When Synthia Lin arrived in Albuquerque from Taiwan in 1975, she could walk the streets of Old Town without seeing another Asian person.
Thirty years later, Lin says the prevalence of ethnic grocery stores and Asian restaurants is just one more reason for Albuquerque’s reputation as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States.
“The Asian community is definitely a lot more noticeable now,” says Lin, who runs the Chinese Culture Center with her husband. “I don’t feel separate from the rest of the group.”
Though Albuquerque has retained much of the influence of its predominant cultural groups – American Indians, Hispanics and Anglos – a recent census indicates that 71 ethnic groups live here. A rich cultural tapestry is represented in its architecture, cultural institutions and restaurants.
Ever since the first American Indians settled in the Rio Grande Valley, Albuquerque’s geographic diversity and agreeable climate have attracted artists, agriculturalists and scientists from around the world.
“Albuquerque’s vibrant community offers many opportunities for ethnic groups to take part in the cultural life of the city,” says Jan Dodson Barnhart, Albuquerque Historical Society president.
Lin’s husband, Sifu Lin, opened the Chinese Culture Center as a martial arts school in 1974. Since then, the center has expanded into a pagoda-shaped facility where visitors can celebrate Chinese New Year or learn about the philosophy of feng shui.
“We like to represent a positive attitude for people looking at what the Chinese culture has to offer,” Lin says.
New Mexico’s history in the modern era began around A.D. 1000, when the first American Indian tribe settled permanently in the Rio Grande Valley. The arrival of the first Spanish explorers in 1540 and the establishment of the town of Albuquerque in 1706 infused the American Indian culture with Spanish traditions, giving birth to what is known today as pueblo culture.
Today, New Mexico is home to 19 American Indian pueblo communities within driving distance from Albuquerque. For those interested in learning about the pueblo societies, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque brings to life traditions of the past and present.
After New Mexico became a United States territory in 1851, an influx of Anglo settlers ushered in the industrialized era. The gold rush and the construction of the railroad brought immigrants from China, Japan and elsewhere to Albuquerque.
Albuquerque’s colonial past and its proximity to Mexico have made it a hub for Hispanic culture. In 2000, the National Hispanic Cultural Center opened as a venue where visitors can visit a museum featuring works by prominent Hispanic artists, take tango classes or watch the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra perform.
The Hispanic culture has even inspired local Anglos like Shawn “El Gringo” Kiehne, a singer-songwriter who has embraced the popular Mexican genre of norteno music.
Growing up on his family’s ranch outside of Albuquerque in Los Lomas, Kiehne, who is of German descent, says he developed an appreciation for the Spanish language from Mexican ranch hands.
“If you know Spanish or English, you can pretty much go anywhere in the world and communicate with almost anyone,” says Kiehne, who is embarking on a nationwide tour in 2008 after releasing his first album with the major Hispanic recording label Univision. “To appreciate another culture opens doors to new worlds.”
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