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“People Like Us” by David Lawrence Grant

Posted byAlison Aten on 20 Jul 2016 | Tagged as: African American, Arts, Asian American, Authors, Book Excerpt, Literary, MHS press

A Good Time for the Truth

Excerpt from David Lawrence Grant’s essay, “People Like Us,”
in A Good Time for the Truth: Race in America, edited by Sun Yung Shin

Minnesota Not-Nice

Anyone who has ever been in a difficult, complicated relationship knows that the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. Neglect is indifference’s twin sister. And there is no such thing as benign neglect. Neglect is, in its truest meaning, a verb. And like twin horsemen of the apocalypse, Neglect and Indifference have teamed up to cause a lot of damage.

The evidence of the damage is everywhere to be seen: failing schools; high concentrations of persistent poverty in failing neighborhoods; the egregious over-incarceration of people of color; an alarming number of annual incidents in which people of color are shot by the police or end up dead in police custody. How did things get so bad, even here?

History Matters

As always, it helps to know the history. Minnesota’s soldiers returned from the Civil War thinking, “Union restored; slavery finished; problem fixed.” The slaves had been freed. Why wasn’t their community exploding with vigor, enthusiasm, and industry, looking to make the most of their newfound liberty? Why were they still having problems? “Why, after all this time, aren’t they becoming more like us?”

Any reader of the fledgling black press during Reconstruction would be mightily impressed at the astonishing degree to which the recently freed slaves were, indeed, deeply grateful . . . were, indeed, working with great vigor, enthusiasm, and industry to build a better life for themselves and their community. But even though two hundred thousand black soldiers had just served bravely and nobly in the cause of Union, they found themselves still excluded from every new opportunity. The promised forty acres and a mule were never delivered. White veterans in the tens of thousands got an opportunity to help this nation-building effort in the underpopulated West—in places like Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma—along with an opportunity to build a personal legacy of prosperity that they could hand down to future generations. Black veterans got . . . lectures about “bootstraps” and hard work—something about which they already knew plenty.

There would be no help forthcoming, no assistance in lifting themselves out of abject poverty and the shadow-world of life on the extreme margins as second-class citizens. Instead, there were Black Codes (spelling out where black people could go and could not go; requiring annual and unbreakable labor contracts; demanding fees from any who worked in any occupation besides farmer and servant) and Jim Crow domestic terrorism. Now that slavery was gone, what black people encountered was the cold reality that the rest of America still seems so completely unready to admit: that America’s real original sin was not slavery, but white supremacy. The law may say Jim Crow is dead . . . but if it is, then it’s having a long and vigorous afterlife.

I was doing some neighborhood organizing work in Chicago during the summer of 1970. When I told a friend there that I was getting ready to come live in Minneapolis for awhile, he said, “Aw, brother, really? Why? Worst cops in the whole world up there, man!”

I used to volunteer at a residential substance abuse program in South Minneapolis. After finishing my last tutoring session one evening, I started walking home about 7:30 pm. Just as I crossed the street, a car came tearing up at high speed, and three plainclothes police officers leaped out with guns in hand. They identified themselves, and then one of them holstered his gun, threw me up against the trunk of the car, and cuffed me.

I asked why. One of the officers pulled a handgun from his boot—a personal, non-regulation weapon—held it against my head, removed the safety, and cocked it. That’s a helluva sound—a gun being cocked while jammed tightly against the dome of your skull. Intimidating. I was intimidated. But more than anything, I was angry. And it occurred to me, even in the heat of the moment, that this was exactly the reaction he wanted . . . like someone who lights a fire and thinks, Now, let me throw a little gasoline on there. Instead of answering my question, the cowboy with the gun to my head told me not to move, then shoved my head hard to one side with the barrel and said, “Wouldn’t even breathe real hard if I was you. This gun’s got a hair trigger.” There was another reason to be wary of that gun. I knew countless stories of weapons like that, produced from a boot or the small of an officer’s back, meant to be placed in a suspect’s hand or close to his body should he somehow end up dead by the time the encounter was over.

