Friday, June 13, 2008

Seattle: A Pan-Asian City

If you arrive in Seattle via SeaTac’s north or south satellite you will quickly discern that you are in an international city when taking the subway to the main terminal to collect your luggage. Over the loudspeakers and the digital monitors you will hear and see directions provided in Chinese and Japanese as well as English affirming that this city is America’s Portal to the Pacific. While recently I have noted messages in other languages when landing in other cities’ airports, providing directions in Chinese and Japanese is a long-standing tradition at SeaTac.

However, Seattle isn’t simply a destination for visitors from Pacific Rim nations; this is in many ways an Asian-American city. Americans of Asian heritage have been rooted in the Puget Sound region for quite some time and today at least 17 percent of Seattle’s residents identify themselves as Asian American (not including the significant representation of the 7 percent who identify as multicultural who are of Asian heritage.) Descendents of Asian immigrants helped build much of Seattle and much of what Seattle is today reflects Asian forefathers. Bon Odori festivals and the Lunar New Year are parts of the annual calendar to which all Seattleites look forward.

There are a large number of wonderful sites to visit in Seattle that reflect the Asian American influence. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is located in lovely Volunteer Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. The Art Deco facility was originally the main Seattle Art Museum (now downtown – the Seattle Asian Art Museum is one of SAM’s 3 branches) and holds one of the finest collections of Asian Art in the United States. Its Taste Café is a great place to enjoy tea and the park in front of the view provides a commanding view of Seattle and Elliott Bay. It is also steps from the Volunteer Park Conservatory with its five houses: Bromeliad, Fern, Palm, Cactus and a Season Display House.

The recently relocated Wing Luke Museum in the International District focuses on the history, culture, and art of the Puget Sound’s Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. There is a lot of buzz in Seattle about the new facility which we have been looking forward to for some time. Its location -- the International District – was originally named Chinatown. It is perhaps the only area in the continental United States where Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, African Americans, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Cambodians, settled together and built one neighborhood. Today it remains a cultural hub for the Asian American community, but what the visitor will note is that rather than an Epcot like idealized version of a Chinatown it remains a working class neighborhood, largely inhabited by recent immigrants. Today significant numbers of Vietnamese, Ethiopian, and Somalian immigrants live there, hence the moniker the “ID”. As you would expect it is a destination for great Asian restaurants and bakeries. Should you visit the International District a must stop is its phenomenal, family owned Japanese supermarket Uwajimaya (which is really an Asian specialty market – this week they are featuring Filipino food). The produce and seafood are incredible, and it includes a Japanese bookstore.

Seattle is devoted to horticulture, and the city is full of magnificent public and private gardens, in part attributable to the Asian aesthetic. Specifically reflecting the Asian influence is the 3.5 acre formal Seattle Japanese Garden located in the Washington State Arboretum. It was designed and constructed under the supervision of world-renowned Japanese garden designer Juki Iida in 1960.

The sites above represent only a drop in the bucket concerning the many sites that reflect Asian American culture and contributions in Seattle; actually the Asian influence pervades most of this city.

Michael K. McKeon
Dean of Admissions
Seattle University