11 Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who Made an Impact on the Pacific Northwest
Last updated: May 5, 2022, at 11:14 a.m. PT
Originally published: May 3, 2022, at 3:03 p.m. PT
May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and what better way to celebrate than to shine a light on individuals whose actions have helped create a more equitable world.
Historically, Washington state and the United States government have discriminated against Asian immigrants and citizens alike. Anti-immigrant laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and actions like the 1907 Bellingham riots which targeted Indians, or the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II created unjustifiable difficulties for Asian communities. Despite unwarranted prejudice and pain, these individuals went above and beyond and blazed a trail for the next generation to succeed. Representation in politics, sports, business, and other industries has encouraged young people to find their voice and to pursue their dreams.
Known to many by the more congenial “Uncle Bob,” the renowned Seattle civil rights leader was instrumental in preserving the International District. Through negations with developers, city leaders and community leaders, Bob Santos was able hold off gentrification to the neighborhood and avoid the erasure of the people who have come before to create the multi-cultural nave of the city. His work didn’t end at the boundaries of the neighborhood, with Seattle "Gang of Four," Santos blazed a trail for generations of activists as a mentor, community leader, and organizer.
Sina Packer, or “Auntie Sina,” as she is known around town, helped Tongan and other Pacific Island seniors in the greater Seattle area navigate through the pandemic by providing support, a weekly senior meals program that includes fitness, education, community building, and empowerment opportunities, and ultimately access to vaccines. “I am a volunteer and community outreach for the First Tongan Senior Association,” she writes. “We are a community for all multicultural not just one tribe.”
Goon Dip was a successful businessman in the Pacific Northwest who, despite discrimination and anti-Chinese sentiment, helped Chinese laborers work and find their footing. Having moved from China to Portland at a young age, he would develop a dry goods business and expand Northward, where in Seattle he sponsored the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. His financial achievements in Seattle were in part due to building the Milwaukee Hotel near King Street Station prior to the expo.
Seattle would not be what it is today without the civil rights work and urban renewal efforts Wing Luke championed. The first Asian American to serve on the Seattle City Council, Wing Luke’s work helped to protect the Pike Place Market and revitalize the waterfront. Today, the Wing Luke Museum honors his legacy as well as the rich cultural history of the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
Growing up in a time when it was illegal for Asians to own property, while also being displaced during World War II due to Japanese internment, Aki Kurose’s experiences directly led to her lifelong quest to help underrepresented youths and families gain the housing and education they deserved.
Japanese baseball player, Ichiro Suzuki, played for the Seattle Mariners for 14 of his 19 Major League Baseball seasons. He is known as one of the best base hitters in the game. Ichiro proved that consistency, longevity, and grace are three rare qualities that can bring a team and its city together.
Elected as Governor of Washington State in 1996, Gary Locke became the first Chinese American governor in the United States. He would become the US Secretary of Commerce and later the US Ambassador to China. Locke is currently the President of Bellevue College.
Ruby Chow opened her eponymously named restaurant “Ruby Chow’s Restaurant” which became a popular venue for celebrities, citizens, and politicians alike. Her activism for the Chinese community in Seattle aimed at healing the wounds brought on by decades of discrimination and hate. She helped Wing Luke get his seat on the City Council, mentored Gary Locke, and she herself would take on a political career of her own in the King County Council.
World and Olympic champion, Apolo Ohno, brought speed skating to the forefront of American sports. His impact on the sport continues and in a NBC interview says of Asian American representation, “Many kids all over the country saw me skating as an athlete that looks similar (to them), has a similar background, whether it’s growing up in a single-parent household … being half Japanese or half Asian … and what did that look like, to give them the head nod of approval, there’s someone that looks just like you.”
A committed advocate for youth, Paula Carvalho has devoted herself to creating strategies with communities across Washington to help young people experiencing homelessness. Carvalho has spoken passionately about the needs and challenges young people face, using her own experiences with foster care and youth homelessness, she brings a crucial perspective to the work. We’re also proud to share Carvalho’s personal connection to the YMCA of Greater Seattle, where she worked with youth transitioning out of foster care. She went on to serve as Youth Programs Director with The Mockingbird Society, overseeing statewide programs with a focus on youth development and systems reform. In 2019, she joined the Raikes Foundation as program officer on youth homelessness strategy where she continues to initiate change and advocate for youth.
Lafaitele M. Faitalia
Lafaitele Lydia M. Faitalia is a matriarch and holds a Matai (the Samoan word for leader, or chief) from the village of Neiafu, Savaii, Samoa. In her work with United Indians of all Tribes Foundation, she serves as the interim director for family services division and spends her time mentoring students, working in community, advocating for BIPOC families and children, and serving on various boards and commissions across the state. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, served her Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Community in various capacities including working for the UCLA Center for Community College Partnership and Tribal Learning Community & Educational Exchange Program.
Who are your changemakers? Let us know on social media and we may just update this list with your contributions. Then, continue to celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with us and learn what the Y is doing to advance equity and justice for all.