Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative

MANKATO — “This is Who We Are” would be an apt title for the cover of a not-yet-published collection of works by people who represent the area’s variety of cultures.

Blue Earth County Library recently received funding to help create a book focusing on the life journeys that have brought people who were born outside of the U.S. to the Mankato-North Mankato area.

The aim of the book is to gather stories from first-generation immigrants who live in the Minnesota River Valley.

“Basically, they can write about themselves, why did they leave the place where they grew up and why did they come here,” said Dana Niu, “My Immigrant Story” project organizer and Mankato librarian.

The Greater Mankato Diversity Council and the Mankato Area School District’s Adult Basic Education program are partners in the book project.

“We are welcoming stories of immigrants from all eras,” said Missy Manderfeld, the Diversity Council’s administrative assistant.

A grant from the Traverse des Sioux Library Cooperative Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund is being used to turn Niu’s 2019 proposal into a published collection of personal essays.

“This book project is new for the cooperative,” Executive Director Ann Hokanson said.

“It’s a unique for our region. Most of our grants have been for events at libraries, like arts education and musicians’ shows.”

The project’s goals are to build bridges among cultures, promote an all-inclusive community and encourage global ideas.

Hokanson said the Mankato library’s goal of collecting stories that describe residents’ journeys “squares very well” with the overall mission of the cooperative. The project also matches a funding goal of Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment — preservation of the state’s cultural heritage, she added.

When the book comes off the press (probably later this year), Blue Earth County Library’s patrons will have access to the first-voice viewpoints from residents who were born in countries from around the world.

During the past 15 years, Blue Earth County and Minnesota have experienced a dramatic increase in the number of residents who were born in a country other than the United States.

Public libraries have long been sources for information about newcomers to the country: Statisticians provide numbers for the percentage of residents who were born in a country other than the U.S., and academic papers offer historical perspectives on cultural displacements.

In 2015, about 460,000 immigrants (foreign-born individuals) comprised 8.3 percent of the state’s population, according to The American Immigration Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. Top countries of origin for the state’s immigrants are Mexico, India, Somalia, Laos and Ethiopia.

Stories by immigrants will be a great addition to the cultural heritage and history of Blue Earth County, said Bukata Hayes, executive director of the Diversity Council.

“It’s a no-brainer that we should document how people got to Mankato,” Hayes said.

Niu suggests authors who want to contribute to the book project could follow themes such as the experiences of living in a new country or learning a second language.

Help will be made available to storytellers who aren’t proficient with English grammar and spelling. Those with questions are welcome to visit with Niu.

“They can just stop by the library and talk to me, no appointments are necessary.”

Niu who grew up in China, where she also was a librarian, sees her volunteer service on the new book project as a gift to a town where she has lived and worked for several years. A naturalized citizen of the U.S., she sees the project as a way to give back to her Mankato-North Mankato community.

For more information about how to contribute, write to the project’s leaders at:

myimmigrantstory@blueearthcountymn.gov or btruman@mankatodiversity.org.

Inquiries should include a name, address and phone number.

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