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May 18, 2005 |

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I grew up in a small prairie town not unlike Lake Wobegon. Over the last 20 years, many Mexicans have relocated to my little community. Long time residents (mostly Norwegian and German) didn't (and still don't) know just how to react to this huge influx of foreign speaking residents. When traveling throughout rural Minnesota, I find that many of the small towns on the prairie have also experienced a major immigration of Mexicans. In the 50's and 60's there were no minorities in my small town. In fact, I didn't meet a black person until I joined the Army in 1970. These Mexican folks are very hard working, religious, and good family-oriented people. Yet, sometimes they are viewed as unwelcome strangers who somehow haven't earned the right to settle here. People should remember that a short few decades ago, their ancestors were strange, foreign speaking visitors to these parts too. I wonder what Lake Wobegon residents might say about their new Mexican neighbors at the Chatter Box Cafe?

David Weber
Monticello, MN

Thanks for a thoughtful letter, David. I'd guess that Lake Wobegon residents would try to ignore any new Mexican neighbors. Lack of language is a real barrier in a small town — I know from having traveled around Denmark when I lived there — it makes you an outsider and in a small town outsiders are viewed with suspicion. Bilingualism may work well in Miami or L.A., but not in a small town in Minnesota. The Norwegian and German ancestors met terrific bias from the Anglo-Americans who were here (I'd argue that there is still bias against Norwegian and German surnames) and they mostly shed their languages in a couple generations and took up English. Which Hispanic folks in Minnesota will do, too.

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