When Taiwanese Chinese immigrant Ding-Wen Hsu followed her engineer husband from Iowa to Denver after he received a job offer as a hydrologist, she admired the abundant Colorado sunshine and the beautiful Rocky Mountain landscape. But it was the welcoming attitude of Denverites that inspired her to stay for 40 years.
“I’ve never felt like a stranger here. People are usually friendly. It’s a comfortable place to live and work,” says Hsu, who, with her husband, runs Pacific Western Technologies, a company that cleans up contaminated federal Superfund sites. But Hsu made her mark on the city’s cultural fabric by founding the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival in 2001. The two-day annual event that celebrates a 2,000-year-old Chinese boat-racing tradition now attracts more than 120,000 attendees.
State and local government have shown their commitment to supporting the festival; both the mayor of Denver and the governor of Colorado usually make an appearance each year. In fact, in New American Economy’s Cities Index, which rates the American cities most welcoming to immigrants, Denver particularly stands out in the category of “Government Leadership”—hiring immigrants as municipal employees, establishing an office for immigrant services or issuing proclamations in support of immigrants or their organizations or events.
Hsu says the government championed of the Dragon Boat Festival from the start. The city awarded her a $1,000 grant and provided a dumpster. As the event expanded in scope and size, the Parks and Recreation department has worked with her team to control traffic and close portions of West Byron Place. Also, off-duty police officers work as private security guards. “People from every part of government have been wonderful to work with,” says Hsu. “It’s made us really feel supported.”
The success of the Dragon Boat Festival has given Hsu the chance to highlight the contributions of Chinese culture, especially in a state where Asians make up only 3.2 percent of the population. “I love that so many people are learning about our culture,” she says.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you work hard and want to contribute, you will be welcome here.”
Immigrants overall make a sizeable contribution to the economic health of the region. Nearly 343,000 immigrants contribute $2.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes, and nearly 21,000 have started their own businesses, according to research by New American Economy. Hsu holds an executive MBA from the University of Colorado Denver, and her company, Pacific Western Technologies, makes roughly $10 million annually and employs 75 people. She’s proud how the city supports businesses started by minorities, which include several immigrant communities, by helping them bid for government contracts. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you work hard and want to contribute, you will be welcome here,” she says.