ICHS staff and friends gather in the International District Clinic lobby to celebrate the opening of the exhibit. Photo by Henry Liu.

A permanent historical exhibit opened today in the lobby of the International Community Health Services (ICHS) flagship clinic. The collection of early documents, photos and artifacts memorializes a rapidly-disappearing Chinatown-International District, as it tells the story of the health center.

The exhibit was made possible by a $80,000 grant from Historic South Downtown and traces the growth of ICHS through its 46-year-long history.

“We were thrilled to receive such a rich repository of photos and memories from the community,” said Debbie Louie, ICHS marketing coordinator and exhibit curator.

ICHS’s history is deeply rooted within Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. Early founders and community activists, like Sister Heide Parreño, Bruce Miyahara and Bob Santos, sought to provide affordable health care for the neighborhood’s residents, most of whom were low-income first-generation Chinese, Japanese and Filipino immigrants.

Thu Ngo, an RN at the ID Clinic, stands in front of a panel of photography that includes photos of her and her family. Photo by Henry Liu.

“Those early residents are all gone now,” said Ron Chew, ICHS Foundation director. “We continue to honor their spirit and what they meant to the founding of our institution.”

ICHS remains a welcoming place as its patients’ needs have evolved along with burgeoning growth in King County and new immigrant and refugee arrivals. A new generation of activists and health care professionals have assumed the mantle of leadership and advocacy for affordable health care and the rights of immigrants.

Many ICHS staff members, like employee Kia Truong, patient services supervisor at the International District clinic, are first-generation immigrants themselves with a strong connection to the health center’s founding mission. Their personal experiences are also captured in the exhibit.

“I first came to the ID Clinic with my parents, after we had left a refugee camp in Vietnam for the U.S.,” said Truong, who has worked for ICHS for 22 years. “I immediately felt it was a warm place to work and to contribute to the community by helping other new immigrants.”

Yvone Ung immigrated to the U.S. from Cambodia after her family was caught in the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. Fluent in five languages, she started working for ICHS 20 years ago as an interpreter. She said speaking patients’ same language helps puts them at ease and results in better health care. “I love my job, I love ICHS” she said.

Today, ICHS serves 32,000 patients at its 11 clinic locations in Seattle, Bellevue and Shoreline. It is the largest non-profit health care organization serving Asian Pacific Islanders in Washington State. It provides interpretation in 50 different languages, making it one of the most diverse community clinics in the nation.

ICHS Board chairperson Gildas Cheung speaks at the opening ceremony. Photo by Henry Liu.

“We invite everyone to stop by our International District clinic to learn more about the history of ICHS and our commitment to health care for all,” said Teresita Batayola, ICHS CEO.

The historical exhibit at the ICHS International District Clinic expands on the installation of one that opened in August 2018 at its Shoreline Clinic. Similar displays are planned for the ICHS Holly Park and Bellevue clinics in 2020 and 2021.

Read more about ICHS’ history in A Documentary History, a 35-year narrative view of the people and ideals behind ICHS’s work to serve Seattle’s communities written by ICHS Foundation director Ron Chew.

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