Seattle's International District is a favorite stop for tourists and locals alike. Just a few blocks from the picturesque gateway to the district rests a little known, but incredibly interesting museum. Centered around the Asian Experience in the Pacific Northwest, the Wing Luke not only helps educate the public about our shared history, but also preserves the cultural heritage of our city.
10 am to 5pm Tuesday - Sunday.
10am to 8pm the first Thursday and third Saturday of each month. Free Admission these days.
$12.95 Adult $8.95 Youth. Admission price includes exhibits and a guided tour of the 1910 Historic Hotel and Yick Fung Company.
This museum is a hidden gem in the heart of Chinatown. It surprised and disappointed me to find so few people know about this museum, considering how much it has to offer. Paying $12.95 for admission to the museum alone would have been worth it, but add on the guided tour by a knowledgeable and friendly member of staff and you've got one steal of a deal.
The museum was founded with the intention of carrying on the mission and ideals of Wing Luke. A Chinese immigrant in 1930, Wing attended Roosevelt High School in Seattle. He joined the Army during his senior year and served in Korea, Guam, New Guinea, New Britain, and the Philippines. Wing returned home to find his family and community being mistreated and chose to pursue a career in politics to change things. He was the first Asian American to hold public office in the Pacific Northwest when he was inducted to the Seattle City Council in 1962. He helped pass the Open Housing Ordinance in 1963, which punished racial discrimination in the buying and renting of real estate in Seattle. His death in 1965 abruptly ended his work, but the community came together to continue his mission of assisting the Asian American community in Seattle.
The museum resides in the first building of Chinatown, the YickFung Company Store built in 1910. Visitors are treated to a guided tour of the original store front, complete with goods and counter for purchasing a ticket on a steamship to China. It continues upstairs to view the hotel rooms utilized by immigrant workers for decades. Each room is designed to give the visitor a brief glimpse into the world of various occupations held by Asian Americans. Filipino canners, Chinese mine workers, Japanese agricultural hands and more. The top floor houses the Family Association Room, where guests learn a little more about fraternal groups designed to help immigrants find work and socialize. The guide is well versed on the history of the building and the neighborhood, quick to answer questions and share interesting facts.
In addition to a wonderful tour, the Wing has a series of permanent and temporary exhibits. The first of which, Honoring Our Journey, focuses on the immigration of Asians and Pacific Islanders to the mainland United States and the Pacific Northwest in particular. Topics covered include reasons for coming to America, legislative changes throughout the years affecting immigration, internment, and home life for immigrant families. It is a small gallery, but the open design allows for a free exploration of the material. Adjacent to this gallery space is a much smaller area deemed "Kidsplace", which looks at the Asian American childhood experience. It takes a look at what it means to be an Asian American child and how children impact their community.
Next are a series of rooms, the Community Portrait Galleries, which showcase a few of Seattle's Asian American groups in more detail. Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Sikh cultures are given space to express themselves and their associations with America. Some of the material was quite moving, particularly the discussion of the killing fields in Cambodia. The final room, the Sikh exhibit, was a bit disappointing. It was made clear that due to limited space the full exhibit wasn't available to the public and it showed. While the other rooms seemed whole and professional, the Sikh display came across as temporary and rushed.
The Wing also has a couple of art gallery spaces. The George Tsutakawa Art Gallery held an exhibition entitled "Paper Unbound", which displayed a variety of paper crafts created by Asian and Asian American artists. A favorite of mine was a video showing the artist EtsukoIchikawa exposing paper to molten glass, called "Playing with Fire". The other art gallery held an exhibition entitled "Under My Skin" in which artists grappled with the topic of race. Sculpture, painting, video, and photography were used in a variety of ways to explore topics of race. Topics like discrimination, generational differences in immigrant families, and public engagement were covered with varying levels of success. One piece, by Naima Lowe, caught my attention as I was nearing the exit. 39 Questions for White People, letter pressed on white card stock. With questions like "When did you realize you were white?" and "What do white people eat?", this piece posed questions I had never before asked myself and it stayed with me long after I left. The exit of the exhibit had an area for reflection and space to share your reactions to the material. It's parting words "Talking is hard but it helps" brought home the message that race needs to be discussed.
The museum also houses the Governor Gary Locke Library and Community Heritage Center, which is open to the public Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 3pm. The library hosts the Oral History Lab, a place where members of the community can conduct interviews with the intent of preserving stories and memories for the future. It is free to use.
The Wing Luke has so much to offer, as a museum, an historic site, a community center, and a library. I highly recommend spending a few hours learning a little more about the history of Chinatown and Seattle's Asian American community today by visiting the Wing.