At State Fair, Minnesota’s new immigrants find common ground

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is becoming increasingly diverse as the state’s growing immigrant and refugee communities embrace the tradition.
A crowd packs onto the street on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The Great Minnesota Get-Together is becoming increasingly diverse as the state’s growing immigrant and refugee communities embrace the tradition. 

 

Sahan Journal caught up with some fairgoers this weekend on why they come. 

 

The following interviews have been edited and condensed. 

Arun Palanivelle (left) and Beth Palanivel at the State Fair on Aug. 24, 2019. Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

Arun Palanivel, originally from India

I’ve been coming to the fair for eight years now. It’s a good get-together, just seeing people enjoying the summer out here, enjoying the food. 

 

Food is mainly why we come out here. I like going to the International Bazaar, one little nook where you can try different things. [Referring to his wife Beth] She likes the cheese curds and the fries. And the cookies, of course. That’s a must. That’s our fair habits, typical cliché.

 

We ride motorcycles over here so we can get the closest parking. So, we just try out food, try to go out empty-handed. We already had some teriyaki noodles and some almonds. 

 

I grew up in India and I moved here when I was 21, so we would have town festivals like this, where it would be one or two days. This is a grand version of that. In terms of people, fairs in India might be bigger, but in terms of size, this is still bigger. I’m from southern India. 

 

I’m on my H1B visa. I’ve been here in Minnesota for eight years but have been in the U.S. for 13 years. 

 

We met three years ago around this date. Two days after meeting her for the first time, I was at the fair, and her family was also at the fair. So I met her family for the first time. We try to make yearly State Fair trips every year with her family, but they can’t make it this year.

 

Beth Palanivel – We call it our Arun-iversary.

Munira Berhe, daughter of parents from Ethiopia and Somalia

I’m here today to help the Bernie Sanders campaign. Bernie is coming to speak today. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but I’m here to volunteer my time. I’m planning to come again with my friends later this week. But right now I’m alone. 

 

I’ve been to the fair a few times before. My first fair experience was probably in 2016. I came really late. I usually come on the last day because I’m pretty busy during the summers. But it’s really cool here. I like how local businesses come here and set up their stands. It’s really cool because I never really get to buy anything local. I really like the corn and the cheese curds.

Vinit Joshi, originally from India

I’ve been in Minnesota for two years now. I like the fair a lot. The animal section is very nice. You see fresh breeding animals and that kind of thing. 

 

I am originally from India. They do have fairs there, but not at this scale. That’s one thing that’s pretty nice around here, it’s pretty huge. 

 

For today, I’ll be visiting all the animals and doing some rides and eating (Sweet) Martha’s cookies. 

Govinda Dhungana with his family at the State Fair on Aug. 24, 2019. Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

Govinda Dhungana, originally from Nepal

I’ve been living here for 12 years. So every year since I came to Minnesota I’ve come to visit the State Fair. The part I like most is all the different cultures of food. Also, we have a variety of places where my kids can play and enjoy. 

 

Fairs in Nepal growing up were very small compared to this one. They’re still a little bit crowded. But this is totally different. It’s very, very systematic and well-organized here. In the backcountry it is not like that.

 

I’m from a medium-sized, smaller city of around 10,000 people. Just here at the fair I can see way more people than that. 

 

Last year we did the river raft ride. This year, I didn’t go on that one. We were planning to go, but my son already did that. 

 

We come as a family each year and I always bring a friend. I buy them a ticket. Today we came around 10 in the morning. I am planning to be here almost all day. We had breakfast here, and we are planning to have lunch right after this. We’ll have our evening meals and then go home. I like to try different foods, but mostly I prefer the salty foods (laughs). 

Willy Shih and David Liu at the State Fair on Aug. 24, 2019. Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

Willy Shih, originally from Taiwan

I’ve been in Minnesota for eight years, and this is probably my fifth or sixth time coming to the State Fair.  

 

The State Fair is a faster way for newcomers to capture and get to know about Minnesota. I’m here for the food, most importantly. Lots of food, American food, Minnesota northland food. I like the cheese curds, I like the turkey legs, and the corn is my favorite. I like the strawberry smoothie. I like spending the day walking around and trying new foods.

