Cultural diversity in Anchorage thrives in many ways that are easy to notice, like the many events held by groups like Bridge Builders of Anchorage: A cross cultural community organization that builds understanding and cooperation between different ethnic communities in Anchorage.
Yet, some aspects of Anchorage’s diversity are less visible. For instance, within the Asian Pacific Islander community 75 percent of people speak a second language other than English at home and 61 percent grew up in another country, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Elsa Sargento is the former president of Bridge Builders of Anchorage.
“Today there are approximately 10,000 Filipinos in Anchorage and (approximately) 30,000 statewide,” Sargento said. “We have 15 organizations representing the diverse cultures and languages in the Philippines . . . seven years ago we formed the Alaska Federation of Filipino Americans which embraces 12 of these organizations.”
Since arriving in Alaska 1974, after growing up in the Philippines, Sargento has worked as a tireless advocate for Filipinos in Alaska.
“Understanding and respecting one another is priceless and precious,” Sargento said. “As a millennium gift to the people of anchorage, a group of bridge builders from 16 cultures wrote the pledge of mutual respect that really tells who we are.”
Bridge builders members have lead many people in taking the pledge at events across the city since it was first written more than a decade ago. In full it reads:
“We the people of Anchorage, Alaska, pledge to respect one another, celebrating the differences that make us unique: our customs, spiritual beliefs, cultures, colors, dreams and ancestral traditions. Standing together, hand in hand, young and old, we affirm that through mutual respect we can build a stronger, more harmonious community, a more unified nation and a better, safer world.”
Dr. Ellsworth James, president of the NAACP of Anchorage and a bridge builders board member is also a big supporter of the pledge of mutual respect.
James called for more cultural competence among educators and administrators in working with African Americans.
“Our biggest need is support in education,” said James.