Sue Taoka, in front of the Uwajimaya Village construction, circa 2000.
Sue Taoka, in front of the Uwajimaya Village construction, circa 2000.

Even though Sue Taoka was not there in person during the Kingdome protests in 1972, the results and lessons from the event stayed with her throughout her career. To this day, the issues discussed are still relevant. She hopes the next generation of community leaders remember the lessons from this event in their current and future work.

When the Kingdome construction plans were revealed, there was much concern about the impact such a major sports facility would have on the adjacent communities of the International District (ID) and Pioneer Square. Stadiums are surrounded by big parking lots and people in the community were concerned the ID would become nothing but parking lots. In addition, the community worried it would lose the neighborhood’s culture and history. Peter Bacho, a wellknown Filipino writer and teacher, filed a lawsuit against King County to stop the construction of the Kingdome, but the lawsuit was dismissed.

“At that time, things continued to be divisive in the community,” recalled Taoka. “The ID existed because the government said if you were from a particular country, this is where you will be. It was not where people first chose to be.”

But the Kingdome issue became a rallying point around which different ethnic groups in the ID coalesced to “transcend their differences for a greater good.” It created an opportunity for people, particularly the next generation, to be able to say, “Well you know, other folks may not be able to get along but we can get along because we care about this.”

The younger Asian Americans took it upon themselves to stay out of the debate at first because they felt this was not their struggle. Then one day, Frank Irigon, a college student at the time, turned on the radio and heard there would be a ground-breaking ceremony for the new stadium. He seized upon the opportunity and called members of the Asian Student Coalition to show up at the ceremony and voice their displeasure. They were going to march whether they had “ten people or one hundred.”

In the end, they had close to the latter number as elders, community members, students from nearby high schools and colleges showed up for support. The spontaneity of the march played to their advantage and the organizers and police were caught off-guard.

It was a quiet march until they got to the site where speakers had a hard time speaking over the yelling and screaming. As a plaque was being dedicated, someone from the crowd hurled a mudball and hit it squarely on the front. Then mudballs were started flying and hitting everybody, including elected officials.

The police squad, clad in riot gear and furious because they had been taken by surprise, arrived on the scene and started looking to arrest anyone with muddy hands. But the marchers, having learned from earlier anti-war protests that stragglers left behind were usually harassed by the police, left in an orderly fashion and in groups.

In the aftermath, younger activists faced disapproval both from inside the community and the outside but defended their actions and continued to break the “quiet Asian” and “model minority” stereotypes.

The efforts resulted in some very important mitigation from the county and city including special zoning in both the ID and Pioneer Square so they would be preserved and protected from turning into parking lots. A community health clinic would also be established which later developed into the International Community Health Services (ICHS). There was also housing built specifically for seniors in the area, enabling them to stay in the community.

Shortly after, the Seattle Chinatown/ID Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda) was created as an entity that could own, develop, and manage property on behalf of the community. Taoka served as the Executive Director there for 14 years.

The Kingdome protests happened nearly four decades ago but its effects still linger around the I.D. and lessons can still be gleaned from this piece of history. It was an environmental justice issue before environmental justice became a buzz word.

In the recent months, an issue similar to the Kingdome construction, though smaller in scale, once again threatened the livelihood and safety of people living and working in the ID.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) planned to run a streetcar line along 8th Ave South in the ID to the Charles Street maintenance facility. No public access would be allowed on this route. On this street are businesses that would suffer from the loss of access. It is also hard to imagine how SDOT could choose a route that includes the Denise Louie Education Center, the International Community Health Services, and across the street, a Seattle Public Library branch, and the International District Community Center. All of these facilities see heavy foot traffic from children and adults who would be put in unnecessary danger from a streetcar running back and forth.

“It would tear up all of 8th Ave. It would ruin the community!” exclaims Taoka.

Is there need for a protest this time? Will there be mud-flinging? Who will take the lead and organize to protect the community?

The “younger generation” of forty years ago is no longer young. Taoka is now part of the “veteran generation” but she still has fire within her and has one advice for up and coming community leaders.

“It’s time to not be so humble.”