Discussion 9 11 comments










Last week I was in Bethel, Alaska, and was surprised to find out that there is a large population of Korean folks and (lucky for me) Korean/American restaurants. Virtually all of restaurants in Bethel offer some form of Korean food and we ate dishes that ranged from “decent” to “OMG this is soooo good!”   After speaking with a few locals in town, and a few folks who are familiar with some of the surrounding villages in the Lower Kuskokwim area, I realized that there are proportionally large populations of immigrant families living in rural Alaska. This got me to thinking about the huge amount of cultural diversity that seems to exist in Alaska.

Discuss the different ways that you see more than one culture showing up in odd places in Alaska.

About Madara Mason

Madara Mason's hats include painter, graphic designer, Instructional Designer, faculty educator, English Instructor, food blogger, and Oxford Comma Aficionado. If she's not in front of an easel, she's in front of a screen, or in front of a classroom. Her motto is "If you're not having fun, you're probably doing it wrong."

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11 thoughts on “Discussion 9

  • Aaron

    Since the whole country has been described as a “melting pot”, it’s not surprising that Alaska also has such a diverse mix of cultures. One of the noteworthy examples of this that I’ve noticed while living here in Fairbanks is the prevalence of Thai food; there are 10 establishments! (Pad Thai, Simply Thai, Lemongrass Thai Cuisine, Sam’s Wonderful Taste of Thai, Sweet Basil Thai Restaurant, Bahn Thai, Thai House Restaurant, Starfire, Siam Dishes, and Siam Square…) Interior Alaska seems to be an unlikely location for such a large amount of Southeast Asian eateries. There are also quite a few Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese restaurants in the North Star borough, including Fire Wok and Pagoda in North Pole. Some cultural factors explain why certain visitors come up here and never leave–such as the northern lights’ supposed procreative benefits on the part of Japanese tourists who come here for their honeymoon. More specifically, a great amount of the winter visitors who go to Chena Hot springs firmly believe that should they successfully conceive a baby while in Alaska, under the neon skies of the aurora borealis, their offspring will be “much more intelligent” than the typical child. (Sounds really superstitious to me, but hey, I’m just a cynical American.)
    Another phenomenon that the media has jumped all over is the Polynesians that have settled in Anchorage. Samoa, that south pacific country which the United States happens to own half of as a territory, which remains largely unvisited by most of our countrymen due to high-priced airfare because it cheaper to fly to New Zealand, boasts a native population that has allegedly been causing some violence trouble in Alaska’s most populous city. About 2% of Anchorage originally hails from Samoa–approximately 6,000 residents. That doesn’t sound like much but when you consider how small their home country is, it’s still a significant number of Pacific islanders. Another example of mixed cultures is right on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus which has many foreign exchange students; Mostly Europeans from Scandinavia due to our North-to-North exchange program. It’s understandable why they would feel at home in Alaska because the climate is very similar to parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Germans enjoy direct flights to Alaska and the Yukon (Whitehorse) from Frankfurt. I found this out while working at the visitor’s center in Eagle for Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. The largest ancestral groups in the state are Europeans, with Germany taking the lead at a whopping 18% of the Alaska population according to the 2010 Census.

  • Patricia

    The United States is a multicultural country which entails that a great percentage of population were born in a different country and that now reside in America because it is a country that provides opportunities that are not found in their countries of origin. Where I currently live is very rural and the population is of about one hundred people. There are no restaurants and I have not seen people from different countries. When I lived in Dillingham I used to go to two Chinese restaurants. The owners are originally from China and their food is delicious and of course expensive because of living in rural Alaska where all the food and gas is expensive, more than Hawaii. In addition, there is a lady from Mexico that sell burritos and tacos from her home and a Puerto Rican lady that has a clothing store (sweatshirts, t-shirts, caps). Also, I know a teacher aide from the Dillingham City School that is from Chile and another teacher aide that is originally from Germany. One of the teachers is married to a lady from Costa Rica. Alaska is so far away and its weather is so cold. However, this is no problem for people in the United States that were born in a different country to come and appreciate its beauty and settle down here. Every time I visit Anchorage I see more Asian people being the largest group Asian or Pacific Islanders.

    For sure there is a lot of Mexican and Chinese or Korean influence food-wise which makes Alaska a state with a population that is becoming more diverse and also living in rural areas and not only living in the city.

