Main Street

Wing Young Huie

It wasn't too long after moving to Minneapolis 16 years ago that I discovered Lake Street. I'd always been fascinated by inner-city neighborhoods, having grown up in the Central Hillside, the closest thing Duluth has to an urban core. I was just starting to explore street photography, and my initial forays around Chicago and Lake produced good results. Shortly after that, I moved to St. Paul and my interests were drawn elsewhere.

In the spring of 1996, after spending two years photographing the Frogtown neighborhood in St. Paul and another year putting together an outdoor exhibit and a book from that work, I started looking for another place to explore. By then I was somewhat familiar with Lake Street, or at least the parts of it where I shopped and ate, which was mostly in Uptown and LynLake. I had rarely gone back to Chicago and Lake.

When I did, I discovered that Lake Street displays an incredible array of disparate realities--from The Gap to Kaplan Brothers to M.R.'s Hip Hop Shop, from Lunds to the Supermercado de Las Americas to V.F. Oriental Foods (which, although there is nothing outside to indicate it, houses an excellent Hmong noodle shop), from Uhuru Books to Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction to Ingebretsen Scandinavian Gifts, from trendy enclave to war zone, from Old World to modern world to Third World. In short, it seems that jammed into that six-mile stretch is the gamut of the evolving American urban experience.

Last November I moved into the Powderhorn neighborhood, just off of Lake and 15th Avenue. With the assistance of a Bush Foundation Artist's Fellowship I have been photographing and interviewing people in the various neighborhoods connected by Lake Street. Here are some of the results. I plan to keep photographing and intend to have an outdoor exhibit on Lake Street in 1999.

-- Wing Young Huie

Editor's Note: Selections from Huie's Lake Street project will be on display at the Hennepin County Government Center October 7 to November 21, and at Minneapolis's Thomas Barry Fine Arts gallery starting October 18.

[[Photo 3

Hmong New Life Victory Assembly of God]]

Basically we're trying to focus on the Hmong people, trying to recruit them so that they know who Jesus is and what he's doing for our people. The service is all in Hmong. Most of the people who worship here are the older ones. Right now we have about 35 families.

The Bible says if you don't praise the Lord, then the rocks and the mountains will praise the Lord. That is why we are so emotional when we pray. Some people are touched and are healed. We like to shout it out loud. We move around. We believe in speaking in tongues as a way of staying in the presence of God. We believe in faith healing. We've seen a lot of miracles.

[[Photo 4

Ingebretsen Scandinavian Gifts]]

This was my first time doing this. My older sister has done it for years and I though it was neat that I got to do it. It was scary at first because I felt funny dressed up like that. But after you've been in it for a while you don't think that you have it on.

Everybody at school thinks I look Swedish. We were making a float about Sweden and people kept coming up to me and saying, "You look so Swedish." And I just said, "Yeah. I'm Swedish." I think people think that all Swedes have blond hair and they dress up in costumes. People think I have an accent like a Swedish person. I don't think so at all.

[[Photo 5


I was born in Mexico. I have been here 12 years. In our culture when you turn 15 you have a quinceañera celebration. It is when a young girl comes into womanhood. It makes me feel elegant and proud. It's been a dream for me.

The quinceañera is expensive. But the cost is shared by all my godparents. I have a godparent for the cake, one for the DJ, one for the dress, one for the bouquet. There is a godparent for almost everything that is part of the celebration.

Even though I am still dependent on my mom I now feel more dependent on myself. It's a step to move on and not play with dolls anymore. It's part of the custom to be given a dressed-up doll. It signifies that this will be my last doll, the last toy that I will receive. Now if I am to receive a gift it should be a gift for a woman, not a child. This also gives me the green light to date and have boyfriends. Now I can go out and enjoy myself with my friends. I have more freedom.  

But the most important part of the whole quinceañera is the coming together of all my family, relatives, and friends in church to have Mass together. Then afterwards we have a celebration where we dance and eat.

