By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On April 28, it rained as I peeked out the window in the morning. “Oh no,” I thought. It was the annual cleanup day in the International District (ID). Will volunteers show up? Rain can ruin outdoor events, including picnics, weddings, hiking and biking, and even protests.
As I strolled through South King Street, rain destroyed the beautiful pink “silk carpet,” made of cherry blossom petals on the ground in the ID. Before 9 a.m., hundreds of seniors and others had already gathered at Hing Hay Park. The loyal volunteers were ready to work, holding brooms and pans, and garbage bags. Some have volunteered for years. The ID got a facelift after the cleanup. I had never seen the workers so cheerful and giving. It’s quite a testament to community effort, collaboration, and team building.
Under the I-5 freeway parking lot, Seattle Public Utilities crews were collecting electronic waste.
Folks could discard their computers, television sets, electric heaters, and furniture. Anything big was welcome. Thanks to the City, businesses and residents got rid of junk, while saving money. Believe me, you have to pay someone to come pick up that waste, and many would not pick up small quantities.
In the afternoon, I passed by A Piece of Cake and learned the bad news. Owner-baker Andy Meng said April 30 would be his last day. The eatery was sold to two young men.
“It’s time to go,” Meng said. “We are victims of Seattle’s high minimum wage law. A bakery is not a restaurant, which can increase prices to cover its operating costs. The most we can increase is a quarter. But restaurants can increase prices by a dollar or more. And tips can make up for a restaurant’s wages. People would rather work in restaurants than bakeries. I couldn’t hire enough help.
“Then the garbage is another challenge. We have to divide them into compost and other things for recycling. I have to do everything. Seattle’s climate hurts many small businesses. At the end of the day, it’s just no fun because I have to work so hard and long.”
The other ID bakeries, Yummy House Bakery and Cake House, face the same challenges. Owners have to do everything, including selling and cleaning up.
I then hurried off to attend the Interim dinner, “Building Community Power Together,” at the Bell Harbor Conference Center. There were about 250 people, smaller than some other ID agency fundraising dinners. But the supporters were enthusiastic. They were there to honor the late Bob Santos, Interim’s founder. More than 10 ID projects over four decades are connected to Santos. Also, the recipient of the Santos Leadership in Sustainability Awards was Diane Narasaki, who had announced her retirement from Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) in October.
As executive director of ACRS, Narasaki is instrumental in creating and spearheading many programs to empower the community, and not just its agency. She is fearless and determined to fight against social injustice.
Attendees watched a compelling video produced by Matt Chan before the auction began. Chan, who owned a production company prior to his retirement, produced an incredibly moving story about displacement, for free. The cinematography was beautiful, showing the new heights and angles of the ID from a drone. The ID is so fascinating through his camera lens.
I also want to acknowledge Amy and Andrew Liu. Of the 10 auction items in the program, Andrew Liu — Interim’s board chair — donated five, expensive trips. His generosity is a nice example to those who lead nonprofit organizations. Don’t just enjoy the visibility. Do something, set examples, and give to make a difference. When asked why he is so generous, “Why, I am the board president!” he proudly replied. The gala raised a total of $150,000.
People often ask what I do exactly, as publisher of the Northwest Asian Weekly, besides writing my weekly column. Well, I get to see the community in action, dynamic leaders like Narasaki and many others, who shape the history of the Asian community. With this privilege, I am constantly in awe of humanity. I thank God every day for being inspired and transformed to be a better human being.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.