City Council

International District Resolution Prompts Backlash for Removing "Manilatown"

A substitute version of the resolution struck out "historic Manilatown" from a sentence recognizing neighborhoods in the district.

By Hayat Norimine August 8, 2017

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Last week council members unanimously approved an ordinance mandating affordable housing in the Chinatown/International District neighborhood, as well as a companion resolution promising to recognize the history of the International District and to engage community members. But a small edit to the resolution sparked backlash from Filipino residents who said they felt their community's presence and historic contribution in the district had been erased from recognition. 

A substitute version of the resolution struck out "historic Manilatown" from a sentence recognizing ethnic neighborhoods in the district—prompting Filipino residents in the International District to write a letter to council members, The International Examiner reported, and urge them to reconsider the language. The letter calls for a technical corrections ordinance or new council action to replace the term "Manilatown" with "Filipino Town."

"As a result of this change in the resolution, intra-ethnic tension has grown. A new rage has been lit inside Filipino and Filipino American quarters for disregarding our history, presence and contributions in the Seattle CID," the letter stated. "It is a recurring issue that Filipinos are disregarded from historical reference, for our great local contributions, and our general civic inclusion. ... We seek to affirm our place as a valid, historical, and active ethnic community of Seattle." 

Members of the public spoke at the council meeting Monday and urged council members to bring back the language recognizing Filipinos' presence and history in the neighborhood; those members included three formerly elected officials—former Seattle council members Dolores Sibonga and David Della, as well as Velma Veloria, the first Filipino American elected on the state Legislature.

"In doing so, you essentially denied and denigrated my existence and those of Filipino Americans who lived and worked in the ID," Sibonga said during the public hearing.

Council president Bruce Harrell said at the council meeting that the action was "based on what we thought was some feedback from the community" and said it wasn't an adequate conversation with leaders of the Filipino American community. Harrell's office said he plans to draft a new resolution and introduce it for a council vote within the next few weeks. 

Johnson said the language was left out after community members raised questions about "Manilatown" and said they hadn't heard of the reference. In hindsight, Johnson told PubliCola, "obviously we should have done a better job of outreach to community members" and the appropriate terminology. Council members are now aiming to propose the new resolution by September 5, and that may also include other ethnic communities, Johnson said. 

"I regret to say...that we did make an error here," said Johnson, whose apology elicited claps from the public. "We were acting in good faith but we were moving swiftly, and in those swift moments we don't always get it right. This is one of those instances where we did not get it right." 

Updated August 9, 2017, at 10:08am: This post corrects the spelling of Dolores Sibonga's name. I apologize for the error.

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