One of the other officers finally spoke up: “Liquor store was robbed a couple blocks away about twenty minutes ago by somebody who matches your description.” As they inspected my ID and the other contents of my wallet, I told him as calmly as I could that right across the street, there was a whole building full of people who could vouch for who I was and where I’d been all evening. All three cops heard this, but they ignored it. It was as if I hadn’t said anything at all.

They threw me into the back of their car and radioed that they’d arrested a suspect. As they began to pull away from the curb, a voice on their radio told them to stay put. A lieutenant pulled up in a plain car behind us and talked with the officers while I listened to the police chatter coming over the airwaves.

The suspect was described as a light-skinned black male, about five foot seven, with extremely close-cropped hair and a slight mustache, wearing a knee-length, light tan leather coat. That was the only time I gave them attitude. I smirked a little and asked them, “That supposed to be me?” I stood about five foot ten in my boots, and I’m a medium brown . . . not someone that anybody has ever described as “light-skinned.” I wear glasses and was then sporting a scraggly goatee. And at that time, I had what might have been the biggest, baddest Afro in the entire state of Minnesota—a foot-tall brain-cloud kind of Afro, as far from “close-cropped” as it’s possible for hair to get. And I was wearing a waist-length, almost sepia leather coat, nothing remotely like the one in the description.

The lieutenant heard this, too. He flashed his badge at me and said to them, “Guys . . . really? Cut this guy loose.” Just like that. One of them spit, a couple of them grumbled, they uncuffed me and pulled me back out of their car, returned my wallet, and then tore off back down the street. No, “Oh, well, sorry, sir,” from them. Nothing.

I knew, as I tried to shake it off while walking home, that other scenes like this were playing out that evening in any number of other places in America. What if that non-regulation gun the cowboy cop had pressed against my head really did have a hair trigger? If I had reacted angrily and resisted, I might well have been killed, as have so many others before me and since, in just such an encounter.

There’s a history to encounters like these. And if you understand this history, even a little, you understand that all the hue and cry about “weeding a few bad apples” out of police departments and doing some retraining will not fix our problem. It is important to weed “bad apples” like that cowboy out of our police departments. But the core of the problem is that although undeniable racial progress has been made, the large numbers of African Americans left behind in intractable poverty are still stuck in the same cultural space as our ancestors were when just newly freed from slavery: stuck on the margins as perpetual outsiders in the land of their birth; feared; stigmatized as criminal by nature. This mostly subterranean attitude applies, in general, to other low-income communities of color as well.

So, the hard truth is that police departments deal with communities of color in exactly the way that American society, Minnesota society, has asked them to. There’s a readily observable pattern: people who find themselves routinely locked out of equal opportunity will generally find themselves locked up to roughly that same degree. Racially based restrictive housing covenants were declared unconstitutional in 1948, but they have continued in practice. Until 1972, thousands of municipalities had vagrancy laws on the books that were about regulating black people’s lives. Even though those laws have long since been struck down, the racist beliefs that created and sustained them are still very much around—and as a consequence, too many police officers sometimes behave as though they’re still on the books. The result is that simply being young and black or brown is a de facto “status crime.” It’s not necessary to do anything wrong . . . just step outside on the street or get behind the wheel of your car, and you could already be in trouble.


As many black families pulled up stakes and left the communities where they’d been born and raised, searching for a better life, this part of the collective African American story never seemed to be grasped by the communities to which they moved, Minnesota included. Truly welcoming weary strangers into your company means, first, learning something about their story. How else can you possibly begin to divine what assistance or support they might need from you as they begin to build a new life? But Minnesotans, like other Americans, have seldom known or, seemingly, haven’t cared to know much about the stories of the non-European populations with whom they share this land.