 

We had markets and smaller-sized fairs in Taiwan, for if you have music to play or pigs to sell. Sometimes you’d have big events like this, but I don’t think they would be as crowded as it is here. It’s bigger here. 

 

Today, I work for an education service provider company, and I will be meeting up with international students at the fair here this afternoon. We’ll meet up and take a picture.

David Liu, originally from China

This is my third time to the State Fair. We have bigger-size fairs in China. It’s a different culture. In mainland China, they like watching different kinds of events than they do here. But here you can try all kinds of food, foods from all over the world, so it’s pretty different. 

Lisee Cacioppo, originally from Vietnam, attended the fair with her husband, Len, her brother and her nephew. Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

Lisee Cacioppo, originally from Vietnam

I like the Minnesota State Fair because it’s very family-oriented. It has everything for everybody. Just the feeling of everybody coming together and just hanging out. It’s a beautiful day. Today was mostly about tracking down food. The kids like seeing the fish and the things you can go in and look at. We’re not going to do any rides, the lines were too long. 

 

We haven’t done the vendor foods yet. I like pork chop on a stick, deep fried apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, the pickles, the corn. For me, I try to find something new every year, just to see it is good. I don’t try Asian food here. You get that at home every day. Deep fried food, that’s what you’re here for. One day out of the year you’re here.

 

We’re Chinese, but we’re from Vietnam. So we had sponsors who brought us over. They originally lived in Cottage Grove. But we’ve been here since 1979, when I was in second grade. There weren’t fairs in Vietnam, not at that time. 

 

I’ve noticed the growth in immigration in Minnesota since then. Where we were in Newport, we were the only Asian kids. I feel in the ‘90s Minnesota was still very dead. There wasn’t much going on. I moved to California for 15 years. I came back here to visit in 2002, 2003, and noticed more growth. There’s definitely more immigrants coming to the Fair compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s. They seem to be enjoying it a lot. 

Livy Yang, son of Hmong refugees

This is probably my third year here. I didn’t come before because I heard it’s always packed and you don’t get much entertainment for your personal gain. And nobody wants to wait in a line with 100 people. I go to places here that I can actually enjoy. For example, if there’s a booth with nobody there, I want to go there because I can put in time and not wait.

 

I came here to try every single food. I ate so much food I’m just resting right now. I feel like we spent $50 worth on food. I plan on spending more, too, to eat more for the day. Because I’m only coming here once for the year. The steak sandwich is really good. That’s $10. I do like the coupon book. It’s only $5. You save way more. 

 

Just earlier we were watching people breakdance. I used to breakdance and it’s something I can relate to. It’s something that’s entertaining and I’ll watch for 10 minutes. If I see something that catches my attention, I’ll probably just stand there for five minutes and just move on. Because I don’t like to stay in the same area for 30 minutes. I’m not like that. I plan on staying here for the whole day, until 8 or 9 pm. We got here about 11 am.

 

I think we have a good amount of people of color at the fair. I don’t mind when it’s non-diverse, I don’t mind that at all. But at the same time, I would like it more if we had a more diverse amount of people. I do wish we had more people from our community to come here and enjoy the fair more, so they can have the opportunity to explore and adventure here and see what Minnesota offers.

Kalia Lor, daughter of Hmong refugees

Even if there are a lot of problems that’ve been going on with immigration, that still doesn’t stop most of us from coming to events like this. There’s still a lot of diverse people, but at the same time, I do feel like there’s not as many [diverse] people coming here this year as before. But that doesn’t stop those of us who are coming. 

Joey Peters is a contributing reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously served as staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and senior reporter for NM Political Report, both based in New Mexico.

Support Sahan Journal

There are endless untold stories about Minnesota’s immigrants and refugees. The mission of Sahan Journal is to chronicle the struggles, successes and transformation of Minnesota’s new Americans, whose stories are often overlooked.

 

Donate now to support this independent, nonprofit newsroom and help shine a light on these important stories in our communities. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar.

SUPPORT US
629
×