Today’s International District southeast of downtown Seattle is a far cry from the race riot-ravaged neighborhood of the 1880s. Its streets are no longer battlefields of white mobs and Chinese immigrants, but the boundaries of a unified, colorful, bustling district celebrating Seattle’s Asian influence. It is one of the city’s oldest and most visited neighborhoods.
The 1800s saw an immense disparity between the quality of lives of Chinese laborers and white settlers. When the economic recession hit in the mid-1880s, Asian immigrants who had been brought to help build the city received the brunt of white resentment arising from the lack of available jobs. Anti-immigration regulation plugged the influx of foreign workers, and many already inhabiting the district were evicted.
The city’s Asian population began rebounding in the 1930s, and Chinatown and Japan Town were established soon after. Once a humble plot of land, the International District now covers an area of approximately 30 street blocks. It is bordered by Fifth Avenue to the west, Boren and Rainier Avenues to the east, South Dearborn Street to the south, and South Main Street to the north. Inhabitants include people of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Taiwanese, Filipino, and Burmese descent. The neighborhood is also home to smaller percentages of Caucasians, Hispanics, and African Americans.
Ethnic grocery stores and specialty food markets like the popular Asian supermarket Uwajimaya offer a taste of Asian culture. Dim sum and bubble tea joints, August night markets, art galleries, and year-round festivals are the pulse of the district. Hing Hay Park is a brick-paved meeting area with a grand pavilion built in Taiwan, a gathering place for Tai-Chi practitioners and pensive chess players pondering their next moves. Giant red-and-yellow columns painted with dragonflies and carp stand like sentries between Little Saigon and Chinatown. Kobe Terrace, a public park located on the northeast edge of the district, is adorned with Mt. Fuji cherry trees, ground vines, and a four-ton, 200-year-old stone lantern from Kobe, Japan.
The neighborhood has held a Summer Festival every second weekend of July since 1975. It features arts and crafts booths, family activities, cultural dances, live music, and a karaoke competition. Those visiting in late January or early February can catch the annual Lunar New Year Celebration, in which ornately costumed dragon dancers march beneath strings of red paper lanterns while and adults and children throw firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.
Ninety-minute guided walking tours of Chinatown are offered Tuesday through Saturday all year.