Holiday Season

By Andy Urban, PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota. IHRC Affiliated Faculty

It often seems that this blog dedicates much of its space and time to trying to debunk popular perceptions surrounding threats associated with immigration and immigrants. Seemingly every week some politician or group espouses malicious rhetoric about closing the Mexican-United States border or how in 2050 English will cease to exist as the language of the United States. It is essential to engage these voices on an intellectual terrain. There is no doubt in my mind that an important function this blog serves is to try to make sense of news’ stories pertaining to immigration, which can lack historical context and perspective.

That said…I thought it would be nice to write about immigration in a more pleasant light. Since it is the holiday season, why not celebrate immigration, ethnicity, and the multicultural urban area we find ourselves living in. Below are some suggestions on how residents of the Twin Cities might take advantage of the season to delve into the rich culture of immigration and ethnicity that thrives around them.

Places to Go

“Open House: If These Walls Could Talk? [http://www.mnhs.org/exhibits/openhouse/exhibit.htm] opened at the Minnesota History Center in January 2006, and looks at the history of a single duplex in St. Paul’s Railroad Island neighborhood. The exhibit allows visitors to trace the different histories of the immigrant families who called this particular dwelling home. Beginning with the German family that originally built the duplex, visitors learn about the Italian, African American, and Hmong families who have since lived there. Like most Minnesota History Center exhibits, “Open House? is designed to captivate visitors on multiple levels. There is plenty of interpretive text but also numerous opportunities for younger visitors to have an interactive experience, whether it is seeing how sausage was hand-ground, or partaking in backyard games from the 1940s.

You have probably driven by the stately mansion at 26th Street and Park Avenue flying the Swedish flag in the Philips neighborhood of Minneapolis many times, and wondered what exactly it was. The Swan Turnblad mansion is now home to the American Swedish Institute (ASI) [http://www.americanswedishinst.org/], and is open to the public for normal tours as well as special events throughout the holiday season. Turnblad published the Twin Cities’ main Swedish language newspaper and was an influential member of the Swedish community in Minneapolis during the early-twentieth century. In addition to learning about Turnblad’s history, visitors to the ASI can learn about the Swedish communities in neighborhoods like Cedar-Riverside and Swede’s Hollow in St. Paul. Special events for the holiday season include “Sagostund? (story time) where children get to hear Swedish tales every Saturday, and an exhibit titled “A Nordic Christmas.?

Places to Eat and Drink

When most Americans eat Indian food, they are usually encountering a regional cuisine – more often than not the representative region is the northwestern province of Punjab, with its rich sauces and meat dishes. For a change of pace, in Columbia Heights, immediately north of Minneapolis, one has the opportunity to experience southern Indian cooking at the Udupi Café [www.udupicafemn.com]. The Udupi Café is entirely vegetarian and the dishes are much more dry then the traditional meals found in the North. It offers a wide selection of dishes that resemble nothing you would find at an Uptown lunch buffet. If you are inspired, on the way back stop at the Indian grocery stores that surround Central Avenue near 18th Street in Northeast Minneapolis. Pick up some cashew nuts, spice them up with curry and cumin, and watch a Bollywood flick.

Downtown Minneapolis boasts The Local and Kiernan’s, but there is nothing really Irish about fighting with a bunch of investment bankers and consultants for a seat at the bar. My nomination for the best Irish bar in the Twin Cities is the Dubliner [http://www.dublinerpubmn.com/index.html], located in St. Paul on University Avenue, right near the Minneapolis border. They have free popcorn, which is always a plus, and pour a good pint of Guinness. Take a bus there on a quiet Sunday afternoon, bring a book, and spend an afternoon relaxing.

On New Year’s Day, if you are too hungover to venture out, or if the weather is less than enticing, why not stay at home and cook? As migrants to the North, African Americans brought with them Southern cooking and Southern traditions. In many parts of the South, New Year’s Day is welcomed with the traditional meal of “Hoppin’ John,? a mixture of black eyed peas, rice, and vegetables. Dash a little hot sauce on top and you are good to go.

Things to Read

Ole Rølvaag’s Boat of Longing [http://www.amazon.com/Boat-Longing-Borealis-Books/dp/0873511840] offers a stark portrait of Norwegian immigrants trying to make it in Minnesota. Whereas his more famous Giants of the Earth looks at immigrant life on the prairie, Boat of Longing is set primarily in Minneapolis. The settings of “Snooze Boulevard? (Cedar Avenue) and the neighborhood of Bohemian Flats, which is now the empty area adjacent to Mississippi River below the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus, makes for an interesting literary and historical tour.

For the dedicated history person, the Minnesota Historical Society’s They Choose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups [http://shop.mnhs.org/moreinfo.cfm?Product_ID=245&bhcp=1] offers an interesting overview of the different immigrant groups that have come to the state.

Gifts to Give

The website www.ancestry.com is an easy way to do genealogical research from the comforts of one’s home. For a moderate fee, subscribers have access to census information, ship manifests, and birth and death certificates, just to name a few of the available resources.
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Andy Urban is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Minnesota, and a member of the IHRC Advisory Council. His research focuses on Irish and Chinese domestic servants in the late-nineteenth century United States.
Contact Information: urba0090@umn.edu

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This page contains a single entry by Sylvie Thao published on December 21, 2006 4:07 PM.

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