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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees


Minnesota Historical Society


In-house team




Becoming Minnesotan Home Page

"Becoming Minnesotan,", is an online resource for teachers and students in grades 4-12 to help them explore the lives and stories of recent immigrants to Minnesota. The web site contains oral histories narrated by members of immigrant and refugee groups, including Hmong, Khmer, Asian Indian, Somali and Tibetan.  Guided by input from educator and community advisory groups throughout the project, the website includes resources for further investigation into these communities including photographs, maps, timelines, podcasts, and classroom activities such as role playing and lessons to create Tibetan prayer flags.

In addition to stories about the "old country" and what it has been like adjusting to the "new country," there are entries about preserving cultural identity, including this one by Sumaya Yusuf, a Somali teenager who has grown up in Minnesota. "Everywhere we’ve lived, we were the only family or we were one of the few families that lived there that were Somali so I’ve never really gotten a chance to assimilate into the Somali culture, which I think is bad. I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t speak Somali as well as I would like to. I would love to learn.  I’ve never had Somali friends. I have Somali friends now, and they’re helping me out. I’m proud to be Somali, and I’m proud to have this culture. It’s getting me connected to my culture. Now, I want to learn more; whereas, before, I was, like, whatever. I thought of myself more as a Somali American. Now, I think of myself as more of a Somali person living in America. I think there is a difference."

The web site contains excerpts from oral history interviews, along with supporting information about each narrator, the communities represented and immigration in general. Additionally, these excerpts can be found on iTunes by searching "Becoming Minnesotan.”  The full interviews and transcripts for each of the oral history projects from which the excerpts in this site are drawn are available in an online resource linked from the website home page. Finally, a series of five instructional podcasts teach students how to conduct their own oral histories.

Immigration history is explored in the History Center exhibit "Open House: If These Walls Could Talk",  This interactive exhibit takes visitors through a single house on St. Paul’s East Side over a period of 118 years. Stories of families from the first German immigrants through the Italians, African-Americans, and Hmong who succeeded them, are told through rooms representing different eras of the house.

A tour of the website:

  1. The home page of Becoming Minnesotan gives access to pages for each immigrant community, a timeline about immigration to Minnesota since 1950, podcasts for students to learn how to do an oral history, and links to the full interview audio and transcript.  Click on the Khmer image.
  2. Becoming Minnesotan Community PageThe community page gives supporting information about each immigrant group. Note the fast facts and backgrounders on culture, religion, history, geography, and context on why the community immigrated. Resources for further investigation and citation are provided.
  3. Click on the Khmer Stories link to the right of the map at the top of the page. A list of stories by Khmer interviewees appears.  The title of each story is derived from its essence. You see the narrator and multiple themes and topics associated with the story. The cloud tag on the right provides access to themes and topics. If you clicked on “Traditions & Values” you’d be able to compare this theme across the communities.  
  4. Click on the story titled “They took my father.” Each story provides a snapshot biography of the narrator (interviewee) and photographs if available. A click on the narrator’s name links to a longer biography.  The map shows the story location.  Essential questions, glossary words and background information help the student analyze the story. Audio clips and transcripts serve multiple learning styles.  Audio clips are limited to 3 minutes or less; if there are more then they are shown as additional chapters. In the Related Glossary Terms section beneath the transcription, note that two non-English terms have audio clips so students can hear them spoken by a native speaker.
  5. Click on the Teacher Resources link in the blue navigation bar. The Teacher Resources page provides several activities to do by using features of the website such as the immigration timeline and narrator maps, as well as activities that build on the learning from the website.  Many activities have been contributed by our educator community. As you explore this section, look for pictures and descriptions of these teachers.
  6. The Student Activities page has the same activities as the Teacher Resources page.  It doesn't not contain the lesson plan instructions used by the teacher.  Rather, it is provided so that teachers may direct their student to the assignments themselves.