Analyzing the identity of Summit-University Neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota through its history and contemporary context

Identity is very complex and it shaped by many factors such as the history, and culture as Martin and Nakayama stated in their book ‘Intercultural Communication in Context”.   Many sub –identity can exist in a community and contribute the overall identity of the particular neighborhood. The Identity of any community is not stationary.  It is dynamic and it is always changing.  Since the identity changes through time, learning the history of particular neighborhood or community can reveal its identity and how it changed through time. Same is true for the Summit – University neighborhood.  When you visit this neighborhood, you can observe a lot and tell the identity of this neighborhood, but you will learn more about the identity of this community when you learn the history of its immigration.

The Summit – University neighborhood which is located in the 8th district in St. Paul in Minnesota is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in St. Paul. As Minnesota ahistorical society stated,  this community contains different ethnic groups such as Hispanic, African – Americans, Asians, Somalian, and Caucasians.  Each of these ethnic groups has its own language cultural value.  Immigration is an important factor that drives the community identity development. In 1850, the people who live in this neighborhood were farmers who share the same cultural value, common language and common social status, mostly white Christians.  Less diversity existed during that time.

In 1880, when the streetcar line started, the community changed and middle and working classes move into the neighborhood. The community changed from farmers to middle class. The Summit-university neighborhood changed dramatically when wealthy people living in the St. Paul business area, moved into the Summit-university neighborhood. At this time, the identity of the community changed from middle class to and rich and upper class community mostly white Christian dominated community. The source of the economics of this community was the commercial. Neighborhood changed and built mansions that have different styles.

In the last century, especially last decades the neighborhood dramatically became more diverse than ever.   The immigration was the important factor that was shaping the identity of this community.  The immigration flow also causes political change and social change which shape the identity of this community.   When we asked one of this neighborhood,     As far as cultural diversity goes, is there a lot of that around here? He said Oh yes, yea. That’s a good thing… to see different race, different people. And they’re actually helping each other out. Like, it was crazy at first. Africans and Somalians, we did not get along, for nothing. Now, we’re talking to each other. You know, we communicate. That’s good. The corner store guy, you know, he’s Somalian and we’re best friends. And it’s wonderful now, talking to everybody. It’s good”.

People of this community speech many different languages such as the English, Somali, and Mongo and so on. But the common language is English.  The English speaking community is the majority of this neighborhood.

The most businesses are located at Selby Avenue, where you can find hotel, bars, bakeries, and so on.  You can also observe much business owned by specific mall ethnic groups. These businesses usually sell the traditional food of particular ethnic community. I was so surprised when I enter a small store which was located the Summit – University neighborhood that was selling my own traditional food. The owner was speaking my language, Somali. This is an example how the identity of this community is change through time and the immigration became one of the most important factors that is shaping the identity of this neighborhood.

Despite these changes, the community is still growing.   Today this community share common identity as being Summit –University resident despite their origin, religion, ethnicity, and race, a As the Twin city daily newspaper stated, tcdaily newspaper. It became what we call the Summit- University neighborhood. The community is well organize and connected and sometimes media refers as promising neighborhood, as the twin city daily news latter indicated,

The neighborhood itself refers as a community as I observed when we were interviewing two members of this neighborhood.    When we asked one of them, would you consider this part of the neighborhood a community? He said “Oh of course. People are always getting together now, not separating. People and places are always trying to get us all together, seems like each week. Next Sunday, actually there’s a church gathering at one of those big churches by Summit Avenue. We all get together there as a community.”

The culture of ethnics in the community such as, religion, language contribute a lot and shape the identity of particular community and neighborhood  and these and historical context, contemporary political and social context are what shaped the identity of particular community or neighborhood.


  1. Judith N. martin and Thomas K. Nakayama. “Intercultural Communications in Contexts”. Chapter 5.  Pages 161-217.
  2. Minnesota Historical Society.
  3. Summit University planning Council.   Http://summit –
  1.  Twin city daily newspaper.

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by | June 5, 2012 · 10:54 pm

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