by Luna Reyna
The Wing Luke Museum was open late on Sept. 14 for an after-hours event for Tsuru for Solidarity, a Japanese American organizing group that supports immigrant and refugee communities “targeted by racist, inhumane, immigration policies.”
The plan was to tour the “Resisters: A Legacy of Movement From the Japanese American Incarceration” exhibit and examine the legacy and learnings of how communities organized around issues of detention and incarceration.
During the introduction of the tour, Wing Luke exhibit developer and program manager for Wing Luke’s youth camp Blake Nakatsu and others began hearing banging noises and then glass shattering.
“I run up to the back of the theater and I look out into the alley and there’s this guy swinging a hammer,” Nakatsu said. He alerted the security guard before coming back to attempt to stop the vandalism. By the time they arrived, the person had already destroyed several large glass panes.
When they asked the man what he was doing, he responded by telling them that he came down to Chinatown to cause as much destruction as possible. “We’re like, ‘Why, why?’,” Nakatsu said. “He says some pretty horrible things along the lines of ‘the Chinese ruined my life and something had to be done about it’ and we’re all kind of just in shock.”
The destruction did strike a blow that can’t be measured in terms of sweeping away shards of glass and installing new windows. Two of the nine windows broken used to be the living room windows of Chinese families in the 1920s who lived there and gazed through them at their new home.
In that sense, they are irreplaceable.
“More than the windows’ value is the priceless significance of historic Canton that’s housed generations of migrant families and hosts numerous neighborhood activation events all year round and especially our beloved annual JamFest and Alley Parties,” said Wing Luke Museum Executive Director Joël Barraquiel Tan.
“Canton Alley is the beating cultural heart of the neighborhood,” he said. “This remediation moment gives us an opportunity to center and uplift Canton Alley with more community presence, cultural celebrations, and needed upgrades for public safety. The damage from this hate crime is not just about replacing windows. This was a hateful terrorist act, and the damage is comprehensive and long-term.”
On Sept. 29, the Washington State Department of Commerce and the City of Seattle announced $100,000 in funding to assist with repairs at the Wing Luke Museum. But there is a need for emotional and spiritual repair of the community after incidents of anti-Asian hate, Barraquiel Tan said.
This isn’t the first anti-Asian hate crime that has happened in the CID and it likely won’t be the last if more isn’t done to stop it, Nakatsu said. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes targeting Asians and Asian Americans rose more than 73% in 2020. There have been more than 130 hate crime cases filed since 2020 at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“I think we are more or less always on edge,”said Nakatsu. “But there’s no way around it, and we’re going to continue to show up and continue to live our lives here because this is our livelihood and this is our home. We’re always vigilant. We’re always watching each other’s backs.”
Nakatsu added that the people of the CID are familiar with anti-Asian hate. “It’s just a part of living here.” He went on to say that being familiar with this kind of hate doesn’t mean you aren’t shocked and confused when it happens, and that they deserve better.
When Nakatsu and the security guard were able to get the man to put down the sledgehammer and told him that police were on the way, Nakatsu said the man replied, “Good. Bring them here to arrest me. My life is over.”
They had stopped him just short of the memorial portrait of Donnie Chin, who founded the International District Emergency Center (IDEC) after realizing the emergency response in the CID was slow. The IDEC offered an alternative to public safety for vulnerable community members and built community through everything from checking on the elderly and carrying groceries to administering first aid.
Chin was murdered in 2015. His killer has never been found.
Barraquiel Tan says the remediation plan will be comprehensive and phased over the next three to five years with security upgrades and coordinating trauma-informed care with staff for counseling and group learning.
“Moreover, we staff are checking in on each other more often these days,” Barraquiel Tan said. “While there’s always more work than time to accomplish in our mission-driven work, we are intentionally making more space, more room, more compassion for each other. We’re benefitting from lessons learned and support from our allies, especially African American and Jewish communities, who are frequently targeted for hate crimes.”
Nakatsu believes that for true repair to happen, the City and State need to look at the big picture, because people’s needs aren’t being met. “More systemic issues need to be addressed, like lack of access to housing, health care,” he said.
Nakatsu also believes in alternatives to policing for public safety. “I believe in being equipped for emergency response, but I don’t know how much could have been prevented with more police presence. I think that community-based systems of safety need to be invested in. I think people’s needs need to be addressed. And I think that there are more holistic ways of looking at safety than a one-pronged approach of more police presence. True repair looks like investment in community organizations doing work to support the livelihood of residents in the CID and South Seattle.”
Barraquiel Tan is grateful for the State and City support and contribution to repairing the building’s damage. “We’re heartened and thankful for the timely and compassionate response conveyed by Gov. Inslee and Mayor Harrell and their incredible teams, who were efficient, sensitive, and compassionate to our staff and neighborhood,” he said. “This incredible City and State coordination inspires hope in the face of today’s bad news about broken systems, unresponsive government amid culture war, and climate change.”
In addition to government support, many individuals, foundations, and other organizations have offered moral support and donated to help with repairs. “Focusing on the outpouring of love versus the hate crime is our form of resistance and a declaration of power,” Barraquiel Tan said.
According to Barraquiel Tan, neighbors and partner organizations have been delivering floral arrangements, Hawaiian plate lunch packs, ube cookies, and more since the vandalism.
“We have been feasting on community love and Tuesday donuts for healing from the long-lasting emotional and psychic terror of targeted hate,” Barraquiel Tan said.
Now, Barraquiel Tan is asking that the community help by “coming home to the CID” on a regular basis. “We love and need you, your friends and family chosen and blood, because our togetherness is what creates true and lasting safety,” Barraquiel Tan said.
Nakatsu agreed, asking for people who want to help to invest in community spaces such as Friends of Little Saigon, Danny Woo Garden, Black Farmers Collective, SCIDPDA; community and arts organizations such a Wing Luke Museum, INScape Arts, Densho, Powerful Voices, Wa Na Wari, Youth Speaks, Youth in Focus, Totem Star; community organizing groups such as Puget Sound SAGE, CID Coalition, ChuMinh Egg Rolls; and community health services such as ICHS, ACRS Food Bank, and International District Emergency Center.
Barraquiel Tan believes that to decrease violence there must be bold investment in the CID across all sectors.
“How brilliant if the Seattle area had the bragging rights of vibrant and bustling Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Neighborhoods when other BIPOC neighborhoods are disappearing fast around the country,” Barraquiel Tan said. “Once the CID stops being treated by the media and government as a ‘problem to solve,’ we will see the CID for the American cultural treasure that it’s always been.”
Luna Reyna is a South Seattle writer and broadcaster whose work has identified, supported, and promoted the voices of the systematically excluded in service of liberation and advancing justice. She was Crosscut’s Indigenous Affairs Reporter and her work has appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, Prism Reports, and Talk Poverty. Luna is proud of her Little Shell Chippewa and Mexican heritage and is passionate about reporting that sheds light on colonial white supremacist systems of power.
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