Alaska Immigration

Alaska – Immigration State Profile: The Melting Pot of Decades

“Alaska isn’t about who you were when you headed this way. It’s about who you become.” –Kristin Hannah

Alaska, as the largest of the fifty states, has hundreds of miles of beautiful scenery that over 2 million people flock to visit year after year. From hiking through beautiful national parks to looking into the night sky and watching the northern lights, this state offers people with views and lifestyles only available here. Not only is there a variety of scenic locations spread throughout this state, but there is also a variety of ethnic groups, too. Alaska is home to about 720,763 people, and of these individuals, 8% of them are immigrants. But, the numbers don’t stop here, as the largest group of immigrants hails from the Philippines, making up 32% of all immigrants, with the next largest group being Mexicans, at 10%!


Image of a whaling crew in Alaska – Ravenna Koenig.


Filipinos – The Inception of Alaskan Migration

One may ask, “why are there so many Filipinos in Alaska?” and the answer dates back by centuries. In the late 18th century, Manila, the capital of the Philippines, was a heavily trafficked transshipment port, with a large number of ships crossing the Pacific to Alaska. Very early on, Filipinos found their way onto these European ships, and soon after, they became sailors themselves leading their ships and men to the shores of Alaska. They were a part of whaling crews, which were crews specifically designated to catch whales, and a few decades later, many Filipino laborers were drawn to Alaska because gold was found on Douglas Island and Juneau

They came as ore sorters, and worked under a mining company for a few decades. After the popularity of gold mining began fizzling out, these Filipino migrants ultimately decided to just stay, as opposed to returning back to their home country–indicating the first major instance of Filipino migration and settlement in Alaska. Not only this, but a different group of Filipino laborers also found themselves joining their migrant counterparts–and these were workers of the salmon canning industry!

These individuals even gave themselves a nickname, going by Alaskeros, to categorize a large group of individuals who came to Alaska and worked in poor conditions. These conditions may have been poor, but these Alaskeros found themselves better off than they would have been had they remained in the Philippines, signifying their immense work ethic, resourcefulness, and resilience to be able to endure such conditions yet still come out on top. 



Image of Manila Square – Richard E. Miller.


Filipinos in Alaska Today

Furthermore, for years these Alaskeros not only faced unfair working conditions, but unfair treatment on the basis of race. It was until the late 1990s to the early 2000s that Filipinos in Alaska began receiving respect, and in 2002 the cultural legacy and impact made by Filipinos in Alaska was finally recognized by the state, as Alaska’s capital downtown area was named “Manila Square” in their honor. Not just this, but a statue of Dr. Jose Rizal, an infamous Filipino writer, was erected to honor the impact Filipinos have had, and continue to have on the state of Alaska. 


Image of the statue of Dr. Jose P. Rizal – Richard E. Miller.


Since then, Filipinos have continually immersed themselves in Alaskan culture, intertwining it with their own. In the present day, there are over 10 million overseas Filipino workers in the US, and a large majority of them reside in Alaska, and have for centuries now. Decades ago, Filipinos began creating spaces for themselves in these Alaskan cities to gather as a community. The first of these formed in 1938, with The Filipino Community Club of Ketchikan, giving Filipinos in Alaska the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities and discussions, from engaging in local political discourse to simply meeting other members of their community, the possibilities are endless.

Since then, similar clubs and spaces have also been established, all with the same goal in mind: uniting these migrant communities with people just not of the same background, but people whose similarities extend far beyond the mere identification of being a Filipino in Alaska. 

Latinos – Past to Present Migration and Impact

Similarly, Mexican immigrants find themselves paralleling these Filipino migrants, in terms of their reasoning for immigrating, and the jobs they occupy upon arrival. Though making up a smaller percentage of the immigrant population, Mexicans find themselves also taking up jobs in the labor force, with a higher pay than expected incentivizing them to make the trek all the way up north, coining the term “vamos al norte,” meaning let’s go north, to signify the mass migration of these Mexican immigrants to Alaska for work. The start of the influx of Mexican migration to the northernmost part of the United States began in the 1970s, with many groups of individuals from Michoacán, Mexico, moving to Alaska to work in construction, fisheries, and food services. 


Image of Mariachi Agave Azul – Mariachi Agave Azul.


Their influence extends beyond the labor force too, as these migrant workers have also made a large cultural impact on the lands of Alaska. An instance of this grand impact is the mariachi band located in Alaska, called Mariachi Agave Azul. The group started off as a mere jam session from two friends, and has taken off from there. Now, they are known as the only mariachi band in Alaska, mixing Mexican and Alaskan culture, this group does an amazing job of introducing the Mexican style of mariachi to the great lands up North, while also paying tribute to the lands they are occupying down to the name of their mariachi, where “azul” is in reference to the big beautiful blue skies of Alaska.

There is a bit of a distinction between this group and others, and it’s not just on the basis of location. This group, much like the state of Alaska, is also very diverse, with a large number of members coming from a variety of backgrounds, making a comment on the wonderful melting pot that Alaska is itself! 


Beautiful scenery in Alaska –


Furthermore, a documentary is currently in the process of being created to truly showcase the lives of Latin Americans in Alaska, as Mexicans aren’t the only group from Latin America to reside within these borders. Many Guatemalans, Salvadoreans, and other groups within Latin America have flocked to Alaska mainly for job opportunities, but often choose to stay for other reasons including a better quality of life, and just a different environment than they could find anywhere else! The future documentary is entitled “Sabor Ártico: Latinos En Alaska” by Indra Arriaga Delgado.

