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A neighborhood to watch; Folks tend to stay in St. Paul's North End

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Old 10-09-2018, 12:07 PM
Remixworld Remixworld is offline
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Default A neighborhood to watch; Folks tend to stay in St. Paul's North End

A neighborhood to watch; Folks tend to stay in St. Paul's North End, long a neighborhood of immigrants - and one that lately has been trying to cope with the beating death of a 15-year-old boy

Byline: Lourdes Medrano Leslie; Staff Writer

It is a short, unpretentious block along Rice Street in St. Paul, but the people and places between Milford Street and Manitoba Avenue emerge as a telling tale about the North End neighborhood.

It is the block of Vivian Clausen, who first moved into an apartment there with her Danish mother-in-law in 1939. It is the block of Mexican immigrant Tony Huerta, who fixes old sofas and chairs in his upholstery shop. And it is the block of Hmong refugee Rich Yang, who sells dresses from Thailand.

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Their eclectic block personifies the North End, a working-class neighborhood that has received much attention for the March 31 killing of Ben Doran, 15. He was brutally beaten eight blocks away, as he walked home after playing basketball at the Rice Recreation Center. He died four days later.

Police have since brought murder charges against two St. Paul men, and uniformed officers have become more visible in the North End. Meanwhile, parents and community groups are working to keep youths busy with sports and other after-school activities in a neighborhood that they say is a bit rough around the edges.

Clausen, 89, said she can't remember a more vicious killing in the neighborhood since she and Andrew Clausen got married and temporarily moved in with his mother at a Rice Street apartment 64 years ago. From her second-floor window, Clausen watches her block wake from its slumber each morning as the five shops on the other side of the street open and cars start sliding up and down the neighborhood's main corridor. In the afternoon rap, rock and rancheras waft from best car speakers, best car speaker on the market and sidewalks intermittently burst with adolescent boys and girls walking home from school in pairs, trios and bunches.

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On a recent day, a knot of teenage boys milled about near a bus shelter on Clausen's side of the block. They spoke Hmong and English among themselves, but they didn't want to talk about their neighborhood. But Leo Hawg and Johnny Moua, who were heading home from Washington Middle School, didn't mind saying that they feel a special bond with the neighborhood they have called home for six years.

The 13-year-old boys said that they often play basketball at the same rec center where Doran used to shoot hoops. Although they didn't know him, the boys said his death hit so close to familiar haunts. They often walk past the huckleberry tree near the center that has become a memorial of candles, cards and flowers.

The boys said they don't stray far from home."I like living here; it's mostly a friendly neighborhood," Hawg said. "Sometimes it's not that friendly. That's when the bad gangs come around and do bad stuff." Other times young people just like to hang out - not necessarily to stir trouble, Hawg said.

But sometimes they do. Some of them scrawl graffiti on the bus shelter Clausen has "adopted," and once in a while they swear at the petite woman with the neatly coiffed white hair who demands that they keep it clean. Clausen said she once pinched the ear of a rebellious teen until he fell on his knees and apologized. She hasn't seen him since.

Clausen, whose roots are Italian, French and Irish, said wandering youths and the occasional drunkard or prostitute are a mere nuisance on the block she will never abandon. She's heard whispers about open drug deals but said more common are the polite teens, mothers pushing their babies in strollers and thoughtful neighbors who breathe life onto her stretch of Rice.

Staying put

About a dozen blocks away, Cindy Rodriguez is raising her 16-year-old son, Tim, in her childhood home. Hers is one of many families who have lived in the North End for generations. "If this was a really bad area, you wouldn't have people stay here," she said.

Rodriguez, who is 38 and works as a credit administrator, talked about the black, white, Hispanic and Hmong kids who treat her with respect, residents who keep up their yards, and those who work with police and community organizers. But she also said that the killing of Doran, who was her son's friend, has forced people to realize that they must keep a closer watch on their children and neighborhood goings-on.

Like the North End, the block between Milford and Manitoba has had drastic change over the years. People are different; shops have come and gone. The latest census figures show a racially mixed area with 24,654 residents and higher rates of violent and property crime than the city as a whole.

Immigrant roots

The area long has beckoned immigrants. First to arrive were Germans, Hungarians, Poles and Austrians who came in the 1800s to work on the railroads and in the lumber industry. Then came Romanians, and now Latin Americans and Southeast Asians.

Huerta's workplace is sandwiched on Clausen's block between a tobacco shop and Yang's clothing store. Inside a room cramped with worn furniture, he and wife Linda - and other family members - sew, staple and cut new fabric.

The upholsterer has seen some unpleasantness on the block over 20 years: People walking on his roof damaged it, burglars stole $2,000 worth of staple guns, and he once saw a boy get beat up out front.

Still, he said he likes being on Rice because business is good. Huerta, 65, has had a shops elsewhere since 1971. "I've been robbed once in more than 30 years in the business, so I guess that's not too bad," he said.

His neighbor, Yang, is more discouraged. He and friend Blia Vang opened their clothing and video store years ago - and he said it's been an uphill fight for survival. When she's not sewing at the shop, Vang is working at a factory to make ends meet.

Yang, 43, came from Laos in 1980. He said if business doesn't pick up soon he and Vang may be forced to move. "I like the neighborhood, but it's not too busy," he said in halting English.

Yang and Vang wouldn't be the first to go since Clausen has been looking out her kitchen window. Her apartment sits atop an empty storefront that last sold auto parts.

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Clausen has gotten to know Yang, Vang, Huerta and all the other shopkeepers. She knows about their families, about their customers, and she knows that she would miss them terribly if she ever left Rice Street. But she won't leave.


The North End is one of St. Paul's most racially diverse neighborhoods; it has 24,654 residents.

- 55 percent of the residents are white; 18 percent are Asian; 15 percent are black; 7 percent are Hispanic; 1 percent are Indian; and 4 percent are multiracial.

- 74 percent of students attending public school are children of color.

- Three quarters of residents are low-income.

Source: 2000 Census demographics compiled by Wilder Research Center in St. Paul

Lourdes Medrano Leslie; Staff Writer

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