Conversations of Culture and Comfort: St. Paul’s West Side

The current cultural climate of St. Paul’s West Side is alive with a rich diversity of ethnic groups. Though drawn to the area for different reasons, the historical Neighborhood House acts as a central hub by attending to the basic needs of all who need a helpful hand. Listen as Kelly, a Neighborhood House employee and long-term resident of the area, describes her observations of cultural change throughout the community and emphasizes the priceless role the Neighborhood House continues to play over a hundred years after its inception.

Neighborhood House resides within the new Wellstone Center.

“Have you seen the area change a lot in the last 20 years?”

“For sure”

“For sure? In which ways?”

“Umm…20 years ago, I would say, 20 to 25 years ago it was more predominantly Hispanic, and as the new cultures come into the United States and settle in Minnesota they tend to settle here on the West Side. So, since Neighborhood House has been around…Neighborhood House started as Russian Jewish immigrants who came here. Neighborhood House started as a settlement house for them so they could get acclimated to the new culture, to the United States, but still maintain their own culture. So, the neighborhood itself has been evolving with every new immigrant that comes. It was predominantly Hispanic when I was growing up, then the Hmong came in, and now East Africans are here…although you probably can’t really tell that because most of the stuff around here is still Spanish, is still Hispanic.”

“Do you think that’s going to be changing?”

“It’s totally changing. But the Hispanic culture is still really strong ’round here.”

“So what do you think is attracting so many of these recent immigrants here? Is it things like the Neighborhood House, or…?”

“I think so. Yeah, I don’t know how they find us. It’s hard to know, that’s really kind of weird.”

“Do you see a lot of family? Is it a family lineage, do you think? Could it be…chain immigration at all? Or is it just attractive to large groups?”

“I think it’s just attractive, yeah. I think St. Paul in general…and, I don’t know much about Minneapolis, I’ve lived here…it’s very cultural and open to different cultures, so it’s very accepting. And so I think people obviously like to be accepted, and that we have many cultures here. And the most recent ethnicity to come is the Karen. They’re of Asian descent but they’re their own ethnicity.”

“Have you seen any clashes of culture? Between…?”

“I would say…not necessarily with adults, but there’s…with youth there’ll be clashes. There’ll be a Hmong gang and an East African gang and a Spanish gang doing their stupid kid things. I think it’s more in the youth than adults. Adults seem to get along.”

“While they get along, like you say, do you see a lot of intercultural interaction or do they usually stay with their ethnicities, together?”

“Well, I would say generally they stay with their ethnicities, with their people, so to speak. But in our English classes they’re all intermingled and they try to get them to know each other’s cultures well. So they’ll have cooking classes during English class and one week they’ll make Somali food, the next week they’ll make Hmong food, the next week they’ll make Karen food, the next week they’ll make…whatever! And so they each get a taste of each other’s culture, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, we really aren’t all that different! Oh, you use cilantro too! Oh, I thought only we used cilantro!'”

“Do you think that one of the offhand goals, then, of this community center would be to unite the area? To get more people to come here and use similar services? How do you think that would work?”

“That’s a good question. Well our goal is to…What we generally do is try to meet people’s basic needs: food, shelter…because if you’re hungry you can’t think of anything else except food and feeding your family. If you don’t know English, you can’t get around, you can’t get a job, so we have basic English skills to help them get a job. We have GED classes that they can go to. Most of the people that come here from other countries…they may not speak English but they probably speak five other languages and a lot of them were PhDs or…I mean, have Master’s in their own country and are very high up but then when they come here the degree doesn’t translate because the schooling is different. And so, they essentially have to start all over. Plus they don’t know the language. So a lot of people are like, “You’re stupid because you don’t know English,” when really, just because they don’t know English doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. But people don’t see beyond that. And we’re here to get the basic needs met and to give them a hand to have a better life. But it’s not like, a…it’s not a handout. It’s, a…”

“Like a helpful hand!”

“Yeah! Helpful hand, yeah.”

“I like it…I think that covers it, you helped a lot. You definitely support the research that we’ve already done, but it’s nice to hear it from somebody who’s seen it. Thank you very, very much! We appreciate it.”

-Angella, Luke & Shannon



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4 responses to “Conversations of Culture and Comfort: St. Paul’s West Side

  1. Pingback: Who Needs Integration? | The TC Neighborhood Project

  2. Pingback: West Side Power: A Plea For Intercultural Communication | The TC Neighborhood Project

  3. Pingback: Communicating Across Cultures: My Final Reflection | The TC Neighborhood Project

  4. Pingback: West Side: When Everything At Play Isn’t Enough | The TC Neighborhood Project

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