Minnesota Immigrants: Preserving Culture

Music

Music is also a way for people to share their culture and celebrate their traditions. Traditional music involves unique and meaningful melodies and lyrics, as well as the instruments the musicians play and how they play them. This type of music is often performed at special events and cultural rites of passage, such as funerals.

Singers and Choirs

Many immigrant groups or people who shared a similar heritage formed choirs and singing groups to perform songs in their native language or using a traditional singing style. Some of these choirs were also based in churches that these immigrant groups belonged to. Singers would perform both serious choral works as well as folk music handed down generation by generation.


Instrumental Music

Some traditional and ethnic music requires specific instruments, such as bagpipes, Norwegian fiddles, accordions, and qeej. The ensembles that formed to play traditional music with these instruments were often extensions of community and social groups. They would be a key part of holiday celebrations and special events held by the people who shared their heritage. Through music, immigrant groups could celebrate their culture and have fun together.

Francisco Rangel grew up in a musical Mexican family in St. Paul and started learning the saxophone in 1953. He learned to play many more instruments and went on to join several big bands and orchestras that performed a variety of music, not just traditional Mexican tunes. He and his family played music and taught traditional dances at fiestas and weddings, and he was proud of their efforts to share Mexican music and dance traditions with their community and beyond.

I would like to see the traditional dancing continue on, still let the American people know that we are keeping our customs and traditions, that there's still song and dance left around, that we're not all just going to be business like, or keep to ourselves… Let us also enjoy life, with song and dance like the others; like the Germans, Swedish, and Polish, they all left traditions with their generations. Especially the music. They kept within their generation, and I'm sure that it will continue on.

– Francisco Rangel

Interview with Francisco Rangel, 1975


Children's Musical Groups

Immigrants also passed down their musical traditions to their children. Cultural heritage groups formed children's choirs to teach the songs of their homelands to younger generations. The choirs would often perform these traditional songs in traditional or ethnic clothing.

The Qeej is a traditional Hmong instrument made with bamboo pipes that is played during Hmong funeral ceremonies. The Hmong Cultural Center holds qeej classes to teach younger Hmong people how to play the instrument, and they perform at many cultural events in the area.


To see how immigrants preserved their traditional dances, language, art, and holidays, use the page links below.