By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Mayor Jenny Durkan had planned to speak at Gov. Jay Inslee’s press conference in Chinatown to denounce anti-Asian hate on Mar. 22. It didn’t happen. API Chaya announced that a rally would be held on the same day, time, and place as the governor’s event a few days prior.
To avoid the conflict, the governor’s office quietly sent out a press release to change its venue to Renton City Hall, two days before the event. It didn’t make sense for Durkan to drive 12 miles away from Seattle, to a smaller city, in size and population, to condemn racism towards Asian Americans when Seattle has the largest Asian population (over 125,000 in 2019) in the state. Seattle is about seven times bigger than Renton in population.
The missed opportunity probably made the mayor eager to find a way to do something meaningful for the Asian community.
Night Watch invited Durkan
Enter Community Night Watch, a volunteer group who patrols the Chinatown-International District (ID) from 9 to 11 p.m. three times a week, reached out to the mayor for an ID visit recently. Tanya Woo, one of the leads for many community watch groups, told the Northwest Asian Weekly she wanted Durkan to see for herself the ID’s public safety issues and the need for resources, including social workers to de-escalate crises with the homeless in the neighborhood.
The mayor and her team arrived on March 25, three days after Durkan was supposed to speak at Hing Hay Park. The last time Durkan showed up for an official visit to the ID was the day after splinter groups from the Black Lives Matter protest looted the area last May. She brought her department heads, including the police chief, to meet and support nonprofit organizations. So much has changed since then! The community has been struggling even more.
The ID’s ordeal began as early as January 2020, before the City’s COVID lockdown in March. The public’s fear of the virus (with its origin from Wuhan, China) kept crowds away from Chinatown, and businesses have suffered since then. Racism in different forms, such as vandalism and anti-Asian graffiti, were smeared on several buildings.
The pandemic and lockdown have taken a toll on the once vibrant community. Durkan witnessed it in her walk and talk with the community members.
And the year has been hard on the mayor, too, as the city wriggled through turmoils with Cal Anderson Park being seized and many City Councilmembers pressuring her to defund the police department, resulting in Chief Carmen Best’s resignation. Durkan announced last December that she was not going to seek a second term, citing that she couldn’t deal with both the pandemic and a re-election campaign.
Despite the challenges, Durkan said one of her burdens has gone—no more Trump. The former president had threatened to defund Seattle from federal grants, and constantly criticized Durkan.
The mayor’s visit
This time, Durkan’s visit was low-key compared to the one before. Its security and staff, including Michael Fong, senior deputy mayor, and Adrian Diaz, the new police chief, outnumbered community members who went along with her. The mayor roamed through a boarded up neighborhood with tarnished storefronts of graffiti, closed businesses, homeless camps, and trash.
Last time, Asian American supporters of BLM showed up at Maynard Avenue, blaming Durkan for police brutality during the downtown BLM protest. Although Durkan invited the group to chat with her afterwards, and said she would investigate what happened, the activists kept yelling. She cut her visit short. Shouting serves no purpose. It gets nothing done.
This time, Durkan’s walk started from Danny Woo Garden to Jackson Street, passing through King Street and 7th Avenue, exiting back to Jackson, and to Little Saigon.
Action followed the walk
Fong summed up the community’s needs—“Several areas of …focus: Jackson and King under I-5, lighting throughout the ID, and the overall need for more activating public spaces and supporting businesses and residents as we begin to move into recovery from the pandemic.”
He said Durkan is “committed to making more City resources available …immediately,” including initiating “efforts to make $1 million in grants to community organizations, services, and programs aimed at addressing anti-Asian hate and violence.” The mayor’s office sent out a press release to confirm its commitment for community funding on March 30.
Fong said the City will be increasing our funding to the ICHS PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Center by an additional $500,000 (on top of $1 million secured for the project at the end of 2019) to help build the nation’s first aging-in-place program for the API community on North Beacon Hill.
What Durkan didn’t see
The mayor could never know of all the tragedies. One occurred not far from where her group gathered before the walk. Blood was splattered on the street three days before. A man ended his own life by jumping out of a balcony. We may never know why, but neighbors suspected that the deceased suffered from depression due to the pandemic and his illness. (The Asian Weekly, following Associated Press ethics guidelines, does not report on suicides unless it involves someone well-known or unusual circumstances.)
