Mai Xiong was just one year old when she came to the United States from Thailand. While growing up in St. Paul, she learned little about the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood where she lives or the experiences of other immigrants in her adopted city.
Xiong, now 22, is seeing St. Paul with new eyes.
"To know where you're living, what happened there, to learn about my culture and somebody else's culture, it's amazing," Xiong said.
Xiong is part of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation's Neighborhood Leadership Program (NLP). During this six month training program, participants build leadership skills and learn how to get more involved in their communities. More than 600 St. Paul residents from diverse backgrounds have completed the program in the past 15 years.
Last year, NLP added a new dimension. For the first time, the Wilder Foundation teamed up with the Minnesota Historical Society to give NLP participants a deeper knowledge of the communities they hope to improve and a better understanding of the context within which they are working. Topics ranging from the history of St. Paul to recent immigration stories are being integrated into each session of the program.
The partnership was paid for with $109,725 from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
The ACHF support allows NLP participants to take part in the program, which kicked off last fall at the Minnesota History Center. Thirty-four participants and their 34 coaches experienced the exhibits and learned about the wealth of resources available through the Society.
"If I'm going to be working to improve my community, it's important to know what has come and gone," said NLP participant Sherry Johnson of St. Paul.
Many were struck by the "Open House" exhibit, which tracks the dozens of different immigrant families who have lived at one St. Paul house from the late 1800s to today.
While Xiong has just begun learning about her community's past, she's already eager to return to the History Center.
"I'm going to bring my kids," she said.
This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.