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Celebrating Immigrant Heritage

The histories of immigrants and America are inextricable.

For hundreds of years, people from around the globe have come to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. The list of prominent immigrants who’ve had great impact on this country is long: from Albert Einstein and Sammy Soso to Audrey Hepburn and Andrew Carnegie.

When these immigrants and their descendants settled in neighborhoods or regions, they often preserved a slice of their homeland in their new American communities through food, language, art and architecture.

Visiting these regions, cities and neighborhoods, which proudly showcase immigrant heritage, can be a way to glimpse what life is like in another country, without ever leaving this one.

Irish Heritage

Boston Area

The Emerald Isle has clearly left a lasting mark on Boston. Nearly a quarter of the city’s residents are of Irish descent, and some of the city’s biggest claims to fame give nods to its Irish heritage, such as the iconic Boston Celtics. Like many immigrants, the Irish sought refuge and opportunity, especially following Ireland’s Great Famine in the mid 19th century.

On the Irish Heritage Walking Tour, groups can see landmarks around the city related to its Irish roots like Fenway Park and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Groups can also visit the Irish Cultural Centre, located on 46 acres just outside of Boston. The center is known for sharing Irish culture through traditional song and dance, food and classes. At its pub, groups can get their fill of shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash and other Irish staples. In Boston, they can enjoy Irish fare and music at the Black Rose,  J.J. Foley’s Café and other Irish restaurants.

Little Havana


During the latter half of the 20th century, Cubans came to Miami in large numbers and brought a piece of their home with them. Little Havana’s heart is “Calle Ocho,” or Eighth Street, with its colorful murals and mosaics depicting cigars, dominoes and other aspects of Cuban heritage. Cuban music drifts out of shops and restaurants; Cuban food is on every corner.

Little Havana welcomes visitors with a series of events and festivals, such as Viernes Culturales, or Cultural Fridays on the third Friday of each month. The annual Carnaval Calle Ocho Festival, held in March, also highlights Cuban culture. Little Havana Cultural Walking Tours, offered year-round, allow groups to explore the area’s shops, galleries and restaurants on their own. Must-sees include Domino Park, Little Havana Cigar Factory and the restaurant Versailles, perfect for sipping signature Cuban coffee beverages. Ball and Chain, open since the 1930s, offers staples like Cuban sandwiches, ropa vieja and “pastelitos de guayaba,” or guava pastries.

Swedish Heritage

Scandia, Minnesota

Scandia, Minnesota, a small town in the St. Croix River Valley named for its Scandinavian heritage, was the first Swedish settlement in Minnesota. Today, the town invites tourists to learn about its Swedish roots. Throughout Scandia, visitors will find the Dala horse and other symbols of Swedish heritage. Groups can also see original buildings and monuments that celebrate its history, such as the Hay Lake School Museum, the Johannes Erickson Log House and the Swedish Settlers Monument.

Groups can visit the Gammelgarden, which means “old farm” in Swedish, an open-air museum that honors and preserves the lifestyle and culture of Swedish immigrants. In addition to its historic artifacts and buildings, the museum is a citywide venue for celebrating Swedish holidays and traditions. The Christmas holidays are celebrated with Swedish Jul celebrations and festive Jul cookies. In autumn, the Gammelgarden hosts lutefisk and Swedish meatball dinners; these are based on an old tradition of eating codfish preserved in lye. Groups can also attend Midsommar Dag here, a Nordic summer holiday celebrated with traditional Swedish songs, dances and foods.

German Heritage

Fredericksburg, Texas

In 1846, German settlers arrived in Texas Hill Country and founded Fredericksburg, named for Prince Frederick of Prussia. They brokered a peace treaty with the neighboring Comanche tribe to ensure their new settlement would be safe. German was the primary language spoken in town well into the 20th century, which led to a new dialect of the language known as Texas German.

