American Indians and Hispanics have made their homes in New Mexico for centuries‚ so it’s not surprising that one of Albuquerque’s strengths is its openness to diversity.
That cordial attitude is part of the reason why more than 28 ethnic groups – including Chinese‚ Taiwanese‚ Indonesians‚ Swedes‚ Germans‚ Filipinos‚ Africans‚ French and Indians – call Albuquerque home.
“Diversity happened naturally here because Native American and Hispanic cultures have co-existed for so long‚” says Danny Lopez‚ marketing director at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. “There has always been a spirit of shared cultures in Albuquerque.”
That spirit is perhaps most evident in The Heritage Council‚ an organization formed in 1997 by the Arts Alliance that exists to celebrate cultural diversity in Albuquerque.
The Heritage Council is made up of representatives from many of Albuquerque’s ethnic groups who meet monthly at the Arts Alliance Gallery and sponsor a quarterly cultural sharing event with ethnic food and entertainment.
“The Heritage Council offers opportunities for people to share their culture and traditions and learn about other people groups‚” says Cindi Heffner‚ a Hawaii native who serves as co-chair of The Heritage Council. “Many of us are involved in the performing arts. We have a number of Japanese and Okinawan dancers‚ a Hawaiian dance group and an African drumming group.”
The council plans to host Albuquerque’s first annual International Festival in October 2007‚ which will supplement a handful of existing ethnic festivals.
“The Japanese have a festival every year‚ and so do the Russians‚” Heffner says. “We try to support each other’s events. They start small and grow into big and wonderful things.”
The National Hispanic Cultural Center also presents a variety of enlightening events each year. Lopez estimates the center stages between 50 and 60 music‚ dance and theater productions annually.
“Our mission is to preserve and promote Hispanic culture through dif ferent artistic programs‚” Lopez says. “Our center is like a small university campus. We have an 81‚000-square-foot performing arts center‚ history and liter ary arts programs‚ a media arts program and a restaurant and gift shop on site.”
The center even has its own art museum (open Tuesday through Sunday) and a full-service library where people can do genealogy research. Spanish classes are also taught here‚ and it’s a great resource for area schools.
“We do free educational programs for schools‚” Lopez says. “We bring busloads of kids to the center from all over the state.”
A third-generation New Mexican‚ Lopez says Albuquerque’s demographics have changed over the past five to seven years‚ and he believes that trend will continue.
“People visiting Albuquerque can sense the cultural diversity right away‚” he says. “One testament to diversity is the architecture here. And there’s a really interesting cultural corridor throughout downtown and Old Town‚ where you have the Bio Park‚ the zoo‚ the Native American Cultural Center‚ the Hispanic Cultural Center and a number of other things.”
Heffner‚ who moved to Albuquerque from Hawaii nine years ago‚ says many Albuquerque citizens don’t even realize how diverse the city is.
“I grew up in a diverse place‚ but I didn’t realize how culturally diverse Albuquerque is until I heard how many people groups there are‚” Heffner says. “There’s a big Filipino community here‚ and there are Italians and Jewish people. Then there are smaller groups like the Indonesians.”
In 2003‚ The Heritage Council did an ethnic survey to educate the public about Albuquerque’s ethnic communities.
“We had a team of ethnoanthropologists who did the fieldwork‚ including one-on-one interviews with people of different ethnicities‚” Heffner says.
The survey results were published online at abqarts.org‚ and The Heritage Council has since received feedback from all over the world.
“We wanted to let the community know these ethnic groups are here‚” Heffner says. “By understanding other cultures‚ we can be more accepting of one another.”
Find more on culture in Albuquerque, NM.