Minnesotans evince little knowledge of the history of settler aggression or the widespread and egregious abrogation of treaty rights when it comes to the experiences of Indigenous peoples native to this soil. There is precious little understanding of the diverse histories of our Chicano/Latino populations, many of whom long ago became citizens, not because they crossed international borders to get here, but because the U.S. border crossed over them as a result of the massive amount of land seized from Mexico at the end of the Mexican War. A story that can be told in easily graspable, shorthand form (think Hmong refugees whose men had helped the U.S. war effort in Southeast Asia, forced to flee their old homeland to escape reprisals) stirs sympathy enough to mobilize an organized resettlement effort. But even that only goes so far. There is little patience here for immigrants from anywhere—Asian and Pacific Islander, African, Latino—or even Americans from much closer to home, like Chicago, who seem slow to assimilate. Ojibwe and Dakota people get the same treatment. And there’s a stark, simple equation at work here: if you fail to value a people’s stories, you fail to value them.

In sharp contrast to this, new immigrants are always listening for and trying to make sense of the stories of their adopted land. But here in the North Country, immigrants scramble to figure out for themselves the many unspoken rules about how to live in harmony with Minnesota Nice. And some of these rules are damned hard. They learn that no matter how angry and aggrieved you may feel, given the history of what’s happened to you and your people, you’re still expected to abide by the unspoken mandate to “kwitchurbeliakin.” That’s “Quit Your Belly Achin’,” for the uninitiated. Because life is just not fair. Period. So, whatever’s happened to you, suck it up and move on. It’s not okay to outwardly show anger or resentment in any way. This is evidence of weakness. And it’s not nice.

Being a true Minnesotan also means being self-sufficient. All cultures express this value in some way, but Minnesota’s is the most extreme iteration I’ve ever encountered. My introduction to at least one man’s version of this ideal came from a mechanic named Bud. He owned and ran a car-repair shop in a South Minneapolis neighborhood that, over decades, he’d seen transition from mostly white, mixed middle and working class, to largely working class and poor people of color.

In an area that had become about 60 percent black, and whose population had been steadily getting younger, the only customers ever seen coming or going were white men over forty. In inner-city neighborhoods of color, places like that become unofficially recognized as “no go zones.” Doesn’t look like your business is welcome there, so . . . you simply erase them from your mental map of the neighborhood, to the extent that when you pass by, you literally don’t even see them anymore. But on the day Bud and I met, the family car was giving me big trouble and I happened to be just a block or two from his place, so I figured it was a good day to stop in and take my chances.

Word was that the guy was racist, but after a little conversation, it didn’t feel that way to me. The more we talked, the more it occurred to me that, really, Bud was just generally a grumpy old bastard . . . and that he probably tended to instantly distrust and dismiss anybody who found it hard to deal with this fact. As I look back on our encounter from the perspective of someone who’s become a grumpy old bastard himself, I’m even more convinced of this. I told him what the car was doing, but he cut me off, grunting his diagnosis before I could even finish. “Alternator. Ain’t got time for that today . . . but I got one I could sell ya.” When I told him that I’d never replaced one and wouldn’t know where to begin—told him I’d just go on and walk home if he thought he’d have time to fix it for me the next day—he shot me a searing look of pity mixed with disgust and said, simply, A man ought never pay another man to do something he could do for himself.

This pronouncement felt stunningly sharp and severe, especially coming from the mouth of someone who did, after all, make his living from doing the repairs that his customers didn’t care to do. His words made me wonder what he must think of most of us men walking around his rapidly changing neighborhood, black and brown men, none of whom had come up, as he did, on a hardscrabble farm established by Norwegian immigrant grandparents who made the clothes they wore and who ate, almost entirely, only the food they grew themselves. People for whom life was hard . . . but who never complained. I thought about us black men from the neighborhood who walk around looking sullen and sad, and how men like Bud must look at us and wonder why. They don’t see much, if any, evidence of the discrimination that keeps us angry and on edge. They certainly don’t see how they’ve ever personally been guilty of committing an act of discrimination against us or anyone else. We don’t “get” each other. They don’t tend to understand much about how the world looks to us, and we don’t tend to understand much about how the world looks to them. So, even though some of the time we share the same space, we avoid talking . . . and when we must, we keep it superficial, allowing ourselves to come tantalizingly close for an instant, but then spiraling past each other like separate galaxies, each on its own axis, into the void.

