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Anchorage: New faces, new city

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Here's a great series started by the Anchorage Daily News about Anchorages growing diversity.

New faces, new city


As arrivals have settled in, a cultural shift has taken quiet hold of Anchorage

Lots of people know the pivotal moments in Anchorage's history: statehood, the earthquake, the pipeline.

Many don't realize we're at a pivotal moment now.

The 1990s brought a quiet revolution that's changing the city in fundamental ways, from classrooms to courtrooms, from workplaces to churches.

Call it the culture boom.

In a little more than a decade, Anchorage has become more ethnically diverse than many larger cities nationwide. In many ways, it's a new city. And, the changes aren't over.

This series will continue to run occasionally throughout the year.

The Hispanic population has almost doubled since 1990. The Pacific Islander population has more than quadrupled. The number of Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia has mushroomed. Populations of Alaska Natives in the city are booming.


The pull of work

Inside the South Anchorage Wal-Mart, assistant manager Arnold Hufana works the graveyard shift, supervising stockers on the retail floor as they unload pallets of merchandise.

Born in a small Filipino village and raised in Kodiak, Hufana sees his future among the racks of bikinis and discount dress slacks.

"I want to keep moving up the ladder," said Hufana, 30. "I want to be a co-manager some day and then store manager. I want to see how it feels to have your own store." Back in the Philippines, he said, "they make so much less money. ... If I lived there, I would probably be in the street and selling vegetables."

The population of Alaska's biggest city is changing in dramatic, fundamental ways, and the aisles of Wal-Mart are one good place to see the changes.

The stores, which employ about 1,000 people in the city, have an immigrant-heavy work force that's half minority. Shoppers tend to have backgrounds similar to workers', and on any given day, between housewares and sporting goods, customers might be comparing prices in Spanish, Korean, Samoan or Tagalog, a language widely spoken in the Philippines.

Over the past 20 years, a wave of immigration has washed across the West Coast, and it has extended to Anchorage, where minority and immigrant populations have grown rapidly. Once a relatively homogenous small city isolated by geography, it's grown quickly into a mini-metropolis as ethnically diverse as many cities Outside or more so.

In fact, the whole Alaska idea of "Outside" might be losing its meaning, with a growing body of residents moving here with global connections and different spiritual beliefs, customs and languages. New populations have brought Outside in, making Anchorage a new city.

People are coming here from other countries, they're coming from other parts of America and, in the case of Alaska Natives, they're coming here from other parts of Alaska. What sets Anchorage apart from many cities is the diversity of the minority and immigrant groups -- it's not just one or two or three groups. It's many.

For example, Anchorage now ranks third in America in the per capita population of Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians (behind only Honolulu and Sacramento). The city ranks 19th per capita for Asians, ahead of bigger cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. Anchorage is second in the country in the number per capita of people who are two or more races. For Alaska Natives or Native Americans, it ranks first.

While the black and white populations stayed relatively constant in the 1990s, thousands of Pacific Islanders from Samoa, Western Samoa, Tonga and other states, especially Hawaii, moved to Anchorage. Already-established communities of Koreans, Filipinos, Mexicans, Southeast Asians and Central Americans grew through immigration and births.

Since 2000, hundreds of Hmong refugees and their families, from Thailand and other states, have settled here. There are small but growing communities of Africans, Middle Easterners and Eastern Europeans. And more Alaska Natives than ever before have moved to Anchorage from villages and rural hubs.

Recent growth in Anchorage's immigrant and minority communities is tied to changes in the economy. Anchorage lost higher-paying jobs in the oil industry in the 1990s, but the past 15 years have brought a boom of other businesses that sprouted thousands of service-sector jobs -- big-box retailers, chain hotels and restaurants, all offering entry-level positions that have largely been filled by minority workers. Some positions, such as stockers or dishwashers, don't require English.

But that's not all of it.

A drive down any of the arteries of Midtown -- Arctic Boulevard, Fireweed Lane, Tudor Road -- reveals how immigrant entrepreneurs have found their place in the economy. Immigrant-owned small businesses stud strip malls, offering ethnic groceries, acupuncture, shoe repair, manicures and a dizzying array of restaurant food.

"Generally speaking, there is probably more small business startups with immigration," said Neal Fried, a state economist, adding that language can be a limiting factor as immigrants enter the work force. "In many ways, you can start a business without having a good command of the local language."


The number of ethnic grocery stores listed in the phone book has at least doubled since 1996, to more than 15. Faith

The number of ethnic churches listed in the phone book has more than tripled since 1986, to nearly 40. Cinema

Movie-rental businesses now cater to Spanish, Korean, Hindi, Thai and Tagalog speakers, among others. Media

The city has two Korean-language newspapers, two Spanish-language newspapers, Hispanic and Korean yellow pages, a long-running Filipino cable access show and six Spanish-language radio shows.