    According to the municipality of Anchorage its demographics mention quote “the ethnic makeup of the municipality is approximately 72.23% White, 7.28% (apx. 19,000) Alaska Natives and American Indians, 5.55% (approximately 14,500 people) Asian Americans, 5.84% (apx. 15,200) African Americans, 0.93% Pacific Islanders, 2.19% are from other ethnic groups, and 5.98% were from two or more ethnic groups. 5.69% were Hispanic Americans or Latinos of any ethnic group”.


  • Imaginary Chaos

    Discuss the different ways that you see more than one culture showing up in odd places in Alaska.

    I wouldn’t really say that the different cultures show up in “odd places” in Alaska because Alaska is a pretty diverse state and pretty much all of the places I’ve been in Alaska have more than one culture. In the town I’m from which only has about 800 people in it, we have a fairly diverse range of cultures, especially for being a place that could be considered “in the middle of nowhere”. Every time we have a carnival or potluck there is always a very diverse choice of food; for example Filipino, Mexican, Chinese, and local Native foods. There was a small family from France sailing around the world and one of their stops they made was in my hometown and they taught people some French and introduced people to some new recipes and we returned the favor by teaching them a little about our culture. It’s a fairly normal thing to see different cultures in Alaska.

    Fairbanks is a great example of a place with diverse cultures. There are so many choices for restaurants. One reason I think that Alaska is so diverse, is because Alaska is very tourist friendly. The more people that come here the more diverse it becomes. I think it’s great, it allows people who don’t have the money to leave the state or country to learn more about different cultures.

  • Kari

    It is said that Alaska’s resources brought outsiders into this wonder state. Alaska’s resources that influenced outsiders include: a series of furs, timber, gold, fishing and oil production. These valuable Alaskan resources were what individuals came here for, because they had a strong feeling of desirable use to create a livable life within the resources in Alaska’s habitat.
    Alaska’s Natives maintained close links to their original traditions in whaling, hunting and fishing to maintain food for their families, and traditional arts and crafts. Native culture exists in place like Ketchikan, Anchorage and Kotzebue, and other excluded villages across Alaska’s terrain. Alaska Natives consist of 15 percent of the state’s population.
    According to the article “From the Bering Land Bridge to the oil pipeline, state has a storied past,” Alaska has a broad mixture of cultures. In the biggest city of Alaska; Anchorage, school district has reported that the student body comes from homes that speak 83 languages. This article states that most of Alaska’s population was born outside the state, then they came here with their language and cultures.
    Population of Alaska in 2000 by the Census Bureau of Statistics shows that the whites population is 69.31 percent, American Indian or Alaska Natives is 15.64 percent, Asians population is 4.0 percent, African Americans population is 3.48 percent, Native Hawaiian and other specific islanders population is 0.53 percent, Two or more races population is 5.45 percent, and some other race is 1.60 percent. The population as a whole consists of 626,932 people living in Alaska.
    I wanted to know more about the first Asians Americans on why they relocated to America. I read this article “The First Asian Americans,” it talks about Asians just wanted to start a new life in America in gold mining. Asians migrated to California in search for gold, they didn’t want to pay unfair taxes on gold, so a lot of Asians were murdered. Asians fought for fair treatment in the courts and they were deemed from testifying against the whites. California law prevents Asians from testifying against whites in court. Asian’s became an outcast of society. Some Asians then joined the Transcontinental Railroad Project. Asians fought for equal pay because they were paid 60 percent lower wages than that of a white man, so they went on strike. That was until Central Pacific cut off the Asians food supply, forcing them back to work.
    Whites began to see Asians as an economic threat, so the whites cumulated the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banning all Asians from becoming US citizens and were forbidden to enter in the US. That’s when the first China Towns were built on US soil. Because Asians were forbidden from owing land, intermarrying with Whites, owning homes, working many occupations, getting education, and living in certain parts of the city or entire cities. Asians had no choice then isolating themselves and building their own communities as a means of survival. Asians gardeners produced food stands and eventually built grocery stores and restaurants. Some Asians went into the laundry business.
    There are some ties to Asian history into Alaska today. Asians own restaurants and grocery stores that still provide good food to all Americans. Alaska resources included gold and I wonder if some Asian’s were working in the gold mining business here. There was also railroads built in Alaska and I wonder is Asians had contributed to that process. In respect to all Asians, their history is sad and I hope as an undivided culture, they hold strong in production.

    https://www.alaska.com/history/ , © 2013 The Anchorage Daily News, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Company
    https://www.asian-nation.org/first.shtml, Asian Nation-Asian American History, Demographics, and Issues.

