November 13, 1851: The city of Seattle was settled on in what is now West Seattle. The following year the site was relocated across Elliott Bay near a Duwamish Indian Village. It is from this Native American village that the city received its name: Seattle. This was the name of the chief of the Duwamish, Suquamish, and other tribes in the Puget Sound area. From its birth until today, Seattle has been largely influenced by people of many different ethnicities, races, and cultures.
Part of the city’s main influence hails from Asian descent. Arriving in modest numbers, Seattle’s Asian population settled within the area in the 1800s. Chinese pioneers first arrived in the 1860s and established a Chinese quarter near the waterfront which led to what is now known as Chinatown.
In search of a new destiny, the Chinese immigrants worked in jobs receiving substantially less than their European-descended counterparts. Their work provided a labor force for the lumber mills and fishing operations. They also made significant contributions to the building of the transcontinental railroad. However, an economic downturn in the 1880s resulted in accusations of Chinese immigrants stealing jobs, and they were ultimately driven out of the area through destructive anti-Chinese riots.
Nonetheless, as cities developed and expanded, immigration continued. Pacific Islanders and Filipinos aided in the created of the International District, a complex multi-ethnic urban neighborhood, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Within these communities, one will find traditional decor, such as dragons perched on light posts, ornamental balconies and stone lanterns, that activists have fought to preserve.
In the 1960s, Korean, Vietnamese, and other South and Southeast Asian immigrants settled in what is now known as Little Saigon. The area fuses Pacific Rim cultures with the influence of Asian cultural traditions. This region offers a unique flavor and aesthetic in architecture, the arts, garden design, and regional cuisine.
By the 1970s, developments and legislation had begun to divide and demolish many businesses and neighborhoods within the Asian communities. In 1973, Seattle established the International Special Review District aimed to preserve the area’s Asian influence, history, and culture, and to protect it from unwanted development. Since that time, numerous projects have been launched to revitalize the District including: a community gathering place with a large ornate Chinese pavilion gifted from the people of Taipei, Taiwan; A public park named Kobe Terrace, after Seattle’s sister city of Kobe, Japan; and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience– the only community-based museum in the U.S. dedicated exclusively to the history of pan-Asian Pacific Americans.
Today, Seattle’s Asian influence is thriving and well. The Seattle Chinatown Historic District forms the core of the International Special Review District and includes one of the largest groups of intact pre-World War II buildings reflecting the deep history and historical architecture of this ethnic community.
Mitch Levy has spent nearly 30 years in radio and sports broadcasting after earning a degree in Broadcast Journalism from Syracuse. Read more of his advice for the radio industry or check out his Twitter!