UNDATED -- For the past 15 years, small town life in Long Prairie and Melrose has undergone major changes.

Latino immigrants have made their way to these Central Minnesota cities in search of jobs and an education for their children. Now nearly one in three people in Long Prairie is Latino, while almost one in four is an immigrant in Melrose.

The United States Census in 2000 shows there were just over a combined 650 Latinos in the Melrose and Long Prairie areas. That number has since tripled.

Graphic: Tim Lyon
Graphic: Tim Lyon

Changes haven't always come easy for these communities. Melrose Mayor Tim Vogel says when immigrants started moving in, police were having a hard time dealing with the new population. But those problems, he says, were due to communication issues. Despite the growing pains, Vogel says Melrose assimilated pretty well.

Like Melrose, it took a little while for the residents of Long Prairie to warm up to their new neighbors. Mayor Don Rasmussen says change can take some time when a new population moves in.

Latinos in both towns are opening businesses and bringing a Spanish flavor to Central Minnesota. The City of Melrose now features a Mexican restaurant and meat market, while a community garden in Long Prairie has grown into a Latino business that sells its products to grocery stores across Minnesota. Rasmussen says they are seeing a big economic impact from the city's newest residents.

Both towns are making life easier for immigrants. You can now find church services in Spanish and play soccer on multiple fields in Melrose.The city also offers resources for Latinos looking to learn the English language. To ease the relations between police and the new population, Melrose employed a Latino officer who has since moved on to another police department.

Long Prairie is honoring traditional Mexican holidays. The community recently celebrated Cinco De Mayo by bringing both cultures together to enjoy Spanish food and music. Rasmussen says the cost of the city's accommodations are very minimal.

Immigrants in both cities are also adapting aspects of the American way of life. Vogel says there has been a large increase in participation among Mexican students in sports like football, basketball and wrestling.

This is part four of a five part series, examining immigrant populations in Central Minnesota.