As I drove from my house in Hillman City to the demonstration a couple of weeks ago I passed Borracchini’s Bakery and was reminded that Rainier Valley was called “Garlic Gulch” when the area was an enclave of Italian immigrants. It also served as a first stop for Irish people immigrating here in the first part of the twentieth century. Now I pass Ethiopian, East African, West African and Southeast Asian restaurants, and a Vietnamese grocery. Mutual Fish was started by an immigrant Japanese family after the cessation of internments, as was the Link’s fishing equipment store.
I parked my can near 12th and Jackson in Little Saigon and walked through ChinaTown, as the vendors were dismantling their booths following the New Year’s celebration. As I walked through the valley of high-rises in the commercial district of downtown I saw that many office lights were on that Sunday at 5:00 p.m. Then I noticed that people were coming out of the office buildings and condominium buildings with signs. About that time I heard a roar, like you hear from a distant football game. Westlake Center and the surrounding streets were already packed with people carrying signs and people continued arriving for the next two hours.
The signs were diverse, displaying a range of negative feelings about the administration. But mostly the signs advocated for love and understanding, many displaying bible verses, quotes from Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statute of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence, and statements of brother and sisterhood. What struck me about the gathering was its congenial, committed tone.
The crowd displayed the sentiment for which it advocated. The police were present in force but displayed warmth and respect for the crowd, which was reciprocated. Very few were able to hear the speakers at the hastily organized demonstration but all seemed to enjoy participating in the display of American spirit.
There was a small group of Somali people, a family of four with a few friends. A child in the group stared at the crowd in wide eyed awe as he held up a sign upside down. The adults tittered in excitement at being able to participate in the demonstration. They didn’t seem to know English very well but were able to express their love of Seattle and America. Many people toted signs saying “I’m a refugee” or “I’m an immigrant.” I saw a little old lady who needed help walking but was able to hold a little sign on a very thin stick that said “First they came for the Muslims, then we said hell no motherfuckers.” She hobbled to the edge of the crowd, surveyed the scene, said to her companion “this is good,” then hobbled back to her condominium.
The crowd was composed of people of every age, race and sexual orientation. It was really a beautiful experience.