Last week was Welcoming Week, built around September 17—Citizenship Day. During the first weeks of September, thousands of Minnesotans became citizens, in St. Paul and across the state. Immigrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, contribute skills and talent and hard work to Minnesota and the country, comprising 9 percent of Minnesota’s workforce and 6 percent of the state’s business owners. About 8 percent of Minnesotans are immigrants, including those who just became citizens in September. They join what is likely to be another record-breaking high in new citizens, following 757,000 who took the oath of citizenship in 2018. According to MPR, “More than 9,400 of those naturalized in 2018 were Minnesotans.”
“In Sumner Elementary School alone, there are 19 different home languages spoken by students. The racial demographic in the building is 36 percent Hispanic, 26 percent Asian, 19 percent black, 12 percent white, five percent native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and one percent being two or more races, according to Sumner Principal Sheila Berger. Inside a diverse school building, creating a welcoming environment where students can feel open and safe to share their cultures with others was one of the most important aspects to Sumner’s mission….
“For those who watched the walk, the message was simple: Sumner School believed that diversity was its greatest strength, and that all students, regardless of their background, were welcome inside and embraced by staff.”
On the less-than-good-news side, a panel discussion on dismantling hate crimes was postponed over safety concerns, after protests by a right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim group. The St. Cloud Times reports that “organizers are ‘working with community partners, local law enforcement, and the FBI to plan a future forum that is safe.'”
Another less-than-positive story comes from Sherburne County, where officials continue plans to expand immigrant detention, despite opposition. In contrast, Rochester police are reaching out to immigrant communities with workshops. Rochester Police Sergeant John Mitchell told KIMT that they want to “try to make it so they’re not afraid to call us, they’re not afraid to approach us … just to make a better community overall.”
Finally, the Swift County Monitor wrote about welcoming immigrants to Benson, Minnesota:
“Three entrepreneurs have approached the City of Benson in recent weeks who were inquiring about starting a business here. Swift County’s Rural Development Authority has also been contacted by three people looking at possibly opening a business in the county. Great news! Exciting news!
“All six of those contacts have one thing in common – they were all with people limited, or no knowledge, of the English language. Great news! Exciting news! Was that your reaction? It should be….
“When we think of businesses in our community with entrepreneurs whose native language isn’t English, we don’t have to look very far for two successful examples – Mi Mexico and J&J Chinese. Nearly everyone in the community has eaten at one of the two or called in an order for take-out….
“Swift County’s population is down by more than one-third since its peak of nearly 16,000 in the 1950s. It is below what it was in 1900 when immigrants and the sons and daughters of settlers were building a new life here. We are not going to be resettled by Europeans or Scandinavians. We are having a hard time keeping our sons and daughters here once they leave school.
“Our future is going to be with immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Asia, Africa, and other places.”
In Benson, and across the state, that future looks a little brighter with Welcoming Week.