As Bud’s words sank in, I turned to leave, but then suddenly, something in me wouldn’t let me leave on that note. I felt the need to challenge him, surprise him, through a small, spontaneous gesture, aimed at bridging that yawning, silent gulf between us, if only for a moment. “Okay, then,” I said. “Wanna take a minute or two and show me how to do it myself?” Without needing even a moment to think about it, he surprised me by pulling out the tools I’d need and agreeably talking me through the job while he sipped strong coffee and went back to working on the car he’d been fixing when I walked in.

As we worked side by side in his tiny shop, I eased into a story about my own people—how generations of my folk struggled, always managing to creatively “make a way from no way.” He didn’t say much. But he was listening. My attempt to paint as vivid a picture for him as I could of the people I come from—people who also took what life threw their way and didn’t complain—seemed to resonate with him. Mid-job, I noticed there was a sign on the wall stating that it was illegal for customers to be back there in the shop, an edict he’d apparently decided to ignore in my case. Even though he stepped in to help me replace and tighten the belts, he also decided to completely ignore the sign that said, “Shop Charge, $45 hr.,” because when I pulled out my checkbook to pay for the parts and asked why I shouldn’t pay him at least enough to split the difference on time with him, he said, “Well . . . why? Done it yourself, din’t ya?”

Minnesota Nice can be really nice. Interesting and complicated too.

Bridging the gulf between us is hard. It takes courage and effort. And the effort often results in an encounter that can be both unrewarding and unpleasant. But what alternative do we have? The demographic makeup of Minnesota, like the rest of the country is changing rapidly and radically. By 2050, the majority of America’s citizens will be comprised of groups who used to be called “minorities.” The majority here in Minnesota is likely to remain white for some time, but populations of color, especially the Latino population, will see a dramatic increase. The Somali population of the state was already so large by the year 2000 that Islam quietly supplanted Judaism as the state’s second most prominent religious faith.

As we move forward, we can lean on this: that although it tends to happen slowly and only with great, conscious effort, people and cultures do change in response to the changing realities and needs of their times. If we are to sort ourselves out and make good lives for ourselves in this ever-more-multicultural landscape, we’ve got to start by talking less and listening more.

We can listen—really listen—to one another’s stories and learn from them. Collectively, we can learn to tell a story that includes all our stories . . . fashion a mosaic-like group portrait from those stories that we all can agree truly does resemble people like us.

David Lawrence Grant has written drama for the stage, film, and television, as well as fiction and memoir. He has written major reports on racial bias in the justice system for the Minnesota Supreme Court and on racial disparities in the health care system for the Minnesota legislature. He teaches screenwriting at Independent Filmmaker Project/Minnesota.

Great Partnerships: MNHS and tpt!

Posted byAlison Aten on 15 Nov 2013 | Tagged as: Asian American, Civil War, History, Immigration, Videos

Starting at 7 pm this Sunday,  November 19th on tpt’s Minnesota Channel,
a night of great programming featuring MNHS co-productions with tpt!

tpt logo MNHS

7:00 pm Broadcast premiere of Minnesota in the ’70s

7:30 pm Special rebroadcast of Emmy-winning film, Asian Flavors

8:00 pm Broadcast premier of Minnesota & the Civil War Showcase

Where to Watch tpt MN:
Over the Air-Channel 2-2
Comcast-Channel 202 (Mpls)/Channel 243 (St. Paul)
Mediacom- Channel 102
Midcontinent Comm- Channel 15
DirectTV-Channel 17-2

“Asian Flavors” wins Upper Midwest Regional Emmy® Award

Posted byAlison Aten on 01 Oct 2013 | Tagged as: Arts, Asian American, Awards, Cooking, Food, History, Immigration, MHS press

Regional Emmy® Award Courtesy of Twin Cities Public Television Raghavan Iyer with Regional Emmy® Award Asian Flavors documentary team

Our Asian Flavors documentary, co-produced with tptMN, won the 2013 Upper Midwest Regional Emmy® Award from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) in the Cultural Documentary category.

