Photo depicting a museum visitor holding a white frame to slide across a map with strings.

Wing Luke’s ‘Nobody Lives Here’ and ‘Resistance at Home’ Take a Look at Sound Transit and the Future of the CID

“This false assertion that the CID isn’t a residential neighborhood has been used over and over again to justify harmful infrastructure projects being placed there,” says artist Tessa Hulls.

by Amanda Ong

On April 8, the Wing Luke Museum debuted two new exhibits, “Nobody Lives Here,” with art and text by artist Tessa Hulls, and “Resistance at Home,” an exhibit by the museum’s cohort of YouthCAN students. The exhibits are distinct but contain interconnected themes. “Nobody Lives Here” looks at the 1960s and the construction of I-5 through the Chinatown-International District, as well as its resounding effects, and connects it to national projects of urban renewal that have come at the detriment of low-income neighborhoods of color. Meanwhile, “Resistance at Home” features artwork from members of the museum’s youth program, who were asked to reflect on the history of resistance in the CID and what “resistance” and “home” mean to them personally.  

“The title ‘Nobody Lives Here’ is taken from Bob Santos’ memoir,” artist Tessa Hulls said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald, speaking of late CID civil rights activist Uncle Bob Santos. “This false assertion that the CID isn’t a residential neighborhood has been used over and over again to justify harmful infrastructure projects being placed there … when the people who live here are just not people who are given political power.”

The exhibit takes on the style of blueprints and engineering fonts, maps of the CID before and after I-5, and drawings of CID residents with their quotes on the impact of I-5’s construction on their lives and businesses. Hulls, whose graphic memoir coming out in March 2024 is a personal window into a significant time in Chinese history, prides her ability to distill complex narratives into something that’s more easily digestible. Her skills show through “Nobody Lives Here,” as the visual elements of the show clarify connections between the construction of I-5 and the broader history of infrastructure. As it is, Hulls says the existing infrastructure has made the CID unrecognizable from what it once was — regrades across the neighborhood have transformed its landscape. The entire neighborhood was once level with Uwajimaya’s underground parking lot. 

“Low-income Communities of Color couldn’t really mount any political opposition,” Hulls said. “I really wanted viewers to see the CID as a case study and learn about this larger narrative of how this has been the playbook of how infrastructure decisions are made.” 

“Nobody Lives Here” also draws clear connections to current events and infrastructure decisions affecting the CID. Currently, the proposed placement of a future CID light rail station has caused heated debate, with community activists saying the initial sites proposed on Fourth and Fifth avenues would be detrimental to the economic and social health of the CID. 

“Unfortunately, where things seem to have gone is where they so often do, in that there’s disagreement even among community groups in the CID,” Hulls said. “And because of the decisions that were made in the past, there is no good option, any site is going to cause harm. … What we need to really be campaigning for and asking for is the funding to really try and mitigate that harm. The money is out there, it’s just a matter of actually getting it to the community.” 

“Resistance at Home” takes a complementary approach in its youth education. This year’s YouthCAN program takes its name from the 1960s anti-war movement and American imperialism in Asia, asking how Asian Americans have resisted imperialism in their home countries while also recognizing their existence in the United States. This was also YouthCAN’s first in-person season of programming since the pandemic began, allowing students to learn new forms of art, like screen printing, in person, and to have a voice in the display of their work in the exhibit. The exhibit opening also featured a screen printing station, allowing visitors to take home a souvenir designed by students. 

Photo depicting a group of youth artists and others viewing an exhibit artwork.
YouthCAN’s “Resistance at Home” featured screen prints, sculptures, linocuts, and more made by youth artists around the ideas of what resistance and home mean to them. The exhibit opening also included a screen print station for guests to bring home a copy of student artwork. (Photo: Myra Ly-Au Young)

YouthCAN’s programming this year was highly collaborative with local community members. The students were able to go on a Walking Tour of Filipino History in the CID; speak with activists from Puget Sound Sage on the effects of the Black Lives Matter movement on the neighborhood; visit Auntie Connie at the oldest shop in the CID, Sun May Co.; and learn from the artists at flower flower, a CID-based, queer, trans, Pasifika- and Asian-owned artist space.

“[These groups] have brought in so much light and love into the space,” YouthCAN assistant Meilani Mandery said to the Emerald. “All of their practices are so deeply rooted in their cultures and in their home. And it’s really important for young artists to see that art isn’t some bourgeoisie white activity that they partake in, but rather, our work can be rooted in our cultures. … I think having the understanding that art has always been a part of our history, that [resistance] has always been how we exist in the United States, I think that is a history and a framing that is intentionally not taught to us.”

Photo depicting a group of youth members of flower flower posing in a gallery space.
This year’s YouthCAN teaching assistants were members of flower flower, a CID-based, queer, trans, Pasifika- and Asian-owned artist space. (Photo: Jessica Rubenacker)

Asian Americans often are labeled the “model minority,” which prescribes all Asian Americans to be hardworking and successful immigrants. Mandery says some Asian Americans are happy to accept this label as a success, when in reality, Asian American neighborhoods and communities are still under threat. Both of these exhibits reflect the history of threats to the Asian American community, but also make connections to youth and the future of resistance. 

“If we want to talk about ‘Resistance at Home,’ ‘Nobody Lives Here’ is really a part of that,” Mandery said. “Understanding the conditions that make the CID how it is today, looking at I-5, looking at the Kingdome, looking at redlining and racist restrictive covenants, those are all part of our histories that have material effects today.”

Visit “Nobody Lives Here” through March 2024 and “Resistance at Home” through September 2023 at the Wing Luke Museum at 719 S. King St. YouthCAN’s summer season of programming will run from Aug. 14 to 24. Follow its Instagram for more information about signing up.

This article is published under a Seattle Human Services Department grant, “Resilience Amidst Hate,” in response to anti-Asian violence.

Editor’s Note: The writer was an intern at the Wing Luke Museum and contributed to the research for “Nobody Lives Here.”

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: “Nobody Lives Here” includes interactive maps for guests to view the CID before and after I-5 was built. Strings extend from the map and connect to the testimonies of residents, drawn by Hulls, so guests can see what homes and businesses were displaced by the freeway construction. (Photo courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum.)

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