Tours of historic spaces showcase personal details that connect past and present.

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The subject of immigration is a hotly debated topic right now.  In headlines and politics, the topic conjures some pretty strong emotions.

But in the thick of the debate, it’s a good idea to remember something very important: nearly all of us call Seattle our home because at some point, our ancestors braved a trip to an unfamiliar place where their culture would play a critical part in shaping a new society.

Put your modern conveniences aside for a moment and picture standing in someone else’s shoes, on a wooden dock in a new nation with little money and no safety net.  Imagine leaving everything familiar behind – and deciding to live in a completely foreign culture.

How would you eke out a living?  Where would you find housing?  Where would you turn for community?  Would you wonder if you’d made a gigantic mistake?

It’s hard to fathom, but there’s a place in Seattle where the immigrant story is brought to life as more than just a political sound bite.

Tucked into the Chinatown-International District, the Wing Luke Museum puts faces and stories to our city’s past.  It’s devoted to immersing the public in the first-hand experience of coming to America and exploring the many influences Asian immigrants had on the Pacific Northwest.

As part of the museum experience, you have the chance to explore a hotel that was built in the early 1900s as new arrivals crammed into boarding houses and worked long hours while living frugally.

Step back in time to meet Au Shee through her granddaughter’s voice and memories. Au Shee’s simple décor, family albums, knick-knacks and mementos explode with life.

Freeman Hotel (Alabastro Photography)
Freeman Hotel (Alabastro Photography)

In the historic East Kong Yick Building, wander through a real 1910 shop filled with imported goods, where you catch whiffs of the scents lingering within the rows of jars. Explore the everyday items that were shipped from homelands across the ocean and were cherished by immigrants.

Along the way, listen to the tales about the new arrivals who found work in the fishing fleet, laundries, gambling halls, logging camps, mines and railroads.  Those trailblazers became the genesis for the rich cultural tapestry here in the Pacific Northwest.

Like today’s immigrants, those who arrived in Seattle more than a century ago faced discrimination, poverty, language barriers and difficulties adjusting to their new lives.

Empathy grows through understanding.  It’s one thing to know in your head that we are a multicultural nation, and quite another to really understand what the lives of immigrants and pioneers were like in the early years.

There’s nothing quite like a full sensory experience when you step into someone’s home and spend time in the places they dined, shopped and slept.

Everyone has a story to tell.  If you take the time to listen to the stories from Seattle’s past, immigrants become real people and our city will never seem the same again.

The Wing Luke Museum’s mission is to connect everyone to the rich history, dynamic cultures and art of the Asian Pacific Americans through vivid storytelling and inspiring experiences.