  • LaVon Shearer-Ihrig

    I remember the first time a restaurant opened in Eagle River. It was called the Bombay House and I remember my mother being so excited because it was supposed to serve official Indian food. My mom loved any recipe that had curry and hot flavors in it, and for years she had tortured us every time she could get her hands on a new recipe (this was in the days before google, so coming across the recipes were not always easy). None the less, I will not forget the first time my mother brought home these little containers full of spicy good smells. The rice and bean dish was so thick and spicy, you couldn’t breathe in or out it would burn so hot. I remember shortly after that a Chinese restaurant opening. Before that all Eagle River boasted was the North Slope Restuarant with its hearty mid-western fare, Pizza Man with it’s to die for pizza’s and Garcias with it’s Americanized Mexican food–yummy enough and charming in a way that only a beloved hometown restaurant can be loved. Today I am constantly amazed at the variety of culturally different restaurants keep open in our little town that barely boasts a population of 30,000. Sushi, two mexican, one of the best Italian and of course the usual American fare. Recently in Anchorage, we stumbled across a restuarant that served Pacific Island fare. We were so surprised to find yet another restaurant with Polynesian flare. The seasonings on the food were citrusy, tangy and simply delicious. I am constantly amazed at the variety of different cultural foods you can find in Anchorage. I heard the other day that a small restuarant had opened with an African dishes. I have no idea where that may be, but I would love to check that out. Although I amazed that we can support such a variety, I cannot say I am surprised. Anchorage is one of the most diverse cities in America. Our school system supports children with 72 different primary languages. This is an large array of languages for a city that has a population of a little over 200,000. I think sometimes we forget that once the Russians set foot in Alaska, many different countries soon followed suit. Chinese, Japanese being some of the first immigrants to bring their cultural flavors to our tables. Now that Anchorage hosts one of the largest communities for hosting and transitioning refugees from Iraq, Sudan, Hmong, Vietnam and a few other countries…I think we will continue to see an expanding list of cultural cuisines and will always be reminded how diverse this state really has become.

  • LaVon Shearer-Ihrig

    I should have clarified that first sentense…The first time a different type of restaurant opened in Eagle River besides the main three we were used too. Truly I will never forget that, and find myself craving that rice and bean dish that could heat your body from toe to head and burn so good!!

  • Nikki

    Well I live here in beautiful Bethel, Alaska and get to see all the different cultures daily. From Polish, to Korean, to Albanian, I would have to say that Bethel is pretty well versed in all cultures in my neighborhood. From reading Madara’s little post we do have MANY Korean/Japanese/Chinese restaurants. In total there are 11 restaurants that are Chinese/Japanese/Korean cuisine and a Greek restaurant, Pizza joint, and then of course Subway. We don’t get a HUGE variety of other ethnic foods but people come from all different places to work. If you ask anyone why they came to Bethel I guarantee that it wasn’t because of the flat, mountain less, treeless, hill-less beauty, it was because of the money. No person in their right mind wakes up and says, “you know what let’s move to Bethel and pay $7.06 for gas, and $12 for a gallon of milk.” That would be crazy! But then they move to places like Bethel, or Nome and realize that the people are great, and it’s the people that keep them there.

  • Misty

    Well I am an odd culture myself. My Paternal grandmother is from Canada and moved her with her family more then fifty years ago. Her ancestors came from Ireland and other places. My paternal grandfather was African American, Scottish, and a hint of Native american. My Maternal grandmother was full blooded Athabaskan I believe, and my maternal grandfather is Athabaskan and Czech. Or something along those lines. My cousins are African American, and some are native. I even have Puerto Rican cousins, but they live in Mass. The people here in McGrath range from the Yukon river all the way to New York city. There are some Germans here also. They’ve been around a while but they still have that accent. McGrath only has a cafe and BnB. No ethnic foods here. Gas is almost $7, and bread is around $10. Things are expensive but the beauty of the place and the people makes it worth it.

  • Chad Hinders

    “North America is just like a giant hot-fudge Sundae. It’s got all the nuts on top.”- Anonymous

    The diversity and dynamic mixture of cultures that call “The Last Frontier” home is the direct result of geographical, economic, and historic influences. The influece of these forces and the great beauty and natural resources of Alaska have shaped a surprisingly diverse and eclectic mixture of people into the ever-changing group of individuals called “Alaskans”.