The new Anchorage isn't a melting pot, where small ethnic groups are merging smoothly into the mainstream. Instead, it's a mosaic, where smaller communities, with their own languages and customs, exist side by side as part of a bigger picture. Looking at the community as a whole, the diversity makes for an integrated, multicultural scene, but, pulling in for a close-up, some pieces fit better than others.


The sheer variety of cultural groups makes for a new multiculturalism, where everyone becomes more tolerant and educated about other cultures. Unlike many countries and communities in the Lower 48 where there is one dominant ethnic group, Anchorage has sizable pockets of people from across the world, from Russians to Dominicans to Hmong.

"It is a mosaic, but there also is a melding that's starting to occur," said Mayor Mark Begich. "Name me the part of town that's the Alaska Native part of town. You can't. Name a part of town that's Filipino. You can't. It doesn't work that way."

Cultural intermingling is relatively new for longtime Anchorage residents and for new immigrants. For Ker Lee, a Hmong refugee who works as a janitor at the Red Roof Inn downtown, the most shocking thing about Anchorage, aside from the weather, was the diversity.

"Ever since I was a kid, I never saw mixing of all kinds of races," he said through a translator. "It totally surprised me."

Languages spoken by Anchorage students

The city's public bus system, People Mover, takes into account new foreign-born populations with "Welcome To Anchorage" placards that include translations in 33 languages.


As Anchorage has become more diverse, the number of languages in the city has increased. In the Anchorage School District this past year, 93 languages were spoken.

Spanish 1,802

Filipino languages 946

Samoan 833

Hmong 774

Korean 351

Lao 311

Yup'ik 272

Russian 148

Mien 148

Inupiaq 84

Albanian 80

Tongan 72

Thai 67

Chinese 63

Vietnamese 60

Khmer (Cambodia) 54

Japanese 45

German 37

Alutiiq 22

French 22

Hawaiian 21

Polish 20

Arabic 19

Cupik 17

Portuguese 15

Athabascan 15

Eskimo 15

Creole 14

Siberian Yupik 13

Palau 12

Punjabi 11

Turkish 11

Nuer 11

Serbo-Croatian 10

Ukrainian 9

Tlingit 9

Dutch 8

Indonesian 8

Italian 8

Romanian 7

Greek 7

Amharic 6

Hindi 6

Afrikaans 5

Yoruba 5

Urdu 5

Urdu (Pakistan) 5

Wolof 5

Bengali 5

Ingalik 5

Creole (Africa) 5

Hebrew 4

Pashto 4

Navajo 4

Norwegian 3

Macedonian 3

Ahtna 2

Hungarian 2

Armenian 2

Bosnian 2

Bulgarian 2

Cantonese 2

Mandinka 2

Romany 2

Sinhalese 2

Sugpiaq (Alutiq) 2

Swedish 2

Tamil 2

Twi (Ghana) 2

Arabic (Syria) 1

Burmese 1

Czech 1

Danish 1

Dena'ina 1

East Indian 1

Estonian 1

Gaelic 1

Gujarati 1

Han 1

Holikachuk 1

Ibu 1

Kabyle 1

Latvian 1

Lingala 1

Lithuanian 1

Malay 1

Persian (Iran) 1

Telugu 1

Sioux 1

Slovak 1

Tibetan 1

Yapese 1

Zuni 1

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This is so GREAT!!! Go Anchorage! Just a quick question..... I live in Seattle/Tacoma and this area has strong ties with Anchorage and Alaska in general, so we hear a few things about y'all up north. On a political basis, Ive heard Anchorage and Alaska in general are conservative. Is that changing now due to the new wave of multiculturalism? Usually, in more multicultural cities, theyre more iberal? Just a question.... but keep up the good work Anchorage... :-)

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From my understanding Anchorage well Alaska is quite conservative. However, hopefully one of our Alaskan forumers could enlighten us.

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Great post, a lot of people who have never lived in Anchorage don't realize how diverse it is. And it's becoming even more diverse every year. I also found this interesting graph in the Anchorage Daily News.


With those numbers, that would put about 16,000 African American and about 18,500 Asians in Anchorage. Of course the Air Force base helps with those high numbers, but its still refreshing to see such a diverse culture in Anchorage.

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What a very interesting article, its great to see such cultural growth within the city. Im sure it certainly adds to the quality of life of those living within the city.

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I think another great thing about this city is that it has a relatively large Alaska Native population which also exposes foreign born to the indigeneous population especially when compared to other cities across the U.S. where many actually live on reservations not necessarily in the city where there's little or no interaction on a daily basis.

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