Delgado is a filmmaker who is working with a University of Alaska professor named Mariano Gonzales, both of whom have lived in Alaska for well over twenty years, giving them the experience of the way Alaska has truly changed since they moved there. In this documentary, they plan to touch on the true impact Latinos have had on the foods of Alaska over time, while also discussing the impact of the influx of Latin migration to Alaska over the last twenty years. Their experiences provide them firsthand knowledge of the way Alaska has evolved and continues to evolve, and they plan to use their experiences to tell the beautiful story of Hispanics in Alaska. 


Image of the Filipino American Festival in Anchorage –


Filipino and Latino Festivals

Hispanics and Filipinos in Alaska have left a remarkable impact on Alaska, extending to events and museums located throughout the state. One example of this is the annual Filipino American Festival of Southeast Alaska. This festival falls two days before the anniversary of the first recorded Filipinos to arrive to the west over four centuries ago. Hosted by the Filipino Community Club, this festival is a space available for all to enjoy different aspects of Filipino culture from dancing tinikling, taking in beautiful Filipino music, and just overall being a space for individuals to come together and rejoice over the beauty that is Filipino culture in Alaska.

Similarly, Hispanics have a variety of events dedicated to showcasing their beautiful culture too, ranging from the Alaska Salsa Festival, where individuals of all backgrounds can come learn to dance salsa and a number of other Latino dance styles and dance the night away! This beautiful event allows people to not only immerse themselves in new dance styles, but immerse themselves in the beautiful aspects of Hispanic culture and community that they otherwise would not be able to experience.

The University of Alaska Anchorage also hosts annual events for Hispanics during Hispanic American Heritage Month, providing a space for Hispanic street food vendors to sell their delicious cuisines to local students and community members, as well as hosting watch parties for all to share a space and enjoy Hispanic inspired films and shows, allowing for a true cultural immersion from any aspect one could think of! Though Alaska may be far from home for some, it still very well is made to feel like a home away from home, with its endless amount of cultural support, activities, and festivities.


Image of Mike Dunleavy –


Governmental Thoughts on Immigration

The current governor of Alaska is Mike Dunleavy, a member of the Republican party. Dunleavy, similarly to other members of his party, opposes the termination of Title 42; a policy enacted to stop the migration of individuals across the border into the United States under the guise of attempting to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Enacted under Trump, our current president Joe Biden is attempting to terminate this policy. Dunleavy opposes its termination because he, amongst many others in a similar position, believes that ending the policy will increase the number of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. exponentially. Yet, Dunleavy does not oppose the refugee resettlement program because, according to the governor’s stance, accepting refugees is right, while taking in immigrants who cross the border through unofficial entry points is not. Despite polarized views on immigration, the growth of immigrant communities in the state, show that many continue to see Alaska as a safe space to build roots, work and create community. There is ample evidence that immigrants can thrive in Alaska, and will continue to do so for years to come. 


Skyline image of the University of Alaska Anchorage –


Resources in Higher Education

Politics aside, there are still an immense number of resources for migrants and migrant youth to help prepare them for their futures. One of these being the Migrant Education Program specifically designed to help migrant children and ease their transition to learning in a different country. The overall goal of this program is to ensure that any child is capable of graduating with a high school diploma, with the drive and goals to extend far beyond this, essentially preparing these children to enter higher levels of education as well. 

Once these higher levels of education are then reached, the resources do not stop there! At the University of Alaska Anchorage, there are an endless number of diversity related outreach groups, programs, clubs, and centers to truly help immigrant students with the adjustment curve. These different organizations are both faculty-led and student-led, meaning that every individual at this institution wants to not only help immigrants, but create a safe space where cultures can be immersed and intertwined with one another through conversation and through action.

Organizations Working to Support Immigrants

Another way these cultures are intertwined is through organizational efforts to help these minority groups achieve their goals. One organization specifically working to help Hispanic community members of Alaska is Enlaces. The name is the Spanish word for “links,” and captures the aims of what this 501(c)3 non-profit organization is trying to achieve. Their goal is to empower, educate, and engage Alaska’s ever growing Latino community by advocating for social justice and equity for these individuals in Alaska.

Meanwhile, another organization meant to support the large Filipino migrant population in Alaska is the Filipino Community Club of  Ketchikan. Though briefly mentioned earlier, it is imperative to emphasize the true importance and significance of this organization to Filipinos in Alaska. This organization’s goal is to not only uplift Filipinos in Alaska, but provide a space where the community can gather. Safe spaces like these are vital to the preservation and elevation of various cultures in areas where they may not be the majority, because nonetheless, their impact is still just as important. 

Migration in Alaska has been a vital key to the state, since long before it became the 49th state of the United States. For centuries, Alaska has been the home to a variety of cultures, who have single-handedly helped build up Alaska’s economy and society as a whole. From working in gold mines to canneries of the past, to now owning an array of establishments throughout the state, immigrants in Alaska have cemented themselves as a mainstay in this community, and have been and continue to be welcomed with open arms to all parts of the beautiful state up North. 



Enzo Pallette | University of California, Los Angeles

Hi, my name is Enzo Pallette! I grew up in North Hollywood, California and have a Guatemalan and Ecuadorian background. I am currently pursuing a B.A. in Public Affairs, with the intention of attending law school in the future. My end goal is to become an immigration attorney, because growing up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, I recognize and empathize with the struggles of individuals within my community. Because of this, I aspire to give back in any way I possibly can, and I am excited to begin my journey with Latina Republic by not only giving back, but acting as a voice for immigrant policies across the United States and individual personalized accounts as well!