Alaska saw considerable Russian immigration during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but by the early twentieth century, Russians constituted one of the state’s smaller immigrant populations. Filipinos have also entered Alaska since the early twentieth century to become the state’s the largest immigrant population. Filipinos have long provided an important source of labor to the Alaskan fishing industry, particularly in the state’s canneries. Although immigration to many other states slowed during the early twenty-first century, Alaska’s immigrant population has continued to grow, and immigrants from Mexico have become one of the state’s fastest-growing immigrant populations.
Many of Alaska’s immigrant communities were established long before Alaska achieved statehood in 1959. Notable among these were Russians, who began settling the region during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first Russians came to Alaska for the fur trade, but the Russian colony was never very successful. The United States bought the territory from Russia in 1867. During the late 1890’s, the Klondike gold rush drew thousands of miners to Alaska. These new arrivals included many Germans and Irish, who would become two of the state’s largest immigrant ancestry groups.
Filipinos have also played an important role in Alaskan history since the eighteenth century, when they were involved in the fur trade. Known as “Alaskeros,” they began to settle permanently in Alaska during the early twentieth century, when many of them worked in fishing canneries. Seafood would eventually become Alaska’s main export, but its economy is based primarily on petroleum. However, during the early twentieth century, oil had not yet been found in Alaska. Filipinos and other immigrants, including Koreans, provided crucial labor to the fishing industry, particularly in canneries.
Profile of AlaskaSource:
U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract for 2006. Notes:
The U.S. population in 2006 was 299,399,000, of whom 37,548,000 (12.5%) were foreign born. Rankings in last column reflect total numbers, not percentages.
Most Filipinos who arrived in Alaska during the early twentieth century were men, who quickly established ties with members of such Nativecommunities as the Tlingit, Haida, Eskimo, Aleut, and Tsimshian. Intermarriage between Filipinos and Native Americans was common, and these unions produced many future community leaders.
A major wave of new immigration developed after oil was discovered in 1968. Many immigrants came to work on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Many of them stayed after the pipeline was completed in 1977. Immigrants from Central and South America and Asia played an important role in the Alaskan fishing industry as both permanent and seasonal workers. Many brought the experience of working in fishing industries in their native countries.
Korean immigration to Alaska increased during the late twentieth century. Koreans typically entered Alaska through Canada or other U.S. states. Many of them owned restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. During the 1980’s, Korean American business leaders planned and developed Korean neighborhoods in Anchorage along Fireweed Lane, Northern Lights Boulevard, and Benson Boulevard. Anchorage’s Korean Chamber of Commerce helps Korean immigrants build community and establish and expand their own businesses.
Immigrant businesses generally have become more numerous and economically important since the late decades of the twentieth century. Most immigrants— from both abroad and the lower fortyeight states—come to Alaska seeking work. Many begin as blue-collar workers and save enough money to establish their own businesses and to send remittances to their families.
Compared to the experience of other U.S. states, Mexican immigration is a relatively recently development in Alaska. Many of these immigrants enter Alaska from other states. Some have come for dangerous but highly paid fishing jobs. Others have established businesses, particularly restaurants. Mexican workers also work in canneries, tourism, and construction. By 2008, the Mexican presence in Alaska had become important enough for the Mexican government to open a consulate in Anchorage.
Melissa A. Barton
Further Reading Berton, Pierre. The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush. New York: Basic Books, 2003.
Buchholdt, Thelma. Filipinos in Alaska, 1788-1958. Anchorage, Alaska: Aboriginal Press, 1996.
Cole, Dermot. Amazing Pipeline Stories: How Building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Transformed Life in America’s Last Frontier. Kenmore, Wash.: Epicenter Press, 1997.
Haycox, StephenW. Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics, and Environment in Alaska. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2002.
See also: Asian immigrants; Canada vs. United States as immigrant destinations; Canadian immigrants; Filipino immigrants; Korean immigrants; Latin American immigrants; Mexican immigrants; Russian and Soviet immigrants; Washington State.