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Thai Culture in Minnesota

ASEAN The Mekong

In late 2003, a collective of Minnesota Buddhists gathered with the intention of creating a space for worship and community. With a generous donation made by Supen Harrison, this desire became a reality and Wat Thai of Minnesota was founded. The first temple of Wat Thai was a house in the town of Becker, which moved to Elk River in 2006. The Elk River center was a secluded place for the monks and primary members to chant and meditate, but it was around 45 minutes away from Minneapolis, too far for many Minneapolis residents, and it was too small to hold regular events.

In early 2017, the newly elected president of Wat Thai, Dee Noree, bought the former Lutheran Church of the Reformation. After a couple months of work, the old church was successfully converted into a new Buddhist temple. Hundreds of monks, Asian Americans, and local neighbors attended a New Year Festival held there in February.

The new Buddhist temple is intended to be a place where people can come to experience Thai culture, food, dancing, and language. In addition, members of Wat Thai hope that the new temple will become a home not just for Buddhist meditation, but for Thai culture in Minneapolis.

Asians were the fastest growing ethnic group in Minnesota and Hmong was the largest Asian American Pacific Islander group, making up about 27% of the Minnesota Asian American population in 2014. Specifically, the Hmong population — originally from across Southeast Asia — in Minnesota was 59,800, ranking the top among Asian population in the state, and 3,200 were identified as Thai Americans. In 2015, in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Hmong people’s migration to Minnesota, the Minnesota History Center hosted an exhibit celebrating Hmong and their contributions to Minnesota’s social landscape. In addition, the non-profit organization, the Thai Association of Minnesota (ThaiAM), was established in 1995 and it aims at promoting quality of life for persons of Thai heritage, as well as the expression of Thai culture and language, and communication of the desires and perspectives of Thai people to governmental agencies and the public at large.

Xiaoyi Wang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. and a graduate student at Georgetown University.