Chinatown-International District is the most culturally distinct neighborhood in Seattle


Chinatown-International District is the most culturally distinct neighborhood in Seattle. The city’s original Chinatown, just east of Pioneer Square, was emptied when white workers forcibly expelled approximately 350 Chinese immigrants in 1886. By the early twentieth century, however, a new community began to evolve south of Jackson Street, bolstered by Seattle’s growing Asian trade and the opening of the King Street and Union Railroad Stations on the edge of the district in 1906 and 1911 respectively.

By 1900 a growing number of Japanese immigrants made the neighborhood their home, followed by Filipino families by the 1920s.

Yet the area also included African Americans who helped give the neighborhood a distinct character; Asian and black businesses were interspersed along Jackson Street and black entertainers performed in Asian-owned clubs or resided in Asian-owned hotels.

The World War II internment of the Japanese again disrupted the community as black war-worker families became a significant part of the population, often occupying homes abandoned by interned Japanese Americans.

The Asian character of the community survived, thanks to the Chinese and growing numbers of Filipinos. The Japanese population, however never recovered to its prewar size.

In 1951 Seattle officials proclaimed the neighborhood the International District to reflect the community’s mix of citizens of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and, ironically, African American ancestry.

By the 1970s change came again to the area with the construction of the Kingdome (imploded in 2000 and replaced by Safeco Field and Qwest Stadium). The District continued to be the cultural center of the Asian community even as many older residents moved away.

New immigrants from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia began to populate the area, forming their own thriving commercial center called “Little Saigon” near Jackson and 12th Avenue. With the largest concentration of Asian restaurants and markets in the city, anchored by the Nippon Kan Theater, the Wing Luke Asian Museum, and Uwajimaya, one of the largest Asian American retailers on the West Coast, Chinatown-International District remains a major Seattle attraction for international visitors and local residents.

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