By Curtis S. Chin
For Northwest Asian Weekly
As families plan reunions and gather in homes across the Pacific Northwest this month to celebrate the most American of holidays — Thanksgiving — the Seattle area offers up one more reason and special means to celebrate the richness and diversity of people who have built this city and region.
And that is the Wing Luke Museum — or more formally known as the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience — a gem of an institution located in the heart of the International District. Named in honor of the late Wing Luke, who joined the Seattle City Council in 1962 and became the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest, the museum is the region’s first affiliate to the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Whether Asian American or not, long-time residents or newcomers to Washington state, every visitor to Seattle should visit this unique institution that remains very much a part of the neighborhood around it. Its exploration of pan-Asian Pacific issues related to art, culture and history is also an exploration of immigration and assimilation, The visit may well resonate with families, no matter where one’s ancestors came from.
Earlier this autumn, more than 100 members of my own extended Chin family clan returned to the Seattle area for our first ever Chin family reunion. I would travel on to Ellensburg and Yakima with my father, aunt, and cousin, retracing my dad’s childhood journey and following in the footsteps of relatives and ancestors from long ago.
But first up on the agenda was a visit to the Wing Luke for a presentation and tour. From the tales of early Filipino immigrants who worked in Pacific fisheries and became driving forces as activists and community organizers to the stories of Japanese Americans who tragically and wrongly lost their livelihoods and their freedom during World War II, the Wing Luke is a compelling and moving visit.
Inmi Kim, development officer at the museum, tells me that ours might not have been the first family reunion to work a museum visit into its itinerary, but it might well have been one of the largest hosted by the museum. Notable among other reunion tours was that of the Louie family, who actually inhabited the Canton Alley apartment — accessible through the museum’s theater or from outside in the alley — which is part of the museum’s historic space.
To help mark our family reunion, last August Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn back noted that “for its entire history, through decades of success and disappointment alike, Seattle has attracted people from around the world who bring new ideas and new energy, adding to the city’s dynamism and vibrancy.” For us, that has included some six generations of our family, descendants of Gong Cok Han Chin and Yan Hong, both born back in Toisan, China.
Like many a Pacific Northwest family, our members have pursued lives and careers as diverse as the region, from Boeing engineer to teacher in the Seattle public school system.
For nearly four years, under both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, I had the honor to serve as the fourth U.S. ambassador of Chinese heritage, after the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed me as U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, based in Manila, Philippines. Former Washington state governor Gary Locke not so long after became our fifth Chinese-American ambassador when he was named our nation’s envoy to Beijing.
Yet, whether in government, in business, or in a myriad of other professions, and from home making to restaurants and factory floors, individuals and families from the Pacific Northwest are making a difference.
“Whereas, the success of future generations rests on all that has been accomplished by those who came before, including [those] who came to Seattle while fleeing war or persecution, or simply to pursue a better life,” the mayor proclaimed, “I encourage all those in Seattle to reflect on the importance of family and community….”
Mayors may come and go, as Mayor McGinn and his two predecessors have found. But family and communities endure. And those are words of wisdom to reflect upon. That’s also something all of us can give thanks for this fourth Thursday in November — to be followed perhaps this season with a visit to the Wing Luke. (end)
Curtis S. Chin served as U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2007-2010) and is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC. He has family throughout the Pacific Northwest.