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Associated Press, Published September 20 2013

Fewer Twin Cities residents identify as having Nordic roots

MINNEAPOLIS – The Nordic flavor that has profoundly marked Minnesota’s culture for more than a century is gradually fading as fewer residents identify by their German, Norwegian or Swedish roots, according to U.S. census data released Thursday.

The new census survey shows the number of Twin Cities-area residents identifying with their ancestral homeland has dropped by nearly 100,000 in five years. Increasingly, younger people are just saying “American” as generations of intermarriage dilute ethnic identity.

Many Minnesota residents trace their roots to the Nordic and German immigrants who settled in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Twin Cities area is still far more Norwegian, Swedish and German than other comparable metropolitan areas. But the American Community Survey numbers speak to a gradual erosion of personal ties to the old country.

Since 2008, the share of those in the Twin Cities who identify as German has fallen from 35.4 percent to 32.2 percent, dropping slightly each year. Similarly, those who identify as Norwegian have gone from 14.8 percent to 13.4 percent of the population and those who identify as Swedish have gone from from 9.7 percent to 9.2 percent.

Demographic experts say none of the ancestries are going anywhere, noting that descendants keep multiplying. But as families become intermingled with multiple ethnicities after generations of marriage, their cultural identity becomes vague.

Tom Holman, a 60-year-old from south Minneapolis, sees it firsthand.

He calls himself “half Swedish with other things mixed in” and has watched as Swedishness has faded in his family. He said his grandmother didn’t even speak English until age 8, and that he’s now the only one among his siblings who speaks Swedish. He said the next generation in his family doesn’t seem inclined to carry on the language at all.

But Chris Reitan Gerber, of Orono, said her Swedish immigrant parents met here in Minnesota 85 years ago and never lost their accents. Members of the family – including Reitan Gerber’s daughter and granddaughter – have visited Sweden. On a recent day, she and cousin Viveka Olai Stenberg were at the American Swedish Institute in south Minneapolis.