[[Photo 6

Calhoun Square]]

I'm the oldest woman in the state to give birth. I was 53 when he was born. Everybody thinks it's a grandchild. So I'll be in my 70s when I'm going to high-school graduation.

We're waiting for papa who did not show up for visitation. We agreed to meet in a public place so he could see the baby. The baby is Indian, Thai, Lao and French. And mom is Polish. Doesn't he look Polish, which he obviously doesn't. We've lived in the neighborhood since 1964. I own my own home. I have five children. This is number five.

The father has a problem. He thinks everybody picks on him because he's not white. He misses first place in a muscle contest because he's not white. It's a bunch of baloney. You don't see color after a while when you know people. Nobody sees color. I don't. Maybe people of color see color. I don't know. But he's a refugee. Maybe it's difficult to come from a different culture and run into prejudice as a child. He came when he was 10.

[[Photo 7

Suneson Music Center, 1611 E. Lake]]

I've been singing all my life, since I was 5 years old. Worked down here on Lake Street about 35 years ago. We had little remote radio broadcasts. Had a group called the Circle Dot Ranch Boys. I tried to make a living at it for a while, but it just didn't work out. We have a session here every Saturday morning. Anybody who wants to play is welcome.

When I feel good I'm kind of a nut. I'm kind of crazy and it has got me in a little bit of trouble. That led to a few things that weren't too happy for me. But I got off that now.

There are two songs that when I sing I always break down and cry. One is called "Old Shep." It's about a dog that a person had to shoot. The other is "Be Careful of the Stones That You Throw." Just even talking about it gets to me.

I just love to sing, that's all. I'm just the happiest man in the world if I can just sing somebody's favorite song for them. I don't perform.

[[Photo 9

Night Fall Records]]

(Night Fall Records specializes in imported metal music. On Sundays customers are invited to come in costume and corpse paint.)

The idea is to try to look dead or unholy. I got sort of tired of the way I looked every day. I do different designs all the time. Sometimes I put it on and walk around outside and see how people react. It's fun.

I listen to death, black, speed metal. I've been listening since I was about 8. My sister got me started by playing Kiss, Ozzy, and Black Sabbath. I like the way it sounds. It grabs you by your soul. It's sort of like in Africa when they do the voodoo dance. It feels good. Some of it is harmonious, but at concerts you feel real aggressive. None of my friends listen to it. They listen to rap and stuff. I always go to concerts by myself. I listen to it every day.

I live at home with my mom. She doesn't mind my music. She figures that as long as I don't try to join gangs or deal or do drugs it's okay. I like to watch cartoons a lot. Comic books. Play with my kitty cat. Basically watch TV. Play video games. I dropped out of school. I don't regret it at all.

[[Photo 12


When I first moved into the neighborhood the people got along really well. They looked out for each other. We didn't have to fear for the people coming into our neighborhood who didn't belong here. Now you have to turn around and watch who's coming down the sidewalk behind you. People don't want to be involved. They'd just as soon have somebody else do the so-called dirty work.

The neighborhood has gotten to the point where unfortunately I can't tolerate some of the activities going on anymore. I've also been threatened by some of these people. I notice a lot of drug activity and prostitution going on. Some of these people are aware that I'm aware of it, so therefore they know that I've been talking to the police and they said, 'Hey, we're going to eliminate you.' I don't like to say it, but it's just not desirable to live here anymore. I just can't deal with it any more. I'm moving to the suburbs.  

[[Photo 14

15th Avenue and East Lake]]

My name is Psycho. The police gave me that name. It's kind of a messed-up label. Sometimes I do wrong, sometimes I don't. The land takes care of me and I take care of the land. The people out here is normal. People just put them down all the time. They human beings too. Just because people get high, smoke crack, stuff like that. Everybody got some kind of faults in their life. Ain't nobody perfect. Anyone perfect is dead. We do what we have to do to survive. I just go in Psycho's land. This is Psycho's land. Whatever goes wrong, goes wrong. I try to keep things from going wrong. I stay with my mom off and on. My mother is a church lady. I'm the outcast of the family, but very loved by all of them.

