Since 1977, the United States has observed May as Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Asian and Pacific Islander communities. May was originally chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese individuals and families to the United States, and the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
As our country observes Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month, this week’s #SupportSeattleSmallBiz Spotlight highlights a collective community effort to support Asian and Pacific Islander businesses in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (CID).
The CID is a vital and unique part of the Seattle community, a place of rich cultural history, and a cultural and historic home for many Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. Across our region, it is known for its many incredible restaurants and other vibrant small businesses.
Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, xenophobia fueled fears that businesses in the CID were no longer safe for patrons. Xenophobic fears and hysteria associated with Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are part of a legacy of racism and exclusion that has impacted Seattle’s CID.
Sarah Baker, born and raised in Seattle, social justice advocate, and program manager at Communities Rise, has close connections with the CID. Sarah grew up near the CID and her grandmother worked at the local Uwajimaya. As the impacts of the pandemic grew, so did her concern for the CID’s small businesses. “If we physically can’t dine at the restaurants, what can we do?” She wondered, “how can we support businesses?”
On March 8, what originally began as a simple Facebook post on her personal account to promote businesses in the CID has grown into the “Support the ID – Community United” page.
Teaming up with her friend Bill Tashima, along with another of their mutual friends, their collective efforts helped create an online community dedicated to supporting the businesses of the CID. Since its formation, the Facebook group has gained nearly 1,000 new members a day, and now has more than 19,000 members.
“Support the ID – Community United” has become a virtual community for residents to share the many ways they are supporting local Asian and Pacific Islander businesses in the CID, and build a sense of connection during this era of physical distancing. Discussions range from where to get their favorite dim sum, strategies for supporting businesses impacted by vandalism and crime, to advocating against anti-Asian sentiment and model minority stereotypes.
The community’s positive response has far surpassed Sarah’s expectations. Many businesses report overwhelming support from patrons. Not only can customers share their support for local businesses they care about, restaurants like Jade Garden, Purple Dot, and Rainier BBQ are now able to express their gratitude and communicate with customers more directly.
“To us, Purple Dot is a small piece of a greater puzzle: the Seattle International District’s Chinatown community. Our community is made of many small businesses who have been here for generations after generations; it is made up of the individuals and the families that have made the ID a part of their daily lives, and it is made up of the unwavering support and sense of community that we have been given, even before COVID-19 began,” says Carol Xie from Purple Dot Cafe.
Xie explains, “During this time of hardship, while many of us are battling with the decision of whether or not we can pay the bills next month, we have each other, in this community, to rely on. We thank each and every one of you for your support, and even more so now. We are truly grateful for and humbled by the ID’s community in allowing us to keep our doors open each and everyday.”
“Support the ID – Community United” has reached users beyond Seattle, and has influenced communities in Renton and White Center to create similar support pages for local businesses. Businesses such as XCJ, a xiaolong bao company in Bellevue, have attributed the overwhelming community support they have received in part from this group—noting the page’s critical role in helping them keep their doors open.
Beyond serving as an online community, Sarah asked, “how else can we harness this energy?”
Soon, she created a GoFundMe page to generate financial support for front-line health care workers in addition to small businesses. Funds raised have been used to purchase meals from small businesses in the CID, and then donated to front-line workers at nearby clinics and hospitals serving COVID-19 patients. Organizers hoped to raise at least $5,000, and the fundraising was so successful that they decided to cap it at $15,000 and contribute the additional funds to a local nonprofit. So far, over $16,000 has been raised.
The additional funds are being reinvested in the community by supporting the organization Asian Referral and Counseling Service’s (ACRS), and their annual “Walk for Rice” fundraiser, which provides culturally familiar foods to local food banks for immigrants, refugees, elders, and families throughout King County.
As the community has stepped in to help keep the doors of many businesses open, the City has continued to expand its programs designed to support businesses in the CID and address barriers they may face.
The Office of Economic Development’s ‘Only in Seattle’ program works closely with community-based organizations in the CID. Partners like the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), Seattle Chinatown-International District Public Development Authority (SCIDpda), and Friends of Little Saigon (FLS) have helped connect businesses to resources such as the Small Business Stabilization Fund and access to in-language assistance with their Small Business Administration loans. Many of the CID’s restaurants are also included in the City’s #SupportPugetSoundSmallBiz map, which helps residents find small businesses providing takeout or delivery.
Working with Mayor Durkan’s team, many other City departments are working to support the CID in the face of the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) recently created new food pick-up zones outside restaurants throughout Seattle.
These zones have made it easier for customers to pick up takeaway orders in the CID and across Seattle, which have increased over the last several weeks. Starting this week, SDOT is adding 15-minute curbside pick-up zones to support retail businesses that are open for curbside delivery. Restaurant and retail business owners can request pick-up zones by contacting SDOT at 206-684-ROAD or e-mail 684-ROAD@seattle.gov.
“Support the ID — Community United” is just one example of the many innovative ways community members have used technology and other resources to support small businesses, the backbone of our economy, in the face of the major impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sara explains that Seattleites can do their part to help businesses and organizations in the CID by “supporting ACRS’ Walk for Rice fundraiser and supporting InterimCDA,” which fund raises to purchase food for elders who are unable to leave their homes.
This May, we all have an opportunity to honor API Heritage month by continuing to learn about the many contributions API individuals and communities have made to society, and by supporting local businesses in the CID, a place whose vibrant culture we must maintain, and a place whose small businesses we must help thrive into the future.