Immigrants from Asia have established strong communities in Albuquerque with rich and varied traditions. The Asian presence is unmistakable near the fairgrounds, where the concentration of Asian restaurants (particularly Vietnamese) and shops has earned it the nickname "Little Saigon." But Asian Americans live and work throughout the city and are an integral part of Albuquerque's cultural mix.
The timing and forces behind Asian immigration to the Albuquerque area were as varied as the nationalities that came here. While a wave of Chinese immigrants was drawn west in the 1800s to search for gold in California and work on the first transcontinental railroad, many of the first Japanese immigrants at that time were escaping dire economic and agricultural conditions in southern Japan. The arrival of the railroad in New Mexico brought these and other immigrants to Albuquerque in larger numbers starting in the late 1800s.
The Vietnamese, on the other hand, barely immigrated to the United States at all until the 1960s. That changed after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 when a federal resettlement program brought thousands of Vietnamese to the United States, including about 3,000 to New Mexico. The number of immigrants from all over Asia has increased markedly since the 1960s and 1970s, including those from Korea and the Philippines. Filipinos are among the fastest growing ethnic group in New Mexico. (The Philippines has an interesting historical parallel to New Mexico: both were colonized and ruled by the Spanish, and the Philippines became an American territory at roughly the same time New Mexico gained statehood.)
The 19th and early 20th centuries presented challenges for Albuquerque's small but growing Asian population. Racial discrimination was tolerated and pervasive, seriously impacting economic opportunities for Asian residents. To cope with discrimination, many immigrant communities looked to each other for support and often started businesses that were patronized by their fellow countrymen.
In one of the ugliest chapters of racial discrimination in America, the internment of citizens of Japanese descent, New Mexico was somewhat of a bright spot. The question of internment was left up to New Mexico's local communities to decide, and most chose not to bother voting on the issue. Only one city in south eastern New Mexico did vote to intern its Japanese American citizens. In Albuquerque, internment was opposed by local Hispanic groups and the issue never even went to a vote.
Today, the Asian population is integrated into all aspects of life in Albuquerque, from food to art to music. Events such as the Chinese New Year festival draw hundreds of adults and children every year, and traditions such as Japanese Taiko drumming are quickly growing in popularity. Members of the various Asian communities can be found in every profession and industry, including engineering, academics, technology, small business, retail, medicine, law and government. Their cultural traditions are nurtured and celebrated both within families and with public events. To learn about or participate in one of the Asian community's cultural events, check out the following resources.