Inspired by the book Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875 by Phyllis Louise Harris with Raghavan Iyer, this thirty-minute documentary celebrates Asian immigrants who have left an indelible and flavorful mark on Minnesota’s culinary, cultural, and economic history.

Congratulations to a winning team!

The Asian Flavors team:

Daniel Pierce Bergin, Producer/Director
Angela Barrett, Production Assistant
Fanique Weeks-Kelley, Production Manager
Jim Kron, Director of Photography
Jerry Lakso, Online Editor
Bob Tracy, Executive in Charge
Pamela McClanahan, Project Consultant
Phyllis Louise Harris, Co-writer/Project Consultant
Raghavan Iyer, Presenter
Shari Lamke, Senior Director-Supervising Producer
Lucy Swift, Vice President, MN Productions & Partnerships
Terry O’Reilly, Chief Content Officer

Asian Flavors Documentary

Posted byAlison Aten on 13 May 2013 | Tagged as: Asian American, Cooking, History, Immigration, Videos

Asian Flavors Asian Flavors

Food, tradition, and culture make a home. Inspired by the book Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota since 1875 by Phyllis Louise Harris with Raghavan Iyer, a new thirty minute documentary co-produced by the Minnesota Historical Society Press and Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Productions & Partnerships (tpt MN) celebrates Asian immigrants who have left an indelible and flavorful mark on Minnesota’s culinary, cultural, and economic history.

It’s hard to believe there was a time when you couldn’t go out for Chinese food in Minnesota, but there was—until brothers and entrepreneurs Woo Yee Sing and Woo Du Sing opened their Canton restaurant (later called “John’s Place”) in Minneapolis in 1883.

Culinary educator, chef, author, consultant and co-founder with Phyllis Louise Harris of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes, Ltd., Raghavan Iyer narrates this documentary highlighting the exciting history and array of Asian food in Minnesota.

Profiles and interviews with chefs, restaurant owners, business owners, and culinary professionals include Supenn Harrison, founder of Sawatdee; Reiko Weston of Fuji Ya; Mhonpaj Lee and her mother May Yia Lee, operators of Mhonpaj’s Garden; Ann Kim of Pizzeria Lola; Thom Pham; and Harry Singh.

Food connects homes left behind with where we live today. Asian Flavors is the story of adventurous people who made the arduous journey halfway around the world to live in Minnesota, fleeing oppression and persecution or in search of jobs and education, and who created new homes through food. Many cooks sought not only to make a living but also to preserve the memory of their homeland through the dishes set before family and patrons alike, to the great benefit of diners in the Twin Cities metro area.

Asian flavors have changed Minnesota’s tastes, just as the many, wide-ranging Asian cultural groups have reshaped the state’s history, culture, and communities.

The tpt broadcast schedule is as follows:

Premiere: Sunday May 26, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. on tpt’s Minnesota Channel (tpt MN)

Encore Broadcasts: Sunday, June 2, 2013 at 1:00 AM, 7:00 AM and 1:00 PM on tpt MN

About tpt’s Minnesota Productions & Partnerships

TPT’s Minnesota Productions & Partnerships (tpt MN) is the local production division of Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), the PBS affiliate for Minneapolis/St. Paul.  TPT MN partners with local non-profit, educational, governmental, and public service organizations to reach broader audiences throughout Minnesota. These partnership programs educate and inspire Minnesotans on important issues using tpt’s distinctive storytelling skills, television and multimedia resources.  Since its inception in 2003, tpt MN has created nearly 700 television programs and over 200 multimedia projects in partnership with over 235 non-profit and public service organizations. To view past tpt productions, visit

