Seattle Chinatown residents fighting to protect the neighborhood

CID residents have worked to protect Seattle’s historic neighborhood since the early 1900s.

SEATTLE — Residents of historic Chinatown International District are asking to be included in discussions about a new light rail project in or near their neighborhood.

This is one of the latest projects in the decades-long struggle of those who see the area as home to keep their culture, identity and place alive in Seattle.

inside Autumn 2022Neighborhood members and supporters of Chinatown International District, also known as CID, opposed the plan to build a 500-bed shelter that the community did not want.

This isn’t the first time CID’s residents have fought to protect their neighborhood.

Longtime journalist Ron Chew says the neighborhood advocacy can be traced back to the 1970s during Kingdome’s construction. He recalls the day it blew up in 2000.

“It was a day where it was like wow,” said Chew. “I’m not lost.”

WATCH: The Fall of Kingdome in 2000

But Chew said CID residents were ready to take action in the 1970s to prevent its construction in the first place.

“I reported on the protests against the construction of Kingdome,” Chew said. “Traffic impact. The closing of hotels, all that.”

Chew considers it one of the first examples of Asian-American activism inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. CID locals are sick and tired of what they see as racist land-use policies and they are ready to fight for it.

“I think that’s the beginning of people speaking up,” said Chew.

Tessa Hulls, a visual artist and historian, currently has a exhibition at the Wing Luke Museum in CID explores themes of racism and development that threaten to wipe out marginalized communities.

“I think the Pan-Asian activist group has really rallied around Kingdome, which is a group of community residents who really say, ‘no, we live here. This is ours,'” Hulls said. “The pattern that I’ve seen is that over and over again, you see people come in and want to use the land in a way that’s commercially beneficial and it doesn’t benefit the people who are there and use it.”

But the encroachment of CID began more than a hundred years ago. Projects like Jackson Regrade and the 2nd Avenue extension at Washington Street were pushed out and replaced Seattle’s first Chinatown in the early 1900s.

“That Second Avenue extension eventually wiped out the ruins of that original Chinatown,” says Chew.

Gallery: The original construction projects that transformed Seattle’s Chinatown

Chew said the first Asian-American pioneers in Seattle moved southeast to King Street, where the current CID exists today.

“So Chinatown is just starting to emerge here,” says Chew.

Historians trace the 1960s as a time when another project hit the neighborhood heavily.

Despite community concerns, the state crossed the area with an I-5 flyover that cut the neighborhood in half, closed businesses and changed the neighborhood’s landscape, leaving residents at that feels powerless.

“You’re talking about low-income people, elderly people, many of whom don’t speak English, immigrant families who work in garment factories and restaurants, they won’t say no,” Chew said. speak. “They don’t even know this is happening.”

Chew wrote a Memoir about his family’s roots in Seattle’s Chinatown dating back to 1911. He knows about the difficult realities that families have to endure over time.

“I think there’s a danger in the way people perceive International Chinatown in that you know, there’s the feeling that this is a tourist spot where you can buy some souvenirs and choose weird Chinese food that you love,” says Chew. “It’s not simply restaurants. It’s a neighborhood with people who live here have lived here for a long time and call this their home.”

People like Nora Chan.

Chan moved to the US from Hong Kong 37 years ago and has lived in Seattle’s CID for 20 years.

“I don’t feel like they’re foreign to me and they don’t feel foreign to me either,” said Chan

A widow with four children and 13 grandchildren, Chan now spends her time helping her neighbors and regularly delivering food to elderly people who also consider CID home.

Recently, Chan had something to say to Sound Transit.

In recent months, she has spoken in public comments at Sound Transit board meetings to oppose the construction of a light rail extension stop in the CID.

“Great transit is essential for our Chinatown,” Chan told the board.

Existing light rail expansion plans include proposals that could run through the neighborhood and a decade of construction to go with it.

This time, the neighborhood is ready. Some have expressed concern about the proposed construction on 5th Avenue. Some groups support a new stop along 4th Avenue, as long as it benefits the neighborhood.

Some in CID know that a new Sound Transit station is inevitable. This time, they want to be included in the conversation.

Chan hopes his voice will teach young people to continue supporting CID.

“You know, one day I’m leaving,” Chan said. “So does that mean the end? No! You know we want to continue. But how do we go on is we have to teach our younger generation.”

Edmuns DeMars

Edmund DeMarche is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Edmund DeMarche joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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