I got to spend a weekend in Seattle this summer because a friend was getting married there. While doing some research into what I could do there, I came across the Wing Luke Museum in the Chinatown - International District.
The Wing Luke Museum was named after a man named Wing Luke who migrated with his family to the US when he was 5, in the 1930s. He went on to become the first Asian American to be elected into the public office in the Pacific Northwest. He felt that it was important to have a museum documenting the history and experiences of Asian Pacific Americans, and after he died, his supporters came together and donated money to set up the museum.
I've always had an interest in Asian American culture, being Asian Canadian myself. So that, in addition to the Bruce Lee exhibit (my dad's a fan!), made this museum a must-visit stop for me. I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint! It ended up being my #1 favourite thing that I did on my trip. Here's why I think you should visit the Wing Luke Museum:
Historic Hotel Tour
Your admission to the museum includes a guided historic hotel tour. We had a very informative and entertaining guide, who first took us into the historic Yick Fung Co., shop which opened in Seattle's Chinatown in 1910 before the owners decided to close its doors in 2008. They donated the store's contents to the museum, and they were moved to the current location. But we were told it was built and everything placed like it used to be in the original store. It was very cool to see the old boxes and jars of products they used to sell. It kind of reminded me of the old herbal stores in Hong Kong my mom would take me to when I was little.
After the tour of the Yick Fung Co., we headed up to a historic hotel. This hotel was where many of the new immigrants from Asia would initially stay when they moved to Seattle. The spaces were small and I can only imagine how hard it must have been to live there with so many others.
The final stop of the tour took us into a Chinese American family association meeting room. These associations were set up to help new immigrants who had the same last name find jobs and homes. It was also a place where they could come together for celebrations, and a game of mahjong!
The Stories and Experiences Captured
After the tour ended, I headed back to the museum to look through all the exhibits. I think I spent a good two hours there, and wish I had more time to take it all in! The museum showcased art pieces created by Asian Pacific Americans, and also documented their experiences as immigrants. It examined how they got to America, what they had hoped to achieve there, how they missed their homes, the struggles with finding their identity, and also the discrimination that they faced.
To be honest, I was almost in tears. I have experienced my share of racism. Some "memorable" incidents include the first day of Spanish class in the UK. When my teacher walked in, she took one look at me and said that I shouldn't be there and that I should be in ESL, even though my first language is English and I had taken Spanish for 2 years before then. Then another incident a few years ago where a server here in Canada laughed and said I had "chinky eyes" when I was ordering food at a fast food joint. As recently as this year, a girl walked by me at a restaurant and muttered "fucking asian" for no reason. So trust me, I know what it feels like to be judged and treated disrespectfully just because of the way I look, and I can only imagine how much worse it would have been back then when discrimination was more 'mainstream' and widely accepted.
The Bruce Lee Exhibit
Bruce Lee had many connections to Seattle, and the Wing Luke Museum had a great exhibit documenting his life there, the struggles he faced, how he rose to fame, and stories behind some of the movies he made. Bruce Lee fan or not, it was interesting to get a glimpse into his life and learn about how he broke down some of the stereotypes that were held at the time about Asians in the media. There were also many artifacts relating to him and his movies which was cool to see!
All the things that you will learn
I learned so much about history and different cultures. Many times during my visit, I had to stop, think, and question my own views and thoughts. There was one exhibit in particular on cultural appropriation, and how to tell if you were appropriating someone else's culture that made me really think. And reading about some of the atrocities that were afflicted on other human beings, I just kept thinking - let's not let something like this happen again in the future.
This museum really spoke to me because I could relate to many of the stories. But regardless of what race you are, there is so much to learn from it!
Want to get here?
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday, 10AM-5PM
Address: 719 South King Street, Seattle
General Admission - $14.95 for adults. Your admission includes a tour that takes you through some authentic historical buildings! Check here for the tour times.
Estimated time to spend here: 3 hours (maybe more!)