By Desmond Saisitthidej
Those who go to the International District (ID) on a regular basis know that tourists have become a regular sight. The ID was one of the strongest Asian American communities in the United States and has always been on the forefront of advancing the rights of Asian Americans. Since the ID’s foundation in 1910, generations of different Asian ethnic groups have populated the area.
Even though the ID is referred to by many as “Chinatown,” the Chinese were not the only people to inhabit the area. Immigrants included the Japanese, Filipinos, and Vietnamese. Seattle’s ID has also been the home to important historical landmarks to the Asian American community, such as the first Asian American owned business, the Wa Chong Co. Wa Chong Co. produced opium, a drug that devastated the Chinese population. Nevertheless, an Asian American owned business was unheard of in the 1860s.
The ID is also home to the Wing Luke Museum, dedicated to a former Asian American leader. Wing Luke was very influential in passing the Open Housing
Ordinance in 1963, which allowed people of color to sell, buy, or lease real estate without race being a factor.
The ID has strong community leaders and activists. One of the strongest political influences that the Asian American community has is with former governor of Washington, now ambassador to China, Gary Locke. Locke was born and raised as a Seattle native. Another important member of the community is Bob Santos, the “Feisty Defender of Chinatown.” His strong ties to the community earned him the moniker of “Uncle Bob.”
Currently, 10 percent of the businesses in Seattle are owned by Asian Americans, which is much higher than the national average. Despite this fact, the ID is not thriving as it once was, with stores and businesses in the ID decreasing at an alarming rate.
With the unstable economy and with banks tightening up on loans, it has become harder for businesses to stay open. There are few prominent figures left to defend the ID. With skyscrapers being built every few years just a few blocks away, it seems inevitable that the high-rises of downtown Seattle might slowly push into the ID. It is important to keep the charm and cultural heritage of the area, which can only happen if people continue to visit, shop, eat, and add life and merriment to the community. (end)
Editor’s note: This story was written by a Summer Youth Leadership Program student, not a Northwest Asian Weekly staff member.