Minnesota is a lousy place to live if you're Hispanic, according to a recent study by WalletHub, the consumer and business information website.
In WalletHub's 2015 study of "States Where Hispanics Are Most Assimilated," the Land of 10,000 Lakes found itself well in the bottom half of such metrics as median annual income (41st at less than $20,000), homeownership rates (45th with about one in three Hispanics owning a home), and dead last in the 50th spot in public high school graduation rate.
A little more than 250,000 Hispanics call Minnesota home — or roughly 5 percent of the state's 5.5 million population. Almost two-thirds are of Mexican origin. According to the Pew Research Center, a third of Minnesota's Hispanic population age 17 and younger live in poverty, while three out of every ten have no health insurance.
Pedro Lopez, 40, personifies the modern American Dream.
He came here 25 years ago as a foreign exchange student from central Mexico. He attended Wayzata High School and graduated from Minnesota State with a bachelor's in criminal justice and political science via the school's ROTC program. He married a gringa from his adopted home state. Today, they have two kids, ages two and four. Lopez works as a safety manager for McGough Construction.
Lopez believes the American experience for Hispanic immigrants is made or broken well before they set foot on Minnesota soil.
"Everybody likes to blame the government, the country, or the state for their lack of opportunities," Lopez says. "That's easy to do, but in my experience, a Hispanic's success in Minnesota, or lack of, is all about what kind of formal education they had before they immigrated here."
The workers Lopez meets in the construction trade came from countries in Central America or Mexico. Many are from rural locales and have no more than a fifth- or sixth-grade education. Those people are immediately at a disadvantage.
"If you arrive here with very little formal education and have not even begun to learn English, yes, often times you're left with having to work three jobs just to survive," he says. "If you know some English or even better, can speak the language, your opportunities are much greater. Having a formal education into the high school grades in the country you came from and knowing English to me are the two most important things a person can do to succeed."
Lopez scoffs when told about WalletHub's findings. He argues that Minnesota has many social services available for immigrants to learn the native tongue and then move on to earn their GED.
"Who we are at age 65 is determined by our choices made when we are younger," says Lopez. "My suggestion is for people to take some time initially and invest in themselves before jumping into the work world in America. By doing that, they put themselves in a better situation for success down the road.
"I deal all the time with Hispanics who have a hard finding opportunities here. I believe it's up to the individual to take responsibility for themselves and do the things they can do to help themselves first instead of later sitting back and blaming somebody or something else because life is difficult."