NOVELIST JAMIE FORD is one of those artists whose work benefits directly from historical depositories for culture, like Seattle’s acclaimed Wing Luke Museum.
His bestselling novel “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” a love story and family history centering on the wartime experience of Seattle Asian American families, was derived partly by historical research conducted in The Wing’s archives.
As a half-Chinese youth growing up in the Northwest, visits with a Seattle grandfather left him well familiar with the city’s Chinatown International District.
A shocking blight on those memories — one shared by many city residents of the time — was the Wah Mee massacre, a notorious 1983 casino slaying that left 13 dead inside the Louisa Hotel, where Ford’s grandfather had once worked.
Research for a story based on that event led Ford to news reports about the Panama Hotel, where Japanese Americans had stored some of their belongings while incarcerated during World War II. All of these elements came together in his bestselling novel — and were made possible and historically accurate by materials at The Wing.
But Ford’s own regard for the Seattle museum is much broader. The Wah Mee incident, he believes, cast a pall on the Chinatown International District that created a distinctly long shadow — based largely, Ford says, on race.
“After the Wah Mee killings, it sure felt like schools stopped having field trips in the ID for about 10 years,” he says. “If there’s a murder in Ballard, people don’t stop going to Ballard. You could see and feel the cultural bias.”
Over the years, however, The Wing has stepped up to shine light on that dark neighborhood shadow, Ford believes, “creating a wonderful space that’s an educational platform for the whole city.”
Ford calls The Wing’s exhibits and community work “an empathy-enlarging experience,” creating visceral connections between people of often-disparate backgrounds. It is a particular gift in current times, with social movements taking the fore in U.S. politics, and discrimination and violence against Asians rising once more in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, he notes.
“Injecting places like the Wing Luke into society inoculates against bigotry and racism and hatred,” he says.
Key to that mission, he believes, is a dedicated Wing Luke staff — led by its longtime executive director, Beth Takekawa, whom Ford describes as a “relentlessly positive,” steadfast leader of an organization that has received global acclaim during her tenure.
Ford, who serves on the Wing Luke board of directors, is not alone in that praise. On the occasion of her retirement at month’s end, it seemed timely to check in with Takekawa, her peers, and other Wing Luke supporters to tell Takekawa’s story and measure her nearly three decades of impact on The Wing, the city, the region, and the world.