Young Americans

Nine scenes from the lives of new Minnesotans

What many of them really came for, of course, is the experience. The crowd is hardly exclusively Asian, nor is it monolithic. These kids take on the challenges of immigration and integration in their own ways, from the teen-age Laotians dressed in baggy pants, Fila shoes, and Nike golf caps to the 20-year-old Korean with his mostly white friends. But even if Hong Kong film can't speak for the entire Pacific Rim, there is a definitely pan-Asian aesthetic to its mix of over-the-top stunts, ethereal pop songs, and broken hearts. Then, too, it's probably a relief to see a world where Asian women are independent, Asian men are sexy as hell, and the occasional white American is, for once, the tokenized stranger.

On the way out, people compare notes with their friends, sharing their favorite jokes and fight sequences. Even as the staff locks up the Riverview for the night, a few stragglers linger under the marquee, gossiping and laughing in their own cliques. They take off when the conversation wanes; some of them will go out for a late dinner, others are calling it a night. When exactly they say goodnight doesn't really matter much; next week, they'll be back. (Francis Hwang)

Barbara Ryan

The luck ofthe Irish is legendary. But three years ago native Dubliner Barbara Ryan traded her faith in fortune for more solid stock in the twin American virtues of ambition and hard work. "There was so much opportunity for employment and advancement over here that just wasn't possible in Ireland," the 26-year-old recalls, reflecting on her move to Minneapolis in 1994.

The second-youngest of five children, Ryan grew up in a middle-class home just outside of Dublin. The flickering television provided myriad images of life in America: a nation of movie stars and capitalism, success and excess. "The U.S. was always this huge country," Ryan says. But as large as the landscape was the vast range of possibilities regarding employment. If an immigrant could make it anywhere, it was the States--a nation driven by, as Ryan puts it, "work, work, work."

Studying English and sociology at Maynooth College in Dublin, Ryan watched many of her well-educated peers exit the state university system only to find that there were no jobs. Ryan dallied. She pursued a postgraduate degree in sociology and social research, but as her academic work drew to a close in 1994, she still faced uncertainty regarding employment. Her boyfriend, Fiacre, had applied for a visa to work in the U.S., and Ryan reluctantly cast her lot with his. Of the approximately 60,000 Irish citizens who annually apply for U.S. visas, both Ryan and Fiacre were among the mere 5,000 who were granted official permissions.

America wasn't altogether unfamiliar territory for Ryan. She'd spent a summer as a line cook in Boston earning money for college ("I lied my way into the job," she recalls. "I burned everything.") The same employer wrote a letter promising her a job, but Ryan had no intention of returning to Boston. On Sept. 4, 1994, she left Ireland, bound for Minneapolis. "I cried for 18 hours straight," she says. Fiacre had arrived in Minnesota two weeks earlier and was living with his sister and her husband.

To American employers her degrees meant nothing, and her Irish accent was offputting, but within a week, she had a temp job as a data-entry clerk. A second placement with the advertising agency Martin/Williams eventually led to a full-time job. "I saw the department that I wanted to work in--account planning--and told the director I'd be willing to take on extra projects," Ryan says. "Literally I was working round the clock."

These days, Ryan works at Campbell Mithun Esty. Her boyfriend has a job at Pillsbury. The two share an apartment in a downtown Minneapolis highrise and have tapped into the close-knit circle of Irish immigrants that inhabit the Twin Cities. Ryan, an amateur actress, has joined a local theater company and has worked with such locally based Irish troupes as the Titanic Players, Na Fianna, and the Cracked Looking Glass. "I've found that my best friends are immigrants," she says. "Although I didn't plan it that way."

Her enthusiasm for the United States is bereft of cynicism. "America is a land that provides opportunity for a lot of people. If you have the determination, ambition, and the desire to go forward, you can go anywhere," she says. "I know in terms of where I am in advertising, I would never have achieved that where I am right now if I was back in Dublin. Mainly because it's on a much smaller scale.

"Everything here is bigger. Bigger companies, bigger opportunities--the economic situation is so much better that the only place you can go is up. If you're willing to work hard, you can go that way." (Joel Hoekstra)

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