By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Let‘s start with the worst of 2019. I save the “best” for last, like having dessert to complete a meal. This will help us to focus on more positive news of 2019, and feel hopeful in the New Year.
But it was not easy to choose the worst news in our community. You decide which scenarios are the worst, which ones are redeemable, and which ones are after all —not so terrible—as they might yield happy endings years from now.
The fight on I-1000
While numerous Chinese immigrants from Mainland China initiated the opposition for I-1000, and petitioned it to be on the ballot (known as Referendum 88), for fear that it would discriminate Chinese Americans for college admissions and job opportunities, prominent Asian American leaders, including former Gov. Gary Locke, endorsed the initiative to protect affirmative action and support minority businesses to attain government contracts. The goal was to achieve equity for all people of color, and not just Chinese Americans. Ref. 88 was rejected in Washington state by a slim margin of 25,000 votes.
Those rejecting Ref. 88 are perceived as selfish and narrow-minded. Based on a limited vision that “if you gain, I lose,” rather than, “if we work and lift each other up, everyone wins.” Our society will be stronger and healthier in the long run. What these Chinese immigrants lack is the ability to view diversity as a strength, and the skills to build coalitions with communities of color. They reached out to Republicans for funds and support. I have received complaints from diverse groups, accusing Chinese immigrants rejecting Ref. 88 as being naive and ignorant.
Let me clarify that Chinese immigrants have diverse origins, they are not just from China, but all over the world, including Southeast Asia. I am a Chinese immigrant, too, raised in Hong Kong, and I favored I-1000. My mission is to support people of color, and learn and share from many ethnic and cultural groups. I like to collaborate with diverse communities to find solutions for the common good.
How am I able to nurture a mind of inclusivity, while others fail to do so? That should be a separate story. And I intend to share it later.
The closing of Keiro nursing home
It was the biggest shock for many of us, and the worst news of the year. It’s not something that we could ever imagine would happen to this community.
In late 2018, the Northwest Asian Weekly was the first media outlet to publish a story about Keiro NW’s trouble. Founded four decades ago for Japanese Americans, it was the pride of the Asian community.
The Keiro board reacted with anger, and instantly demanded a meeting with us. At the meeting, one board member repeatedly reminded us that Keiro was a five-star nursing home facility, much better than the Kin On Chinese nursing home. Keiro had inspired the Chinese community to start Kin On nursing home in 1985.
Since the founding of Kin On, the Chinese community has referred Keiro as the “bigger brother.” “We learned from Keiro,” said Sam Wan, former Kin On CEO. “Tomio Moriguchi helped us to launch Kin On.” Ironically, the bigger brother not only shut down, the whole building is now sold and will be torn down.
The monumental effort of Keiro’s seven founders and the community has now been reduced to rubble.
Keiro’s demise was unnecessary.
“Keiro could have been saved with the right people (board and management),” said former board member Fred Kiga. It didn’t help that the former CEO was getting a $400,000 salary with the specific task of shutting down Keiro, and threatening people with a lawsuit if employees talked to outsiders about Keiro. Also, some board members didn’t have the community’s interest at heart, according to more than one source. It is heartbreaking to hear those comments, and hard to accept that Keiro doesn’t exist anymore.
Instead of engaging their efforts in saving Keiro, some Asian community members resorted to the “blame game.” They protested Tomio Moriguchi, co-founder of Keiro and former chairman of Uwajimaya, right outside its store. C’mon, if you investigate, you would find that Moriguchi wasn’t the cause of Keiro’s closure. The board asked Moriguchi to return to lead Keiro board in late 2018, to save Keiro. It was too late. Keiro’s financial trouble was too deep, losing tens of thousands of dollars each day, since the state’s reduction of Medicaid reimbursement for clients in 2008-2009. Keiro’s problems were way beyond any one person’s ability to solve. Past Keiro leadership should have foreseen its budget shortfalls coming and taken precautions years ago. Kin On leaders knew a long time ago that nursing homes relying on state support, is never a sustainable model. Kin On started its home care service to diversify and supplement its revenue base in the 1997.
Protest at Koda’s grand opening
Koda Condominiums’ ground breaking ceremony was met with a protest organized by Interim and CID Coalition. Founded by a Taiwan company, Koda project is designed for a 17-story, market-rate condos at 450 South Main Street in Japantown, part of the International District (ID). The activists said the reason for the protest is due to gentrification, displacement, and affordability.
