Living in America

Meet the neighbors

SOCIOECONOMICS: Somalis are divided into numerous clans; their culture is rooted in "nomadic pastoralism"--the act of traveling with herds of goats, sheep, and camels. They are Sunni Muslim, a belief system that affords more freedoms to women than most Muslim cultures. Prior to the civil war, an urban, professional class emerged, but even among this group, traditional culture is revered. Although different levels of Sunni orthodoxy exist, most Somalis do not eat pork or drink alcohol; they pray as many as five times a day.

There exist significant class differences among Somalis, with many of the highly educated working in government agencies, hospitals, and school districts as linguistic and cultural translators. The less educated work in retail and hotels, or clean offices or drive cabs.


Bill Cameron


WHERE ARE THEY FROM? Sudan is, geographically, the largest country in Africa. It shares a border with Ethiopia and has a population of 33 million.

WHY DID THEY LEAVE? The northern two-thirds of Sudan is controlled by ethnic Arabs who are committed to creating an Islamic state. The southern third is made up of Africans of various ethnic tribes and religious beliefs who have resisted Arab domination. Northern Sudanese, mostly Sunni Muslims, often capture and enslave ethnic Africans. Except for an 11-year peace agreement from 1973 to 1983, Sudan has been at war since 1955, and famine is an ongoing problem. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have died or fled to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.

WHY/HOW DID THEY END UP IN THE TWIN CITIES? Almost exclusively as refugees.


WHERE ARE THEY CONCENTRATED? Most live in Anoka County, northern Hennepin County, and Roseville.

SOCIOECONOMICS: Most Sudanese have no education. Further, many come from rural backgrounds and have a difficult time adapting to the urban and technological aspects of living in the Twin Cities. They work in food processing, housekeeping, and office cleaning, while those more educated work in healthcare.




WHERE ARE THEY FROM? Cambodia is a Southeast Asian nation of 11 million people, bordered by Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.

WHY DID THEY LEAVE? Since 1975, Cambodia has been home to political violence, civil war, and oppression. Under the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge, two million people were killed or died of starvation or disease. Cambodia was engaged in a civil war from 1978 to 1989. Hundreds of thousands fled to Thailand in the late 1970s and 1980s.

WHY/HOW DID THEY END UP IN THE TWIN CITIES? Many Cambodians came as refugees in the 1980s.


WHERE ARE THEY CONCENTRATED? Most live in St. Paul, Edina, and Brooklyn Park.

SOCIOECONOMICS: Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists and live by subsistence agriculture, farming whatever land they have. The first wave of Cambodian refugees was well educated, but those who fled during the civil war were not. Many in Minnesota work in factories and warehouses.



WHERE ARE THEY FROM? China is the world's largest, most populous country with 1.2 billion people.

WHY DID THEY LEAVE? Mao Tse Tung's communist government, in place since 1949, forbids religion and political dissent.

WHY/HOW DID THEY END UP IN THE TWIN CITIES? Most Chinese arrived here through natural refugee and immigrant patterns. Since the 1980s, many have come to attend the University of Minnesota.

ESTIMATED LOCAL POPULATION: There are 10,000 Chinese immigrants and descendants of Chinese immigrants living throughout the state.

WHERE ARE THEY CONCENTRATED? There is no particular area of concentration.

SOCIOECONOMICS: There are various Chinese dialects, but Mandarin and Cantonese are most often spoken by Chinese people in America. In Minnesota, the Chinese tend to be well educated and work in the corporate world.



WHERE ARE THEY FROM? There is no Hmong nation or state; they are an ethnic group. Though historically nomadic, they have more recently lived in Laos, Vietnam, and China.

WHY DID THEY LEAVE? Their culture is agrarian, and many Hmong farmers, at the behest of the U.S. military, fought the Vietcong and communist forces during the Vietnam War. After the United States withdrew, many Hmong were forced to seek refuge in Thailand.

WHY/HOW DID THEY END UP IN THE TWIN CITIES? The first Hmong family arrived in Minnesota in 1975, through the U.S. State Department and various church organizations.

ESTIMATED LOCAL POPULATION: There are now more than 52,000 Hmong in the state, believed to be the largest population in the U.S.

WHERE ARE THEY CONCENTRATED? They live mostly in St. Paul, in the Frogtown, East Side, and West Side neighborhoods.

SOCIOECONOMICS: The Hmong long maintained a purely oral culture, but that has changed during the last half-century. They practice "animism"--the belief in spirits and the supernatural world--which centers on the role of the shaman. Some in the U.S. have converted to Christianity.

Because American culture is so different from their own, many of the first Hmong refugees had a difficult time in the U.S. Most had no formal education and were schooled only in slash-and-burn agriculture. They were unaccustomed to settling in one place. These differences made the Hmong relatively suspicious and disdainful of certain aspects of American life. Many of the first refugees clung steadfast to their own beliefs; few speak English to this day.

Now, many Hmong refugees work in manufactu

« Previous Page