The West Side is a haven for immigrant communities arriving in St. Paul, Minnesota. Historically, it has included people of German, Roma, Polish, Swedish, Irish, Jewish (fleeing Russian pogroms), Latin American, Middle Eastern (among them after 1948, Palestinians), and African heritage. It is a place where different languages, religions, and cultures coexist in the womb of God’s earth without colonial integration, though not free from its ire. The latter is felt in the absence of the native Mdewakanton Dakota people, who sojourned locally along the river in a seasonal encampment under a succession of chiefs known as “Little Crow.” After Minnesota became a territory in 1849, colonial merchants were eager to “expand” and “build” bigger “barns.” (Luke 12:16-21) So, by 1851, the nomadic tribes of God were driven out of nearly all of Elohim’s earth in Minnesota and eastern Dakota in the Traverse des Sioux and Mendota treaties.
The same colonial resentments resurfaced first in the suppression of the German language by the “Minnesota Commission of Public Safety,” and later in the 1930s during the Great Depression, when, in several attempts to address the “Mexican problem,” Ramsey County officials repatriated no less than 15% of the Mexican population, many of whom were U.S. citizens. “This was the West Side Flats, and for about a hundred years, from the 1850s to the 1960s, life bloomed there. A unique neighborhood in Minnesota and the wider U.S., the Flats were dense, low-income, polyglot, striving, unpaved, and unpainted.” In this sense, despite its material (and at times extreme) poverty and because of its mix of languages under constant outside pressure, it is reminiscent of al-Andalus, the fleeting memory of a golden age of tolerance, cultural exchange, and common sense.
Despite regular flooding in the old neighborhood, city officials did nothing to address the issue or assist West Side residents. Only after the demolition of the Flats and the deportation (integration into the Melting Pot) of its residents in 1963 did the “community builders” of Ramsey County install flood control mechanisms on the Riverfront. “What they did to the Mexicans down on the old West Side—to make them move like that, and not compensate them, and give them the bare minimum. What they did to destroy a community like that is wrong.” —George Avaloz
Richard and I discuss Luke 4:38-39. (Episode 501)
Today’s introduction is an excerpt from Fr. Marc’s new book, Dark Sayings: Diary of an American Priest (OCABS Press, 2023). Available on amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and many of your favorite online booksellers. Check the show notes or visit ocabspress.org to learn more.
- Roethke, Leigh. Latino Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society, 2009, pp. 40-41.