Hispanic Heritage Month: Since 1886, Latinos have continued to increase their presence in Minnesota
Latinos are often considered recent arrivals to the state. But the first Latino to settle permanently in Minnesota did so in 1886.
Luis Garzon, a 19-year-old oboe, arrived with an orchestra from Mexico. They had been invited to play at the Industrial Exhibition gala. While he was here, Garzon fell ill. The orchestra continued, leaving Garzon to recuperate. As fate willed it, he met a young Minnesota girl named Clara Wagner. They would marry and Garzon remained until his death in 1954.
Since then, Latinos have continued to be drawn to the state through work. The result has been a steady increase in the state’s Latino population. According to the 2020 census, more than 300,000 people in the state identify as Latino, a 24% increase since the 2010 census.
Latino is used as an umbrella term to group together people with cultural ties to Latin America and certain Caribbean countries. The majority of Latinos in the state are of Mexican descent. But Minnesota’s Latino population also includes individuals of Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Ecuadorian, Colombian, and Cuban descent.
Each decade has seen a new industry recruiting Latino workers. Over time, many settled where they worked. In the mid-1900s, many Mexican immigrants came to the Midwest to work on the railroads, said Cristina Ortiz, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Once here, many did what is called âsettling down,â she said.
âThey might have lived in boxcars near the tracks at the very beginning. They settled in the neighborhoods. And it has been for a very long time since then, âsaid Ortiz.
âMy paternal grandmother and grandfather were American citizens who were migrant workers who commuted between Mexico and the United States,â she said. âThey settled in Mason City, Iowa. And so part of my professional interest in Midwestern Latinos, particularly in Iowa and Minnesota, comes from my familiarity with their history and my desire to better understand my heritage and what their experience would have been like.
As economies evolved, so did the type of work Latinos did.
In the 1980s, meat packing plants moved from urban areas to rural communities in the Midwest, Ortiz said. In the 1990s, employment shifted to the dairy industry.
âOver time, Latinos have gone from being primarily employed in things like seasonal farming and railway work, to being employed in factories,â she said.
This resulted in the Latin American population appearing new or larger in some communities, Ortiz said. She pointed to Morris, Minn., Where veterinarians and skilled professionals from Mexico have come to work in the dairy industry.
âAnd then the Latino or other immigrant community begins to develop and expand beyond these primary employment situations. And so for these communities, it looks new and different. And [it feels] as if they were the first and the only ones to know about these challenges, these differences, this intercultural communication and that sort of thing. But it’s been going on for a very long time in the Midwest, âOrtiz said.
And as for this young oboe who made his home in Minnesota in the late 19th century, Garzon got involved in local symphonies. It will also open the first market in West St. Paul to serve the region’s growing Mexican community. It has become a gathering place where people can catch up, get the latest news, and buy familiar goods.
Garzon is buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.
Vicki Adame covers Latin American communities in Minnesota for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover under-covered issues and communities.
You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are the source of the clarity of our reporters’ coverage across the state, the stories that connect us, and the conversations that offer insight. Help ensure that the MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.