Making connections across ethnic lines

Can you name the five Minnesota cities with the greatest concentrations of Latino residents?

Hints:

–People of Mexican or other Latin American heritage make up more than a quarter of the residents in each of these cities.

–All are rural, 80 miles or more from the suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Answer: Worthington (35 percent), Pelican Rapids (32 percent), St. James (31 percent), Long Prairie (30 percent) and Madelia (27 percent).

Although more than half the Latinos in Minnesota live in Minneapolis, St. Paul and their suburbs, the greatest concentrations by far are outstate. In fact, if you count really small towns like Butterfield and Hanley Falls, 19 Minnesota communities are made up of 20 percent or more Latinos, and 18 of those are outside the metro area. (If you’re still in quiz mode, the highest metro percentage is in tiny Landfall — 26 percent.)

But that doesn’t mean those heavily Latino places have figured out how to harness all residents to collectively take up the challenges they face. More often, living side by side without a lot of interaction is the rule, as MPR News reporter Jennifer Vogel points out.

Her story is one of a number we are posting today as part of a project called “Making Connections.” Inspired by research that University of Minnesota Extension officials are doing into leadership in some of the state’s heavily Latino communities, we went looking for places where people are making connections across ethnic lines.

To be sure, we found the kind of suspicion and distrust that is a pattern in the history of U.S. immigration. But we also found in some of these “Latino towns” examples in community gardens, in classrooms, at the fitness centers and on Main Street of people trying to lend support, trying to fit in, trying to make connections that someday will provide a kind of shared experience that collective action might be based on.

Take at look at what we found (the stories are in both English and Spanish). Meet Venezuelan native Windy Roberts who is getting college students in Morris to make ties with local immigrants from Mexico. Meet Lyle Danielson in Long Prairie, who figured out a way to get Latinos and whites to share a community garden. See how Northfield teachers are squeezing down the achievement gap. And read about and watch the remarkable Irma Marquez, a young Mexican woman from St. James who, with help from many in her town, has become one of the first immigrants here illegally to get the chance to work under President Obama’s deferred action plan.

Let us know what you think; even better, tell us about people you know who have made connections.