September 27, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS (March 8, 2022) — David Zander passed away peacefully on the morning of Tuesday, March 8, 2022. He was 81.

Zander had been in declining health and living in hospice at a Golden Valley nursing home for some time. He was preceded in death by his wife, Kathleen, who died of cancer at age 54 in Minneapolis in 2014.

Zander was a cultural anthropologist who worked from 1996 to 2010 as a field researcher for the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans. He was adept at compiling data and reports in support of public policy for refugee and immigrant groups that were arriving in large numbers from the 1980s through the early 2000s.

David Zander in 2022

Zander was also known among immigrant communities as a passionate activist who could often be seen visiting the offices and events of community organizations. After retirement in 2010, Zander spent his time volunteering for community organizations and the Northlands Storytelling Network and the Asian Storytellers Alliance.

Just two years after retirement, the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans presented Zander with a Lifetime Service Award in 2013. The annual leadership awards are given to honor, recognize and celebrate the work of individuals and organizations that demonstrate a continuous commitment to the community.

Zander continued to follow his passions for writing and storytelling. He authored a Lao folktale collection called “The Wolf and the Moon” in 2015, together with Sunny Chanthanouvong, director of the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota. The work continued with “The Bird and the Sun” in 2016. He continued with a similar project called the Karen Folktale Collection of stories from the refugee community of Burma living in Minnesota.

David Zander at age 6-8 in England.

Zander was born in England in 1939, and was old enough to remember World War 2 London. He was raised on the Thames in Richmond and attended the prestigious St Clement Danes Grammar School.

At age 17 he went on a work-study in Scotland and France, which inspired him to join the International Voluntary Service and helped to build roads in Greece near the Albania border. He once returned to England by hitchhiking across Yugoslavia, where he encountered the kindness of villagers along the way who were still suffering from the war.

David Zander at about age 28 while in the Bahamas.

Zander attended a teachers training college of the University of London, and majored in English and graduated with honors in creative writing. While teaching in London his interest in cultural anthropology grew from his students from Africa and the Caribbean. 

Zander enlisted in the International Voluntary Service and worked with SCI of France, in Greece and central Europe. He would go on to teach in Nairobi, Kenya, on the plains of the Rift Valley, in Kikuyu country and the Arabic coastal area of Mombasa, and at out-Island schools in the Bahamas. 

The experience led to another degree in anthropology. He taught for some time in Canada before coming to the Twin Cities in 1972. Two years later he was admitted to the University of Minnesota Graduate program in the Department of Anthropology.

David and Kathy Zander

It was at the U of MN that Zander said his professors were researching issues of the earliest Hmong arrivals. Zander became involved and said the experience made him feel at home and he put down roots. 

After graduate school, Zander worked as a researcher on Native American community projects and evaluated the Limited English Program in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Zander also taught anthropology at Inver Hills Community College and helped medical professionals adapt to meet the needs of refugees with different cultural beliefs and chaired a community advisory group formed to help establish the new nonprofit Center for Cross Cultural Health. 

His associate in the program, Lee Pao Xiong, invited Zander to apply for the field researcher position with the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans in 1996, where Xiong was the executive director of the nonprofit organization that became a state agency in 1997.

At CAPM, Zander constructed field reports for committee testimony on policy issues involving refugee and immigrant communities at the Minnesota Legislature. His reports focused on culturally appropriate approaches to problem gambling and prevention and treatment, education and welfare reforms, alternative licensing for refugee immigrants, crime and justice, special education and other areas.

Zander said his work focused on refugee integration and the effort to help instill self-empowerment. He could often be seen inviting the very people who were impacted by issues to attend legislative hearings at the capitol, and later convinced agencies such as the Health and Human Services Committee to hold meetings and hearings in the community. 

Zander became a U.S. citizen in 2005. He called it “the graduation ceremony into American life.”