    Geographic proximity to Asia and the Pacific brought Filipinos to work and thrive in many communities throughout Alaska’s Southcentral and Southwest regions. Filipino workers arrived in the state in great numbers during the early part of this centuriy’s boom of salmon canning and fishing. Their influence can still be profoundly found in Ketchikan and Juneau and Tagalog is not an uncommon language to be heard in Anchorage ESL rooms. The attraction of good pay and relatively light taxes have attracted families and relatives from the Phillipines to link up with already established relatives in Alaska, making Filiopinos a stable segment of Alaska’s multicultural community.

    Samoans and other Pacific Islanders also seem to be attracted to Alaska and its largest city Anchorage by economic opportunity. The ability to make money in fishing, longshoring, and jobs on the North Slope along combined with low taxes and the PFD bringing extra money to large families are some of the key economic factors bringing Pacific Islanders/Samoans to Alaska. In fact, the Samoan population of Anchorage more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 (uscensus.gov). The culture that made these people great warriors had led to many successes in athletics. However, aggression has led to a disproportionate amount of Pacific Islanders running afoul of the law.

    In 1935, as part of a Depression era New Deal program, 200 poverty-stricken families from the Midwest made their way to the Mat-Su Valley as part of the Matanuska “Colony” (Mat Su Marks 75, adn.com). Agriculture (some legal, some… not so much) still remains an integral part of life in the Matanuska Susitna Valley. The families escaping the Dust Bowl settled down in Alaska and left their indelible footprints on the cultural make up of Palmer and Wasilla.

    “The Valley” often reminds me of the Midwest when I pass through. Cultures who migrated to Alaska from afar tend to settle in places that mimic their old lifestyles and occupations. So, it is not surprising that Midwesterners accumulate in the fertile valleys of the Mat-Su and Filipinos can often be found working in the fishing industry and in coastal cities somewhat reminiscent of their old homelands.

    Although Alaska is often given the most credit for its natural beauty, its greatest treasure is its people. Alaska continues to grow in both the size and diversity of its population. It continues to be a place where people who are willing to work hard in a harsh environment can make a good living for themselves and their family.

  • Caroline Streeter

    The history of Alaska reflects a menagerie of cultures, ranging from contact with the Spanish to Russia. After reading a book about the Tlingits I learned that the Spanish made it as far north along the west coast up to Southeast Alaska. They may have even been responsible for a huge flu epidemic that worked its way throughout Alaska and wiped out thousands.
    One family that is renowned for immigrating to Alaska is the Mikami family, that first moved to Anchorage from California around 1915, when it was still a tent city. Of the four Mikami children, two boys and two girls, all attended college at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Even traveling to St. Lawrence Island on a ‘field trip’. That two women attended the college when the majority of students were male is very inspiring. The fact that they were also Japanese Americans makes the Mikamis most unique.
    I really liked what Nikki wrote about the people making the place. The pace of life in rural Alaska is unlike any other. The sense of kinship is a beautiful and welcoming hope.

  • Cherie

    When I lived in Anchorage, I noticed that there was a large Samoan population. I have a friend who is from the Philippines and she told me that many people from the Philippines live and work in areas that have fisheries. I guess I don’t spend a lot of time “seeing” other cultures or maybe I just don’t get out much, so I decided to do a little research and see what I could find. First, I found a website that has an amazing map that shows the Asian American population locations in Alaska (https://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=235). There is a map of Alaska on the website that broke down population size by city (https://www.akhistorycourse.org/images/cultures/large/page-51.gif). According to the map, Anchorage, Kodiak, Juneau and Unalaska have the highest Asian American populations. The Asian American population groups that are represented on the map include Asian Indian, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian groups. Data was collected from the 2000 Census, so I am not sure what the most current numbers are. There is also a map of Polynesian people in Alaska (https://www.akhistorycourse.org/images/cultures/large/page-67.gif). There is a significantly smaller Polynesian population in Alaska with the biggest concentration being in Anchorage. According the website (https://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=234), the groups included in the Polynesian population are Guamanian, Micronesian, Native Hawaiian, Polynesian, Samoan, and Tongan. I think the most surprising to me was the Latin American population distribution in Alaska (https://www.akhistorycourse.org/images/cultures/large/page-81-map.gif). Anchorage once again dominated with this culture, followed by Fairbanks and Juneau. This group is represented by Central American, Chilean, Columbian, Cuban, Dominican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Mexican, Panamanian, Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, South American, Spanish, and other Latin cultures (https://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=232). I found this website to be fascinating but wished it had more up to date information. I looked at the census website, but found it difficult to figure out how the numbers were distributed in Alaska because I could not find a comparison chart for different Alaskan regions (https://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02/0203000.html). Overall, the information I did find was very interesting to me.