To learn more about tpt MN, connect with them on Twitter and Facebook, or visit their website at


Ka Vang’s “The Good Hmong Girl Eats Raw Laab”

Posted byAlison Aten on 28 Feb 2013 | Tagged as: Asian American, Authors, Immigration, Literary, Videos

Ka Vang The Good Hmong Girl Eats Raw Laab Ka Vang is a poet, spoken word artist, playwright, and community activist. We are pleased to release her provocative essay The Good Hmong Girl Eats Raw Laab, available as an e-book short for just 99 cents. The e-short is one of our new MHS Express titles.

The piece examines the social and cultural implications of “a good Hmong girl” by addressing these issues: “What does it mean to be a good Hmong girl? Who defines the good Hmong girl? Who practices it and enforces the rules? What are the rewards and consequences for the Hmong girl and her family if she is not a good Hmong girl? Would Hmong culture be diminished if there were no more good Hmong girls left?”

Ka has been busy! She was recently featured on MNOriginal, Twin Cities Public Television’s award-winning weekly arts series celebrating Minnesota’s creative community, and her new book, Shoua and the Northern Lights Dragon, produced with the Minnesota Humanities Council and the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, is now available.

Asian Food in Minnesota Quiz

Posted byAlison Aten on 14 Dec 2012 | Tagged as: Asian American

AsianFlavors-FPO-BookCover2b-PTHThe flavors of China, the Philippine Islands, Japan, the Hmong community, Cambodia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Himalayan Mountains are all represented in Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota Since 1875 by Phyllis Louise Harris with Raghavan Iyer.

Meet the authors tomorrow, Saturday, December 15, here at the Minnesota History Center when they sign copies of their book in Cafe Minnesota from 11 am to 1 pm. The lavishly illustrated book makes a great gift!

Test your knowledge of Asian restaurants in Minnesota and take Laura Yuen’s quiz based on the book over on MPR’s The Cities blog.

Asian Flavors Profile: Scratch Food Truck

Posted byAlison Aten on 08 Nov 2012 | Tagged as: Asian American, Food, Immigration

Chicken Adobo from Asian Flavors Scratch Food Truck

Asian Flavors: Changing the Tastes of Minnesota Since 1875 by Phyllis Louise Harris with Raghavan Iyer is a culinary tour of the cuisines of Asia as they have appeared on Minnesota tables over the decades, the distinctive flavors of faraway homes with a midwestern twist.

The book includes interviews with chefs, farmers, and food business owners, and of course treasured recipes. Here’s an excerpt from the book and a recipe from Geoff King of Scratch Food Truck.  King was a sous chef at the short-lived Filipino restaurant Subo, in Minneapolis.

“The sous chef at Subo also had a Filipino background and did not want his favorite food to die with the restaurant. So in August 2011, Geoff King opened Scratch, one of the growing number of food trucks in the Twin Cities offering a variety of street food. Trained in classic cooking at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, Geoff wanted to find a way to offer Minnesotans some of the wonderful food he grew up with—his mom’s home cooking. He and wife Aimee developed a small menu of lunch items drawing on Filipino classics and incorporating some of the ingredients from the islands. Pork egg rolls, tofu lettuce wraps, coconut braised chicken, pork and shrimp sandwiches, and sesame beef sandwiches fill the short menu with foods that celebrate the islands and offer just a taste of Geoff’s favorite cooking. The tofu lettuce wraps won Geoff an award for best Food Truck Food in 2011, even though his was the newest food truck in the competition.”

Chicken Adobo/Adobong Manok

Geoff King

Serves 4–6


1 1/2 cups sugar cane vinegar

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup soy sauce

10 cloves garlic, peeled

3 bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons peppercorns or coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 whole star anise


1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, quartered and cut into pieces

cooked rice

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken pieces, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour or overnight.

