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Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month

Seattle Municipal Archives Feature

In May, we celebrate the contributions and heritage of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. The commemoration originated in June 1977 as a congressional bill for a one-week celebration, followed by a Senate bill; President Carter signed a Joint Resolution in October 1978. President George H W Bush extended the week-long celebration into a month-long one in 1992. May marked the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, as well as the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Chinese immigrants made up the majority of workers who laid the tracks.

Chinese immigrants in Seattle came up against discrimination and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, suspending immigration of skilled and unskilled Chinese laborers. Japanese immigrant farmers met prejudice at the Pike Place Market in the first half of the 20th century. City Council attempted unsuccessfully to pass a resolution forbidding non-citizen farmers at the market in 1910. The Japanese protested the resulting lottery system for stalls at the market. Discrimination culminated in the removal and internment of Japanese during World War II.

Seattle’s elected officials slowly began to reflect the city’s Asian community. In 1962, Wing Luke was the first Chinese American in the US mainland to be elected as a City Councilmember. Martha Choe was Seattle’s first Korean-American to serve on City Council, serving from 1992 to 1999.

In later years, the City of Seattle worked to improve opportunities for Asians and Pacific Islanders in Seattle through various programs. The Seattle Model City Program introduced an English as a Second Language program in the Seattle Public Schools, working with the Greater Seattle Asian American Council to teach both adults and children.

Seattle’s more recent interactions with the Asian-Pacific American community are documented in the Seattle Municipal Archives Department of Human Services and Housing and Human Services Department records and relate largely to immigrant communities. In 1991, the Department of Human Services administered Families and Education Levy funding to support the involvement of parents in the education of their children; the Asian/Pacific Islander Parent Education Project was an important part of this work.

 

Farmers, 1936
Seattle Municipal Archives item no. 10390

 

Wing Luke stands fifth from left at the opening of a ramp between Jackson and Main on August 29, 1957.
Seattle Municipal Archives, Item 55218

 

City Councilmember Martha Choe,
March 1999
Seattle Municipal Archives, Item 100210

The Seattle Department of Housing and Human Services, with support from the US Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, initiated Seattle SafeFutures in 1995, providing community support to youth and families in Asian communities, including a Cambodian Girls’ Group (later Help Each Other Reach the Sky or HERS) and Asian/Pacific Islander Diversion Parent Outreach and Support. Both programs received sustained funds after SafeFutures finished. Program outcomes included high school attendance, better grades and fewer domestic violence issues.

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