Throughout our careers as community activists for Seattle’s Asian & Pacific Islander communities, a consistent message has rung true: the preservation of our stories is fundamental to our cultural integrities. This has been true for all communities of color including immigrant and refugee groups.
As our city rapidly changes to accommodate the future, these stories remind us of who we are and where we have come from. We believe the next generation of Seattleites deserves access to this past, a past that is largely chronicled and preserved in our public libraries. Here are two of those stories.
Ron Chew: My parents emigrated from China to Seattle’s International District in the 1930s. My father took a job as a waiter and his mother as a seamstress. My father earned a little over a dollar an hour, and my mother much the same. They worked hard jobs, in even harder conditions, all to support our family and education. As I grew older, I learned that my parents’ stories as immigrants facing economic hardship were not uncommon, but rather all-too-frequent, and I began documenting the oral histories of people like my parents. In 1975, I left the UW to pursue work as a journalist and documentarian.
In the beginning of my career, I worked at the International Examiner documenting the stories of different Seattleites like the members of the Alaska Cannery Workers Association, International District Economic Organization and the Organization of Chinese Americans. These organizations were largely made up of Seattle’s ethnic minorities, and with their help, I illuminated their felt injustices through numerous publications and my own written works like The Reflections of Seattle’s Chinese Americans.
Some of these organizations and newspapers have disappeared, or continued down different paths, but what remains are the stories its members told. These oral histories represent a rich legacy of Seattle’s diversity and growth, a legacy that now more than ever we must fight to preserve.
The library records this crucial — and vulnerable — history for future generations. Articles I wrote about these communities are preserved in the library’s collections and will be there to help future generations remember our collective past. As our neighborhoods change, the library safeguards the stories that hold our communities together. We want to preserve and elevate local authors like Bob Shimabukuro, Doug Chin, Bob Santos who have documented our unique local history.
Yet, the library isn’t stuck in the past; it also uplifts today’s communities.
Teresa Fujiwara: Like Ron, I am a lifelong Seattleite who has spent my career dedicated to equity and opportunity for all people. In my experience in the non-profit, government and philanthropic worlds, I have seen how the library builds and engages community and connects our most vulnerable residents with resources.
Every day we see our Seattle Public Library doing the same. The library provides all people, regardless of background, income, or language access to community, education, and opportunity. In addition to its serving as a place for knowledge, history, and community, our libraries are rooted in the center of our neighborhoods providing homework help, literacy classes, access to computers and internet, resources connections for teens in need, and so much more.
Seattleites understand the importance of libraries at the heart of an equitable city and stepped up in the last recession to restore hours and services. Now, in the face of growth and change, we must continue these investments and not turn back the clock.
By renewing the Seattle Library Levy we can maintain and even increase neighborhood branch hours including evenings and Sundays, we can provide up-to-date computers, high-speed internet, Wi-Fi and technology learning systemwide, and we can expand early learning support and classes for parents, babies and toddlers, along with so much more.
The Library Levy is not a new tax. In fact, it represents 25% of our Library’s existing operating budget, so failure to renew the levy means we stand to lose significant access to an essential public resource. For $3 more per month for the average homeowner we can ensure that our neighbors today and generations to come can find stories of their own history and heritage, access their culture and community, and learn the essential skills to tell their own stories.
We urge you to join us in voting “Yes” on Prop 1 by August 6th. Together we can renew our commitment to our libraries, and this essential equitable and accessible resource in our city.