Photography by Sarah White + Art by Bill Ferenc + Words by Morgan Mercer
Five years. That’s the longest Danielle Steer ever stayed in one place. It started early. She was born in Alaska, but called three other states home before graduating high school. She moved to Oregon for college, then California for graduate school and her first job. She even lived in Ecuador and Peru.
In January 2015, Danielle hopped in to a car and drove more than 33 hours to the next state she’d call home: Minnesota. The snow was deep; the days short. But for two months Danielle zipped up the new winter coat her father-in-law got her for Christmas and walked 15 minutes to work each morning. It was dark, so she managed to take the wrong footbridge at least once. Trudging through the snow, the walk to work often made her wonder:
Where are all the people?
Over the next few months she started to find them (especially when she discovered the skyway system). But it wasn’t easy. She came to Minnesota chasing her ideal job, the manager of operations and member services at Impact Hub, a national network of coworking spaces where members find access to resources, community, and events. But before she arrived, soon-to-be colleagues warned her about what she’d find when she got here.
Danielle had been new before, but navigating Minnesota culture made the tough job of being a newcomer unusually hard. When she packed up her life in California to drive north, she brought extra baggage with her—a set of scripts others told her to expect about the people who live here:
Minnesota Nice is a cover for passive aggressive behavior. People will seem excited about what you’re doing, but never follow up. Professional networks are insular and hard to break into. Minnesotans will give you directions to everywhere but their home. And don’t even think about confrontation.
“The scripts about Minnesota culture weren’t welcoming because it was a self-awareness without self-action,” says Danielle.
“The same people who were telling me Minnesotans were passive aggressive and wouldn’t invite me to their house, weren’t inviting me to their house.”
Breaking in is a challenge most newcomers face. While Minneapolis-St. Paul often earns tops marks as one of the best places to live and work in the country (thanks to relatively affordable housing and high employment), new data paints a less rosy picture for newcomers to the state, especially people of color. Out of the 25 largest metro cities, Minneapolis ranks 14th when it comes to keeping professionals of color here once they make the move.
How do we make this state a home?
For starters, here’s a handful of must-try recommendations for any newcomer to Minneapolis/St. Paul, sourced and vetted by Minnesotans who love this community.
Find more recommendations at Make It. MSP., whose goal is to create a destination for people considering the Twin Cities their new home.
Straight from Ecuador: Chimborazo
Director of Sales
We have many great options within the Twin Cities, but here are some of my favorite ones: Spoonriver, Chino Latino, Safron, Broders’ Terzo, Chimborazo, Teque Arepa and Sanctuary.
The line is usually out the door but the moment you step inside, there’s up-beat music playing and a smiling face to greet you. I would also recommend their Somali Tea – delicious!
Your happy place is Golden Thyme, the coffee shop
Founder & CEO
I am thrilled to live in Frogtown. I’m within walking distance of many places, and a short car ride from the Old Rondo neighborhood and the Midway. Golden Thyme on Selby Avenue makes a mean southern breakfast.
Midtown Global Market is one of my favorite places in the city. You could pull off an entire taco crawl in one fell swoop, but the building also has some of my favorite Indian, East African, Middle Eastern, Korean…the list goes on.
Director of Public Engagement
The Northern Spark festival is a dusk-to-dawn, wonder-filled night on the second Saturday of June. Thousands of people ride their bikes, marveling at building-high projections and pop-up performances while feeling a sense of belonging.
Little Africa Festival at Hamline Park
Enjoy live music performances, dance, poetry, storytelling, cuisine from Little Africa restaurants, and purchase art by African artists! It’s an outdoor, family-friendly event.
For Danielle, the answer started small. She said hi to the guy in the elevator. Between the boxes and flushed cheeks, it was obvious he was moving into her apartment building. Danielle and her husband invited him and his wife up to the rooftop patio later that night.
“Simply saying hello can dramatically change the energy in the room, how someone shows up or how welcome they feel. It seems really simple, but sometimes it’s the simple things that touch us as humans in way that is most compelling.”
“We have to nurture the curious side before we can be more intentional about welcoming people and making new connections.”
Compared to the other cities Danielle has lived over the years, Minneapolis is far less transient. People are born here, grow up here, and often opt to stay. But comfort can trample curiosity, and the danger of culture that stays in one place is complacency.
“Routine can very easily make a person complacent without honoring, appreciating, or tapping into that curiosity in a way that is exciting.”
In other words, it’s easy to ignore the person you stand next to in the elevator, or not introduce yourself to the new hire at work.
Beyond the work at Impact Hub, Danielle and her coworkers partner with Make It. MSP. to improve the newcomer experience throughout the wider community. Through that partnership, Danielle co-founded Newcomer Nosh, an event that brings people together to share a meal, whether they’re a transplant or just someone looking to make new friends. That work led the two organizations to survey nearly 1,000 newcomers to better understand the challenges, needs, and frustrations of moving to the Twin Cities. Often the solution to their concerns is about more than the big gesture of a welcome at an event. It’s an awareness that every Minnesotan can play a role no matter how much or little you have to offer.
“It’s the little things that can remind us of our humanity and how we’re connected to others.”
Taking that first step could be as easy as extending a quick hello or asking a newcomer if they’ve eaten at your favorite restaurant in town. It could also be as grand as inviting someone to your home for dinner. Anyone can take a leap.
A welcoming Minnesota starts with you.
Calling All Newcomers:
Get Your Welcome Hat!
The key to surviving Minnesota winters is a warm hat, but not just any hat—an Elmer Fudd, earflap, faux fur hat.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. join MSP Hello at the Minnesota History Center for a night highlighting the best of this community. Listen to local music, grab a drink and sample food from area restaurants. A local celebrity will be on hand at 6 p.m. to present all newcomers with their warm winter hat.