Seattle writer Sarah Stuteville explores the global connections in our backyard in a new column appearing every Friday.
Journalist Sarah Stuteville, co-founder of the SeattleGlobalist.com blog, begins a new weekly column exploring the region’s international connections.
Friday night at The Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill: the music pounds, the bathrooms stink and Russian politics are the topic of the night. I’m at a benefit show for Pussy Riot — a punk rock band arrested in Moscow last March for protesting in a church — and experiencing the passion of new Global Seattle.
Our city has always had an international orientation. Global industries (logging, shipping, planes), an international border (Canada counts!) and a diverse population (even before Columbia City started promoting itself as one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country) were part of our identity long before The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded its first grant or The Seattle International Film Festival screened its first foreign film.
But as a kid growing up in Ballard in the 1980s and 1990s, Seattle still felt like a small city with small city sensibilities.
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I didn’t know many people that had traveled outside of the United States (or even the West Coast); Mexican food was always served with giant pink daiquiris and the things that happened far away (the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the Gulf War, the end of Apartheid), felt really far away.
I remember an elementary-school assembly welcoming new refugee kids from Ethiopia and Cambodia. I remember my teacher slowly explaining to us where these countries were on a map that had North America smack in the middle of it. I remember the new kids getting teased for being so skinny.
I left Seattle at 20 like I was escaping a small town. I wanted to “see the world,” so I saved up some money from my job as a barista and headed to India, then Spain, then Mexico, then New York City — where I stayed for five years.
When I returned to Seattle — with a journalism degree and experience reporting from 10 different countries — it felt like I returned to a different city. Or more accurately, I was looking at my city in a new way.
Seattle had been named one of a handful of “Hyper Diverse” cities — essentially a city with immigrants from all over the world — by the Migration Policy Institute. Washington state ranked in the top 10 for highest receiver of refugees in the country.
Bellevue — a neighborhood that had been synonymous with homogeneous suburbia — was now the best place to shop for South Asian ingredients. Tukwila boasted one of the most diverse schools in the entire country, and Kent (Kent!) had an awesome International Festival.
Every weekend my Facebook feed was clogged with global food, music and fundraisers in the Seattle area and it seemed that everyone I met was either headed out on an international trip or returning from one.
I immediately set to work reporting on these new trends and populations. I wrote about immigration detention and deportation, anti-human-trafficking programs, refugees starting new lives and nonprofits raising money for international water projects. I didn’t need a plane ticket to cover the world, just a full tank of gas.
But in the midst of these changes we still struggle to connect, to see how we’ve outgrown the clichés of coffee, flannel and computers. People move here in droves, yet we’re infamous for offering up a chilly reception to newcomers. Immigrants tend to settle outside the city limits, where housing costs are cheaper, and are often ignored by Seattle proper.
I am a product of this complex but unpretentious, standoffish but enthusiastic, 19th-century-goldrush-town-turned-21st-century-Global-City.
I am part of a generation raised on technology that allows for unprecedented communication across borders and cultures, but that struggles to address issues of immigration, war and global disparity. I am interested in all the ways we are different and even more so in the ways we are the same.
I live for moments like that one at The Comet when, sequined balaclavas and all (Google image search “Pussy Riot balaclava” if you don’t know what I’m talking about — you won’t be sorry), it feels like what happens in the world happens here and what happens here reverberates out to the world.
In this column, I plan to cover everything from the political views of Syrian expatriates to the growing popularity of French patisseries, the Seattle cricket scene (yes, we have one) to the impact of racial profiling on immigrant communities, mom ‘n’ pop-size nonprofits that send aid to every corner of the globe and the local impact of the global economic downturn.
And I need your suggestions. This city is full of surprising, unexpected and totally fascinating “hyper global” stories that I don’t know about. Contact me (email, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram), help me find them and let’s explore our new hometown together.
To reach Sarah Stuteville: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @clpsarah