2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the chicken and marinade over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer on low until the chicken is tender and sauce is reduced by about half, 40 to 45 minutes.

3. Remove the bay leaves and star anise, and serve hot with rice.

Fireside Reading Series at Hamline Midway Library

Posted byAlison Aten on 10 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Asian American, Event, Fiction, Literary, MHS press, Native American, Scandinavian Studies

Fireside Reading SeriesTomorrow night begins the eighteenth annual Fireside Reading Series hosted by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library at the Hamline Midway Library. The series features six weeks of readings by acclaimed Minnesota authors.

The events kick off with historian Larry Millet and the latest in his renowned mystery series, The Magic Bullet: A Locked Room Mystery Featuring Shadwell Rafferty and Sherlock Holmes, and conclude on February 18 with Diane Wilson, author of Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life.

Minnesota’s Chinese American Community

Posted bypennefesm on 17 May 2011 | Tagged as: Asian American, Event

Bessie Moy, Judith Moy, and Mrs. Hum Gin, 1920s (MHS collections)Guest post by Sherri Gebert-Fuller, author of Chinese in Minnesota

One of the greatest rewards of working on the MHS Press book Chinese in Minnesota was meeting so many wonderful people in the Chinese American community.  But that reward also posed a challenge: how does one write about the history of a community and share the accomplishments of a multitude of individuals in an eighty-page book?  The answer?  It’s impossible.

That is why I was pleased to learn about a new project being funded in part by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund called “100 Years of Chinese American History in Minnesota from 1911 to 2011: A Story from Within.” This effort is being led by the Minnesota Chinese Cultural Services Center and several other Chinese organizations in the Twin Cities.

The project’s inspiration?  A 2010 Mother’s Day dinner.  Attendees honoring their mothers realized that their parents and members of the Chinese community had some pretty amazing stories that needed to be documented and shared.  It was time to, as project curator Ange Hwang describes it, “pick up the torch.”

Once the idea for the project was planted, Ms. Hwang set out to determine what kind of documentation about Minnesota’s Chinese community already existed. She conducted research at the Minnesota Historical Society and became familiar with the work of Professor Erika Lee, University of Minnesota, and Weiming Lu, a distinguished urban planner and longtime Twin Cities leader.  Ms. Hwang concluded that the project should focus on capturing stories and photos featuring Chinese American history from 1970 to 2010 while emphasizing how events in China, such as the June 4 Tiananmen Massacre, affected the Chinese community in Minnesota.

Fifteen leaders in the Chinese American community have been interviewed for the project. Individuals represented have advanced the study of science and technology at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic, established Chinese language programs throughout the state, and contributed to Minnesota’s rich arts scene.  The “100 Years of Chinese American History” project also includes a photo and audio/video exhibition as well as an educational package for schools and organizations. The exhibit is on display, first, at the St. Paul Landmark Center through June 11 and, second, at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, June 16 through July 16.

Several events are planned around the project.  To learn more, read this Asian American Press article, visit the Republic of China Centennial Celebration Commission of Minnesota website, or call 651-733-9827.

A Refugee’s Powerful Story

Posted byregana on 03 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Asian American, History, Immigration

Born into WarThe current issue of Asian American Press features an article about a fine and important Minnesota book: Born into War: One Man’s Journey from War-Torn Vietnam to Make a Home in Minnesota, by Connie Fortin as told by Trong Nguyen.

Several years ago in a Hamel, Minnesota, restaurant, Nguyen asked a customer whom he barely knew to take on the task of turning his memories into a book—and Connie Fortin agreed, much to her own surprise. The resulting story features drama, pain, suspense, hard work, luck, love, and success, all told in Trong’s voice and illustrated with family photos from Vietnam and America. It also offers readers a chance to share the experiences of a refugee, to marvel at his accomplishments, and to follow his return to Vietnam to seek out the remains of his father, who was killed by the Viet Cong in a jungle camp.

The book, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, is available online and at the Minnesota History Center Museum Store.

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