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Minnesota's racial, ethnic diversity grows even as immigration slows

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Women wear black shirts and colorful skirts as they sing on stage.
Members of the Agape Hmong Alliance Church women's choir perform Saturday, July 27, 2019, during the church's open house celebration in Walnut Grove, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news reporting about Minnesota's new immigrants and refugees. MPR News is a partner with Sahan Journal and will be sharing stories between SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org.

Minnesota’s three largest non-European immigrant populations are deepening their roots in the North Star State, adding to a cultural mix that’s like no other in the nation, new research shows.

Minnesota communities with Mexican, Hmong and Somalis roots are growing now even as the number of foreign arrivals flattens.

The state’s Mexican population numbers 207,000, but only 30 percent were born outside the country. There are about 88,000 people of Hmong heritage now with only 32 percent foreign-born.

Minnesota is home to the nation’s largest Somali population, numbering 74,000 with 46,000, or about 62 percent, estimated to be born outside the country.

The findings come from data compiled by APM Research Lab, part of American Public Media Group, MPR News parent organization.

The demographics, part of the lab’s Roots Beyond Race project, offer a comprehensive portrait of race and ethnicity in Minnesota and across the United States, looking deeply at family histories, including immigration patterns across generations and up to the present. Roots Beyond Race is an online research tool that makes it easy to examine the trends.

“This tool gives voice and visibility to all the dimensions of identity, which is really important for smaller groups that we don’t often talk about,” said Andi Egbert, senior research associate with the APM Research Lab.

“What this project does is it gives us a way to see our character, who are our neighbors, how are things that have happened around the globe affecting so many of our neighbors who have cultural ties to all of these places,” Egbert said.

The number of immigrants coming to the United States decreased by 70 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the American Community Survey. Though not as drastic, Minnesota has also seen a substantial decrease in immigration that’s challenging an already-stretched workforce.

“In the middle part of the last decade, we had about 22,000 new immigrants coming from abroad,” State Demographer Susan Brower told MPR News host Tom Crann on Monday. “In the last two years, it’s been closer to about 16,000.”

While Brower’s office says Minnesota’s overall population trends put the state at risk for losing a congressional seat, Egbert said immigrants have been contributing to the state’s population growth, and that’s allowed some towns to maintain their schools.

Besides the numbers, Minnesota’s immigrant mix is exceptionally rich and different, the research shows.

Compared to all other states, Minnesota has the nation’s highest percentage of people of Hmong, Liberian, Somali and Swedish heritage.

The state is second in the nation to North Dakota in the percentage of people of Ojibwe and Norwegian ancestries.It’s also second to Washington, D.C., in the percentage of people of Ethiopian ancestry and is home to large populations of people with heritage tied to Laos, Burma and Cambodia.