Inside the Sea Mar Museum

When I stepped into the Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture (yes, that’s the full name), I first noticed a small house—even by Seattle micro-studio standards. Originally serving as shelter for Latinx agricultural workers in Yakima Valley in the 1970s and no bigger than a tool shed, this wooden cabin contains a tiny stove, a red flannel hanging from the wall, a bed, a crib, and a porcelain doll sitting on a two-by-four shelf.

The lack of decent housing is what originally gave birth to Sea Mar, a Seattle organization providing health and social services. In 1978 a group of Latinx health activists and community leaders founded a clinic to meet the needs of underserved communities. Late last year, the organization opened the museum, which focuses on the post-WWII migration of Latinx agricultural workers from Texas to Eastern Washington and the era of student activism that followed. 

In doing so it gives the Seattle Latinx community a chance to see ourselves. “There hasn’t been any place Latinos can call their own in regards to seeing their culture, their history, and their contribution to Washington,” says Dr. Jerry Garcia, vice president of educational services at Sea Mar Community Health Center.

The main display room is packed with artifacts and photos detailing the lives of migrant Washington workers. On one wall hangs a potato-picking harness—essentially a burlap sack attached to a cloth waist strap. A glass case nearby houses a pamphlet urging University of Washington students to boycott dining hall lettuce sourced from farms abusing migrant workers. At the far end of the wall, a dusty pickup truck rests on massive tires. 

As a Latinx Seattleite often feeling like the last brown unicorn in the Ballard Trader Joe’s, and on the lookout for authentic representation, this south side museum is a godsend. As my older sister and I browsed images of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, of university students with pronounced 1970s sideburns, of families traveling in the back of massive Chevrolet trucks, I was struck by how cathartic the exhibits were. Growing up in Bellingham, and now, in north Seattle, I’m used to being brown in predominately white spaces. While the feeling is familiar, it is nonetheless lonely. So finding a space to see evidence of community was all the more emotional. For the first time, I was in a museum that felt like me.

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