By:  – The Seattle Times

July 30, 2015

I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest but somehow never made it to Alaska until last week. And like many in the “Lower 48,” my knowledge of this vast place was limited to some crude stereotypes: moose, snow and dog sleds.

I did not associate this state — launched into my generation’s popular imagination by Sarah Palin’s quip about Russia’s proximity to Alaska as proof of her foreign-policy chops — with superlative diversity or international savvy.

Turns out I was wrong, at least about one city here. Like metropolitan Seattle, Anchorage is a city that boasts some of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods and schools (despite a majority white population). And, like the Seattle area, this growing population is changing, and sometimes challenging, the city’s culture, identity and services.

According to the Anchorage School District, 20 percent of its students speak a language other than English at home. Students speak over 90 languages including Spanish, Hmong, Samoan and Native Alaskan languages, like Yup’ik.

I learned more about what brings people to Anchorage while eating a hot, flaky sambusa last week. Sambusas are fried triangular pastries often filled with meat and vegetables. They’re also Omima Adam’s claim to fame.

Adam is a refugee from Sudan who arrived here five years ago. I’m in Alaska as part of a project reporting on Seattle-area immigrants and refugees who travel north for seasonal labor. My path crossed Adam’s when her food truck, “ Sultan Shawarma,” with its orca whale jumping toward bubble-lettered Arabic, caught my eye.

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