A group of neighbors and outsiders will cover 2 miles of St. Paul's East Side — and 150 years of its history as an immigrant haven — in July.
The University of Minnesota's Immigration History Research Center has teamed up with the nonprofit East Side Freedom Library to offer a walking tour of the neighborhood that delves into its immigrant past. Led by longtime East Sider and Freedom Library co-founder Peter Rachleff, the half-day event will also feature a chance to hear from local chefs and sample their cuisine. Organizers hope the morning will spark conversations about heritage and migration across generations and ethnicities.
"We were interested in finding ways for the descendants of earlier immigrants and more recent arrivals to tell their stories to each other," Rachleff said.
There's already a waiting list for the July 9 tour, part of a larger National Endowment for the Humanities-funded "Global Minnesota: Immigrants Past and Present" project at the U. But the Freedom Library expects to host more walking tours of the East Side. Meanwhile, the U has also scheduled a similar event in Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis in late August.
The series started with an earlier Cedar-Riverside walk-through last fall, which covered that neighborhood's transformation as Eastern European arrivals gave way to Korean and later Somali immigrants. For this latest installment, the U's center enlisted Rachleff, who teaches history at Macalester College and has lived on the East Side since 1999. The Freedom Library has already hosted a couple of similar events, which attracted a diverse mix of residents, native East Siders turned suburbanites and newcomers to the neighborhood.
Tour to 'draw people' together
The July tour will start at Swede Hollow, once a makeshift settlement of Scandinavian immigrants who built shacks from scavenged materials on what was the edge of the city in the mid-1800s. In 1956, the city razed the settlement — along with a train boxcar turned chapel — and the area became a city park.
The tour then follows Payne Avenue, the East Side's main commercial artery, past restaurants and other immigrant businesses. That's when Rachleff delves into how subsequent arrivals reshaped the area over the years, from Eastern Europeans to Vietnamese and Hmong to Central Americans and Somalis.
"We talk about the past but we smell and hear the present," he said. "The past and present are in conversation with each other, and this walking tour is a way to draw people into that conversation."
Finally, at the library, participants will sample Karen, Chinese and Salvadorean food and hear from local chefs.
"This project is about getting people from different ethnicities to talk about their commonalities at a time when immigration is often used very divisively," said Bryan Pekel, the manager of the Global Minnesota project at the U.
Maddalena Marinari, a Gustavus Adolphus College professor, is coming from St. Peter with two colleagues and her husband to attend the event. Marinari, who serves on the board for the National Endowment grant, says she is intrigued by the ways in which different waves of immigration inform each other's experiences.
"Old and new immigrants have quite a bit in common," she said.
To get on the waiting list for the East Side tour, go to: bit.ly/1OsZJCi. To learn about future tours through the East Side Freedom Library, go to: eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/events.
Mila Koumpilova 612-673-4781.