To enjoy Fredericksburg’s German heritage, groups can visit the Pioneer Museum, a 3.5-acre museum complex featuring German architecture and historic artifacts. In the market square, or Marktplatz, Oktoberfest is held annually during the first week of October. Groups can also see the Vereins Kirche, a replica of the town’s first school and church. Fredericksburg Brewing Company, Altstadt Brewery and other local breweries are great stops for German-style beer; authentic, farm-to-table German cuisine awaits at Otto’s German Bistro.


San Francisco

The first Chinese immigrants arrived in San Francisco in 1848, and soon the city had a sizeable Chinese population. The 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed Chinatown, but instead of moving to another part of the city, the neighborhood got a facelift. Pagodas, upturned roofs and other hallmarks of Chinatown’s buildings were added, more for aesthetic purposes than mimicking authentic Chinese architecture, but today they’re synonymous with the neighborhood and a delight to tourists.

Neighborhood excursions usually begin by entering the Dragon Gate. Once in Chinatown, visitors can shop for everything from medicinal herbs to Chinese clothing and souvenirs. Teahouses and restaurants serve Chinese fare, from “dim sum,” or small plates, to traditional desserts, like almond cookies and moon pies. Chinatown is also a great place to attend annual events, such as the Chinese New Year Festival or the Autumn Moon Festival, with fireworks, food and colorful parades.

Pilsen Neighborhood


Pilsen, a Lower West Side neighborhood in Chicago, has always been a hub for immigrants. Czech and Central European immigrants came first, and they named the neighborhood for a city in the Czech Republic and added their own style of architecture. By the 1960s, Pilsen began to draw a large Mexican population. Today, it’s a mecca for Mexican and Latino culture, known as one of Chicago’s most vibrant arts neighborhoods, where English and Spanish are often spoken side by side.

To get a feel for the area’s authentic Mexican culture, groups can visit the National Museum of Mexican Art, where they’ll see rotating exhibits featuring Mexican artists and artwork ranging from sculptures dated as early as 200 B.C. to modern photographs. Murals and street art enliven the streets. Food options are plentiful, from carts stationed throughout the neighborhood that sell carnitas, tamales and tacos to restaurants like Taqueria Los Camales and Rubi’s for authentic Latin American cuisine and La Michoacana Premium for a sweet, refreshing “paleta,” or popsicle.

Little Tokyo

Los Angeles

Japanese immigrants began arriving in Los Angeles in high numbers in the early 20th century. At one point, Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo had a population of 30,000 people and was the largest Japantown in the U.S. However, when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II, Little Tokyo was deserted. People soon moved into the empty neighborhood and opened businesses. Later, locals decided to revitalize the neighborhood and return to its roots, and today Little Tokyo is a hub for Japanese culture.

Groups touring Little Tokyo can visit several cultural attractions, such as the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. For fresh sushi, ramen and sake, groups can dine at bars and restaurants like Far Bar, Kinjiro, and Wolf and Crane Bar. Two elegant Japanese gardens and Japanese art galleries make for colorful tours. Trips can also be planned around Nisei Week, an annual Japanese summertime festival.

Czech Village and New Bohemia

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Now collectively known as “the District,” Czech Village and New Bohemia are a center of entertainment and culture in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. These neighborhoods had meager beginnings in the 1870s, when new growth in Cedar Rapids’ meatpacking industry presented opportunities for immigrants from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). As jobs multiplied, so did the Czech population in the city, as well as sites that celebrated their heritage, like the Sokol Gymnastics Building and the St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, where services were conducted in Czech.

Though few of the original heritage sites remain, Czech Village and New Bohemia give nods to Czech heritage, through murals and street art. The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the Czech Heritage Park can expand visitors’ understanding and appreciation of Czech culture. Restaurants like Little Bohemia specialize in Czech fare. For a sweet ending to any visit,  authentic Czech pastries, such as kolaches or packzis from Sykora Bakery, will do the trick.