Bill Lee, Donnie Chin, and Kerry Taniguchi. Original art by Christina Nguyen

Some questions I have been simmering on are: What does it mean to be a community member in society? What is my legacy? Or yours? Why has the feeling of grief been felt for so long and how do we collectively reach authentic joy and heal with each other from living through such an eventful and traumatizing historical time?

I recently learned that the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief feels different with the seasons, but every summer as neighborhood events are held, I cannot help but have memories surface of our neighborhood friends: Bill Lee, Donnie Chin, and Kerry Taniguchi’s legacies live on forever. I’m so grateful to have crossed paths with these three amazing community members when they were alive. They deserved their flowers plus more, while they were still with us.

The Chinatown International District (CID) feels different now, but I know they are still here, protecting the neighborhood, and that their legacies and spirits live on within each of us.

Bill Lee

I personally worked with Bill at Hing Hay Park. He was such a funny soul with dark humor. He had so much openness when I met him that on the first day of work while being a Seattle Parks concierge. He took me to the Seattle Pinball Museum during break and introduced me to one of his favorite spots to go when things got intense. He showed me the chickens he enjoyed visiting at Danny Woo Community Garden.

On hard days, especially in the summer and dark fall season times, working at the park was intense with all the things we saw on the daily, from all types of poop, to outbursts from people on the streets, to unhoused or drunk park chillers, and then some… but that didn’t stop Bill from appreciating the beauty of the misfit community that he and I had in common, and also called home.

In 2020, I took a walk down the pier and saw Bill, but was too afraid to say hello given that it was an unprecedented time. He looked really tired. I regret not saying hello. A couple months later during the summer heat wave, I found out from a neighborhood friend that Bill had passed away. I attended his service at Danny Woo, watching and praying as they spread his ashes throughout the garden, his favorite place to be.

Donnie Chin

Donnie is and will forever be the unsung hero of the CID. He created the International District Emergency Center out of his own passion for public safety for all people on the streets and dedicated his whole life to it. I briefly met him in Sun May (the shop he owned in Canton Alley) and his conversations always had wisdom and deep history of the immigration of the community over the years and politics. In 2017, when I started working at the Wing Luke Museum, I would visit Connie, Donnie’s sister, often during break times to check in on her day and ask questions to relive the stories she shared about her brother and their life together.

Kerry Taniguchi

Kerry had such a warm spirit, evident in his conversations and humor. I became first aid and CPR certified from Kerry. He taught me that I had mispronounced musubi my whole life (it’s pronounced moo-soo-bee). I also learned that it was his favorite food, that he hated vegetables, but liked Hershey chocolates. He never liked his photo being taken.

One summer, I had the opportunity to be a teaching artist for YouthCAN, a teen program I once participated in. In one workshop we discussed legacy and were tasked with asking our ancestors about it. The perfect person to ask was Kerry, who kindly agreed to be a guest speaker.

He shared his work experience and had a natural conversation with questions and answers with the youth group. After the program ended, one of our traditions was to create thank you notes for guest speakers. A young person gave him a thank note, which he appreciated it and shed a tear, saying “thanks.”

In 2020, Kerry called me during the pandemic with great advice. We chatted about public safety in the CID because of his career as a fire fighter and reserve officer. He was even volunteering during the heightened time of the pandemic with the Japanese community, even though he knew he was at risk of getting sick. That is ultimate dedication to serving the neighborhood.

Christina Nguyen is a Seattleite and local artist with passions and dreams. Raised around fierce activists and advocates from the Seattle community since the age of 15, Christina is empowered to search and to find her own voice with the resilient tools and new ideas she learns every day through art and interactions. In her spare time, you can usually find Christina exploring the city, making pottery, and attending community events.

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