Minnesota Immigrants: Immigrant Experiences

Churches and Community Organizations

Immigrants often came to Minnesota with very few resources. They needed support from community organizations, like churches, in order to establish themselves in their new home. Some Minnesota churches have created specific programs to welcome and assist new immigrants and refugees.

Community organizations not based in churches also serve a similar purpose. They help new arrivals adapt to their new situations. These community organizations have provided English classes, childcare, youth groups, and many other services to recent immigrants.


Many early churches in Minnesota were formed by and for specific immigrant groups. These churches were often named after places the immigrants originated from. They provided religious instruction, services, and rites of passage—often conducted in the native language of these immigrants. They also served as social groups and community centers for mutual assistance.

Church leaders held positions of responsibility within their communities. Congregations helped newly arrived immigrants through charity programs, resettlement assistance, English classes, and other community services.

After arriving in Minnesota in 1929, Guadalupe Cruz became immediately involved in the activities of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. This church served the Mexican-American community in St. Paul with religious services and festivals, but also by distributing charity to those in need.

Interview with Guadalupe Cruz, 1975

Community Centers

Other organizations that helped immigrants adjust to life in Minnesota were not specifically based in churches. These community centers formed to provide education, information, and advocacy to their community members. They often became the hub of social activities for their neighborhoods.

One of these influential community centers was the Neighborhood House on St. Paul's West Side. Founded in 1897 by Jewish women for newly arrived Eastern European immigrants who needed social and medical services, it grew to serve the residents—especially children—who lived nearby. The Neighborhood House offered childcare, programs for teenagers, and many other activities and services.

Born in St. Paul to Mexican immigrants, Matthew Casillas grew up attending parties and community functions at the Neighborhood House. He remembers the influential director of the Neighborhood House, the events at the gymnasium, and all the activities they held to keep the area kids off the streets. His church, Our Lady of Guadalupe, also held functions at the Neighborhood House until they needed more room.

Interview with Matthew Casillas, 1975

Gilbert de la O also grew up attending programs and activities at the Neighborhood House. In 1972, he was hired to work in their youth programs department, where he ran small groups and advocated for the children in their schools. His interview contains many stories about how the Neighborhood House helped children, families, and the entire West Side community.

Interview with Gilbert de la O, 2010

The Hmong Cultural Center formed in 1992 to promote education about Hmong culture and to assist Hmong refugees in adapting to life in Minnesota. In addition to Hmong culture classes, the Center provides assistance to the Hmong community in learning English, becoming citizens, and sharing their history with the wider community.

Hmong Cultural Center at Hmong Resource Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota
Hmong Cultural Center Library, St. Paul, Minnesota
English class at Hmong Cultural Center, St. Paul, Minnesota

Growing up in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis in the 1990s, Somali immigrant Mohamed Jama found a welcoming place at the Brian Coyle Community Center. This center was set up to provide social services and community programs for the area's changing immigrant communities. In his interview, Mr. Jama described the diversity of those who went to the center and how it was a safe and positive place to be as a young person.

Interview with Mohamed Jama, 2004

Sponsorship and Resettlement Organizations

Specialized community organizations formed in the twentieth century to assist refugees and others resettle in Minnesota. These organizations helped Jewish families, displaced persons after World War II, those fleeing war in the Vietnam area, and more recent refugees. They have acted as sponsors and raised money for these groups to come to Minnesota and make a new life here.

Refugee resettlement, Lutheran Social Servics, Mineapolis, Minnesota
Indochinese Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), Unity Church Unitarian, St. Paul, Minnesota
Volunteer needs of newly-arrived Indochinese refugees

Since 1991, Thupten Dadak has been involved with the U.S. Tibetan Resettlement Project, coordinating the process for Tibetans to move to Minnesota. With the resettlement project and its related Tibetan American Foundation, Dadak helped raise money, get sponsors and hosts for arriving Tibetans, arrange jobs, and find doctors and lawyers to volunteer their services to aid those in need.

Interview with Thupten Dadak, 2005

To learn more about how Minnesota's immigrants educated themselves and their children, click on the page links below.