In 2020, several businesses suffered from break-ins, not just once. One nonprofit organization in Little Saigon was targeted seven times, even with double locks. All the computers were stolen, along with donated gifts.
Numerous restaurants are fighting to survive. Even though the state has allowed them to open at 50% dine-in capacity, they haven’t done so.
“We can’t open until all people get innoculated,” one restaurateur told me. “We can’t afford the risks.” For some restaurants that open for take-outs, they close more days than not. “The business is not there. We don’t have the traffic we used to.”
More than 10 businesses have closed for good. One was Ambrosia, the first bubble tea shop in Washington state which opened in 1997. Half of Uwajimaya’s food court restaurants have vanished, including Saigon Bistro that had been with Uwajimaya since it moved to its new headquarters in 1998.
The good news is, many new restaurants have opened on South King Street, and most of them are located inside Louisa Hotel.
Perhaps the best news is the lower number of COVID cases in the ID. (Seattle continues to record the lowest cases of COVID-19 and one of the lowest spread, compared to the other top 30 major cities.) Those who have been infected with COVID residing or working in the ID, which I am aware of, have recovered. Most people wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines. Many seniors are still isolated, and afraid to walk out of their apartment. Nonprofit organizations have been doing substantial work in reaching out to seniors for education and vaccination. More and more seniors are getting vaccinated each day.
Reactions after the walk
Police Chief Diaz, who accompanied Durkan, said, “The walk provided insights to the impacts of hate and bias that have affected our AAPI community. The Seattle Police Department will work to hold those accountable for bias crimes. We stand with our AAPI community, there is no place for hate.”
“The ID has faced enormous challenges over the last year,” said Michael Itti, CISC
Executive Director. “During the walk, we talked about ideas to improve public safety and promote the neighborhood. Addressing these issues over the long-term will require robust conversation with community and city leaders to develop community-based solutions.”
“It‘s always good to be down here and walk around,” said Durkan. “It has been a hard year…
We have a lot of work to do. The whole city has got to commit to improving things. We need to have a grand opening, get people down here, close the streets, help the businesses, take the boards down, and have everybody out at once… and music… We have to be super creative… This is our generation’s task, we have to come back and be stronger and preserve what’s important. This community has been through a lot for many, many generations.“
What a great idea! Mayor, please join us on our grand opening day.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proposed $1.5 million investment for AAPI community
SEATTLE — Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and the Seattle City Council are proposing $1.5 million to support older adults and address the increase in hate crimes and bias aimed at the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Seattle.
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said the funds “must be part of the ongoing response for actions, not just words, as we work towards systematically uprooting racism, xenophobia, and hate from our city.”
The councilmembers and Durkan are proposing to provide funds to community organizations that offer counseling and mental health support, support community coalition building, and develop innovative strategies that support community and combat hate. Grants will be available for youth-led projects that focus on issues of racism, discrimination, and bias. The City also proposes to provide support to businesses impacted by anti-Asian hate, along with funding toward crime prevention work.
“Chinese Information and Service Center (CISC) joined the Coalition Against Hate and Bias in mid-2020 in response to the rise in anti-Asian racism. With the underreporting of hate incidents and crimes, we wanted to provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services for community members to report their experiences and seek assistance,” said Michael Itti, executive director of CISC. “In addition to reporting, the coalition members can advocate together and develop community-based strategies in response to hate and bias incidents. Resources to strengthen and expand the coalition are needed to support capacity-building and the inclusion of more languages and ethnic groups.”
Additional funds will go to strategies to support community wellness and community safety, including bystander training and a public safety campaign.
“This investment will help continue to help our communities heal and move towards action,” said Maiko Winkler-Chin, executive director of Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda).
The City is also proposing to provide an additional $500,000 to AiPACE, a partnership started by International Community Health Services (ICHS), to construct a new senior care facility on North Beacon Hill.
ICHS Foundation Executive Director Heidi Wong said, “As AAPI elders continue to experience disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, compounded by anti-Asian violence which has plagued our community for generations, ICHS is committed to addressing their immediate needs while developing a long-term solution through the AiPACE project.