Minnesota Immigrants: Immigrant Experiences


Education was important for Minnesota immigrants and their children. Many immigrants believed their children could get a better education in Minnesota than they would have in their homeland. Free schooling was widely available and generally of high quality here. School is where immigrants learned about the language and culture of America—in other words, how to be an American. Sometimes this assimilation was voluntary and helpful, but sometimes Americanization was harmful.

Schools for Immigrants

Early Minnesota schools helped immigrants by teaching them English and even a trade so they could work and contribute to their new country. Some ethnic immigrant groups formed their own preparatory and collegiate schools to educate their children among others who shared their culture.

English class for new Americans, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Work People's College, Duluth, Minnesota
Students and Faculty at St. Paul's College, St. Paul Park, Minnesota
St. Olaf Academy Graduates, Northfield, Minnesota

Schools for Children

Many immigrants wanted a better future for their children and they believed education would provide that. Some immigrant communities formed their own schools where most of the students were either were either recently-arrived immigrants or children of immigrants. Sometimes the schools were run by church leaders and included religious instruction in the curriculum. Other areas had public schools attended mostly by immigrant children.

Mexican immigrants Jesus and Ramona Mendez believed in the importance of educating their ten children. They spoke in this interview about how education would help their children avoid working in the beet fields, like they had, in order to get better opportunities in life.

Interview with Jesus and Ramona Mendez, 1976

As an educator and principal in the Sleepy Eye Public Schools, Elia Dimayuga-Bruggeman advocated for better educational opportunities for migrant students in her entire district, not just her own family. She worked with the community to help them understand that educating the minority population benefited the area as a whole.

I worked with the community, and worked with city leaders, and worked with the school administration, and families, to eventually become a community that embraced diversity.

– Elia Dimayuga-Bruggeman

Interview with Elia Dimayuga-Bruggeman, 2010

Church Schools

Some churches ran English-language schools or held other valuable classes for recent immigrants. During the 1940s, the Westminster Presbyterian Church started offering Chinese Sunday School and English classes for the Chinese community in Minneapolis.

Jane Wilson taught English for about 20 years with this program to help the Chinese and Asian community learn skills that helped them navigate life in Minnesota. In this interview, she talked about how she taught English to young Chinese mothers when they came here after World War II.

Interview with Jane Wilson, 2002

Other churches in the Twin Cities offered similar programs to immigrants, especially in teaching English as a Second Language.

Call to volunteer to tutor ESL, Minnesota Literacy Council, St. Paul, Minnesota
Tutoring report, Unity Church Unitarian, St. Paul, Minnesota

Recent Immigrant Education

More recently, non-profit organizations and community groups have created educational opportunities for recent immigrant groups, especially in the Somali and Hmong communities. These classes teach English as well as provide job training, social services, and citizenship classes.

Immigrant education, Minneapolis, Minnesota
English class at Hmong Cultural Center, St. Paul, Minnesota

Not all immigrant experiences in Minnesota have been positive. Use the page links below to explore more stories.