Seattle Lexicon

What to Call the District

In this neighborhood, even the name is complex.

By Allecia Vermillion February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Seattle Met

The entrance to Chinatown–International District.

In decades past, neighborhood activists like Bob Santos embraced the term “International District” to honor—and consolidate the political power of—its full spectrum of inhabitants. “International District might not be sexy, but it’s inclusive,” the late Santos told The Seattle Times in 2005. However, members of the district’s Chinese community felt this moniker erased their historic presence in the area. “The name Chinatown was being taken away without the consensus of people who live in the neighborhood,” says Brien Chow, whose mother, Ruby, was perhaps its most vocal champion.

Ultimately the name “Chinatown–International District” emerged as a compromise of sorts. The city uses this name, though exact terminology can vary, from the International Special Review District to the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority.

Over the years, “everybody who was deemed other was here,” says SCIDPDA’s executive director, Maiko Winkler-Chin. Which is why something as seemingly straightforward as the neighborhood’s name can become an emblem of so much more.

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