THIS FOURTH OF JULY, 500 immigrants from 75 countries will be sworn in as U.S. citizens at the 25th anniversary of the Northwest’s biggest naturalization ceremony. Gathered at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center, they will renounce allegiance to the country where they were born and swear to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Then these 500 new citizens will recite the Pledge of Allegiance and wave the tiny American flags they were handed when they arrived for the ceremony.
For some time now, I’ve been collecting stories for a sweeping claim about our city: We are the world. The anecdotal evidence is plentiful. At the garage where I often park the Eritrean attendant asked for advice on learning English grammar. The caregivers who attended to my mother after a recent surgery included a Cambodian woman planning to become a doctor, a Russian hospital worker who grew up eating caviar out of a big tub her family kept in the refrigerator, and a slew of nurses and aides born in the Philippines, Portugal, Nigeria, and many other countries.
Seattle’s international flavor goes well beyond my personal mountain of anecdotes. Recent census data show that nearly 20 percent of King County residents were born outside the U.S. That’s up from the year 2000, when the number was closer to 15 percent, and well above the national average. By 2004 our city ranked fifth among U.S. cities for arriving refugees, welcoming 4 percent of immigrants who fled war or persecution or natural disasters. You’ll meet one of them, a sunny teenage girl named Helber Moo, a Karen refugee whose family fled persecution by the Myanmar regime.
This year, to find the Best of the City we toured the world and never even left town. As you’ll find in these pages, behind every top taco truck or Euro fashion boutique, there’s someone who came to Seattle bringing dreams, grandma’s prized recipes, or honored traditions from a faraway homeland. All of them leave their mark on the city and leave us immeasurably enriched. We hope you enjoy the trip.