Tony Kennedy's and Paul McEnroe's excellent Star-Tribune piece today on the case of Tou Cha, a St. Paul patrolman under investigation for gun charges and possible corruption, points to a significant development in the evolution of Minnesota's immigrant communities. Namely, these communites have reached a point that significant numbers of their members have risen in U.S. society far enough that they can start wielding influence not only on their adopted communities here in Minnesota -- but also on the politics of the nations that they left behind. Indeed, the latter influence often dwarfs the former.
Becaue the U.S. is so rich and so free, immigrants from other countries who have reached even a modest stature here in Minnesota can wield tremendous influence on their communities and politics back home. They can do this by raising money that they send back home; by travelling between here and there; and by publishing articles in the U.S. that contains information about their foreign home governments that would get them killed if they still lived there. Meanwhile they can use both print putlications and the Internet to distribute any information they want, directly to their compatriots back home, while enjoying complete freedom from the fear of retribution in the U.S. Many immigrant communities in Minnesota are now doing this.
The influence of diaspora communities of immigrants in the U.S. on their home countries is a major untold "glocal" story in the U.S. press. Mexican restaurant owners and entrepreneurs in Minnesota for example played a key role getting Mexican president Vincente Fox to visit St. Paul last year and to establish a Mexican international trade office that is now expanding commercial trade between Mexico and Minnesota. For obvious reasons we tend to focus as journalists on the impact that such an office has on jobs, wages, and business here in Minnesota. But the influence of increased trade can have an equally important impact for Mexico's economy and politics.
In the immigrant communities I know most about in southern Minnesota -- from Sudan and Ethiopia -- the impact of the diaspora communities is having an increasing impact on the domestic and international politics in both African countries. Again, this is really significant globally but is still very little-covered in the Minnesota press. For example, the two leaders of the south Sudanese liberation forces, John Garang and Rick Machar, both travel regularly to Minnesota to confer with the Sudan diaspora community here to raise money and support for their political and military initiatives back in southern Sudan. Rick Machar's wife in fact is a white Minnesota woman who lives most of the year in St. Paul. Such conferences with Sudan refugee political leaders who live in Minnesota played a significant role in talks that led to last fall's peace agreement in the south Sudan.
The Ethiopian Oromo community in Minnesota likewise plays a significant role as gadfly, goad, and thorn-in-the-side of the repressive Ethiopian regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. On regular occasionas, Meles has vented bitterly about the impact of the Minnesota diaspora on his international reputation and domestic programs. The reason is, the Oromo population in Minnesota adamantly works to publicize the Meles government's repression of the "minority" Oromo population of Ethiopia, which in fact is the largest ethnic subgroup in the country.
Ditto, the Anuak refugee community in Minnesota. The Anuak are a small black African tribe that lives in western Ethiopia and has been the target of ethnic cleansing by the Ethiopian military for more than a decade (hence the large numbers of Anuak in Minnesota). Activism by Anuak immigrants here in Minnesota over the past year, prompted by a massacre in the Anuak capital in Ethiopia on December 13, 2003 of 425 Anuak by uniformed Ethiopian soldiers, resulted in the visit by the U.S. Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal to the Anuak home town of Gambella, Ethiopia, only last week. In her talk in Gambella, Brazeal called for Ethiopia to punish those involved in the killings of the Anuak, including the Ethiopian military who had been involved.
This visit resulted directly from activism that started in the Anuak refugee community right here in Minnesota. This tiny group is having a very outsize impact on the politics of their country. And the Anuak resistance activities are hatched over such meeting places as the Fasica Ethiopian restaurant at the corner of Snelling and University in St. Paul.
Just so, what we see in the Tou Cha story is a power struggle in the Hmong community in Laos and Cambodia, that is spilling over into Minnesota. That's because the power that this young beat cop in St. Paul is potentially immense back in his homeland. Although only a beat cop, in Cambodian terms he carries a gun. He knows the Mayor of St. Paul. He is a leader and spokesman of a major diaspora community of Hmong in the U.S. All of that makes him a very big man indeed in Cambodian terms -- and the other Hmong refugee big men are all vying to channel and co-opt his power to further their own political battles back in the home country.
It's a very interesting development to watch and one which, spread across the many immigrant communities that have now lived in Minnesota for a decade or more, has very serious potential consequences not only for us here in Minnesota, but also for many governments and nations around the world that feel the growing political influence of their diasporas in these free and wealthy United States.