It created an outrage among Chinese community members as some non-English speaking Chinese seniors didn’t know they were carrying a sign with an expletive expletive during the protest. Some claimed seniors were misled and used. A couple of seniors told Nora Chan, founder of Seniors in Action Foundation, that they didn’t know what the protest was about. One senior told the Asian Weekly why she protested, “[Koda] wants to occupy Chinatown, we won’t let them.”
Wow, can Koda have the power to take over the entire Chinatown!? One CID member claimed that Koda has contributed nothing to the community, and the $4.4 million upzoning funds went to the City directly. Not true. Koda had paid Hirabayashi Place LLC $248,000 for construction easements, plus legal and engineering fees.
22 robbery cases in the ID
Public safety is a problem in the ID, especially after dark. In early 2019, there were 22 robberies at ID businesses, and the suspect broke glass and doors. Surveillance cameras showed that it was done by the same female suspect. During the middle of the year, a male suspect broke into a restaurant’s safe and stole a substantial amount of cash. A few months ago, someone broke into several businesses and the library, within a week. Several residents, young and old, told me that they were afraid to venture out in the evening. One night, I was driving my employee back to Nihonmachi Apartment at 651 South Main Street after 10 p.m. I saw a man sitting inside the Danny Woo Garden. The only reason I saw his head was because of his light-colored hat. My employee said other residents have complained about suspicious men sitting inside some cars blocking both sides of the road about 5 a.m.
One ID apartment manager told the Asian Weekly, every Monday, when he walks around the building, he finds a mess created by homeless camps next to the freeway. He saw evidence of them disrupting the building, including filling the building’s nooks and corners with garbage, sleeping in them with their sheets and leaving them behind, and trying to break into the garage and entryway with hard objects.
A contested election
When their own candidates lost in the International Special Review District (ISRD) board election last November, Interim challenged the results. Interim’s letter stated that Chinese seniors said Beth Ku influenced their votes on site. Four seniors later said that they didn’t know their names were being used in the letter, and they were unaware of Ku’s inappropriate behavior.
The winners of the election were Faye Hong, Matt Chan, and Russ Williams. I don’t know much about Williams. But Hong and Chan’s enormous volunteer work and spirit clearly stand out.
When someone loses an election, be it small or big, the least he/she can do is to show some grace.
Take a long view: Learn from it, and move on. And if you run again, you know you can count on those from the other side to support you, not fight you. Those candidates who lost are young. Regardless of their motive, I give credit for their willingness to run. Whoever came up with the idea to challenge the results is short-sighted and not thinking strategically. With the internet, you will be remembered as “the bad egg” for years to come! The decision to contest reveals pettiness and destroys goodwill.
The ISRD board election is held every year, and more than one seat is usually open. There are countless opportunities to serve. Sooner or later, it will be your turn.
Leadership void in our community
The protest, Ref. 88, and the contested election illustrate a divided Asian community. Divisiveness is evident between Chinatown community leaders and activists; businesses and younger Asian Americans; and Chinese immigrants from China and the greater Asian community.
It’s not that we don’t have leaders in the community, but leaders who could bring opposing groups to the table to talk and listen to one another. Those leaders have died in the past few years. Or they are no longer active. And the gap among different interest groups is growing bigger and bigger.
Cold Lunar New Year canceling all our new year events
Freezing temperatures and snow in January and February struck Seattle, forcing many Lunar New Year community events to be canceled. Traditionally, Lunar New Year is the busiest time of the year for many ID businesses. The snow hit them hard financially.
Donnie Chin’s murder still unsolved
Donnie Chin, a community hero and volunteer patrol of the ID, was murdered in 2015. A victim of rival gangs’ crossfire, Chin died during his patrol at night. His murderer is still at large.
The community cannot be at peace until Chin’s murderer is caught.
Empty streetcars in the ID
Everytime a streetcar passes through the ID, I can‘t help but notice that there are few to no passengers.
What a waste of taxpayer money! In addition, it takes away valuable road space for other vehicles. The traffic signs on South Jackson Avenue and 5th Avenue South are confusing. The road is already crowded with gigantic trucks, buses, motorcycles, cars, and bikes. Presently, the mess poses nothing but risks and frustration for pedestrians and drivers.
I hope City Hall is reading this.
Next week: The best of 2019.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.