[[Photo 15

Big Geno and Little Geno]]

This is little Geno. I'm big Geno. He's going to be a security dog. I'm going to take my time with him. I'm just trying to get his neck to be strong. The chain is to put muscles in his chest. Right now he's young. As he gets old he'll get used to it. Once he sees me with it, he knows he's got to put it on. At first he didn't want to have it on, but now he's used to it. It's not being abusive. You can train a dog how you want to train a dog, just like a child. You can raise a child up to cuss out grown people. You know, you just raise you dog just the way you want to be raised up. That's all it is.

[[Photo 16

Laotian Man]]

I was born in Laos. After the war I was four years in Thailand. Then we came to United States and Minneapolis in 1980. I've been here 17 years and I have nothing, only welfare. No clothes, no home. I stay with sister and brother. Now we are not sure if we will see money on the 1st because of the new law. I am not a citizen. I tell them I try to go to school to learn citizen, to be American. They say OK.

I like to live like people. Have a car, have my own apartment, have a job, go to work on time. That's what I want. I cannot live in the United States like this. Maybe I have to back to our home town. Go back to the farm and make rice, feed the pigs, chicken, sell to live. Now I have only 200 money for the land and 120 for the food stamps. That's good for 30 days. Now I'm waiting. Thank you, sir.

[[Photo 17

Portland and 26th]]

There are seven of us kids in the family. We're going to use the money to buy some clothes and outfits for the Fourth of July for all of us. If there's money left over we're going to buy more supplies for more lemonade.

[[Photo 18

12th Avenue and East Lake Street]]

I've lived in different places on Lake Street most of my life. Once I lived on the streets for six months. I walked from Chicago to Cedar Avenue. Just walking back and forth like a zombie, I guess. It was the grace of God that helped me get out of it. But I just got kicked out of the place I was staying. So I guess I'm back in the same situation I was in. Now I've got to figure something out.

My mom works the streets. It's kind of depressing what turned out to be. I never seen it coming. But life goes on, I guess. I try to see her all the time. We're always happy when we're with each other, though. I take her out to eat when I can. Last payday I gave her $45 and told her to do what she wants with it.

I consider myself a Native muralist. My artwork is spectacular. I can't believe I can do work like this. It's like it gives me a little key. Maybe I can make a living off my art. Once I get that door open, like right now, if I was to keep doing more paintings, get them out there, advertising, it should work out pretty good.  

I come to the peace garden often in the summer and the spring. Sometimes I'll just go to relax. It's kind of hard to relax there now because it's kind of messed up. It got deteriorated. There are beer cans all over, but I did a little part of it too. I guess everybody did their little part and messed it up. I just lie on the bench and meditate. I try to think about peaceful things, dreams and hopes. Things like getting my own apartment, getting on with my life. I hope that my mom gets off working on the streets. I wish I had a regular family once again. That's my hopes and dreams.

[[Photo 19

Corcoran Park]]

We adopted four children. We decided to adopt because we couldn't have our kids. Our oldest is an 8-year-old biracial boy. He is one quarter Afro-American. He has Down's syndrome. He is full of life and love. And a handful at times. Our second is a 6-year-old Caucasian girl. She's bright, beautiful, and peaceful. Our third is Afro-American. He is a handsome and determined 3-year-old. He was born with a hole in his heart. He's had heart failure three times. He would turn blue. They had to hold him constantly. He's off all the drugs now and he's doing well. Our 6-month-old baby is Afro-American. She's been hospitalized three times. But she's doing great. Our hearts and our hands are full. We're grateful to God.

Many people come up and tell us we're angels for doing this. But we didn't do this for our sainthood. We did this for selfish reasons. We just wanted kids.

We get asked questions everywhere we go. The big question is, "Why is she black?" And I say, "That's the way God made her." And they say, "No, no, no, you know what I mean." Or they say, "Why are you white?" I think we're kind of a puzzle to people.

Sometimes we would like to blend in. There's always the feeling of having to explain our family, I'm sure it can't help but make the kids feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I get tired of it. But then again we like to talk about our kids, too.

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