The Seattle Chinatown-International District (aka the “ID”, pronounced eye-dee), located south of downtown is a cultural hub of the Asian American community. Historically, it is the only area in the continental United States where several cultures—Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, African Americans, and Vietnamese—settled together and built one neighborhood.
Short history of the Seattle Chinatown-International District
Chinatown began to take shape in 1910 when Seattle re-graded some hills and filled in the muddy flats along the waterfront. Buildings were erected on this new land and the district began to take shape.
Chinese immigrants arrived to the area first and established a neighborhood south of Jackson along King Street. Of course, the Chinese didn’t have much choice in where to live. Discriminatory covenants prevented Asians from living elsewhere in the city. Many immigrants became laborers who helped build the roads, railroads, and canals in or near Seattle, as well as work in other industries including lumber mills, canneries, farms, and coal mines. Some set up businesses themselves: food and import-export operations, restaurants, laundries, hotels, and other commercial enterprises. In the beginning, Chinatown’s inhabitants were mostly men—single men as well as those supporting families back in China.
Japantown (“Nihonmachi“) originally sprang up north of Jackson along Main Street. However, the neighborhood vanished in 1942 when Executive Order 9066 forced Japanese residents into internment camps. Nihonmachi never returned to what it once was, but it’s history is still evident in the some of the historic businesses, such as the Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House, NP Hotel, and Maneki Japanese Restaurant, along with newer businesses including the eclectic Momo shop, Kobo fine art gallery, Kaname Izakaya and Shochu Bar, and Fuji Sushi among others.
Filipinos, were the third Asian group to arrive in Seattle in the late 1800s, arriving in several waves as the Philippines transformed from American territory in 1898 to full independence in 1946. Today, the Filipino-American community is centered several miles south of the International District along Martin Luther King Jr Way S in southeast Seattle.
African Americans also settled in the International District along Jackson Street in the early part of the 20th Century, establishing many black-owned and -operated businesses as well as nightclubs. For many years, Seattle’s jazz scene on Jackson Street was the place to be. After World War II, housing discrimination and redlining forced Seattle’s black population eastward into what became known as the Central District, the area between 12th Avenue and Martin Luther King Way Jr (at the time, known as Empire Way).
In the 1960s and 1970s, the construction of the Interstate 5 freeway through the International District and building of the nearby Kingdome football stadium threatened the area’s survival. Young Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino student activists rallied under the banner of Asian American unity and led a fight to restore the area. They lobbied for low-income housing, set up bilingual social service programs, and formed a public corporation to preserve and renovate historic buildings.
With public funds, hotels and streets were refurbished, new senior apartments were erected, and community-based service centers were established. College-educated Asian American professionals set up offices throughout the neighborhood, in locations formerly inhabited by their parents and grandparents.
In the 1980s, refugees from Vietnam arrived and set up businesses to the east, forming the “Little Saigon” neighborhood east of Interstate 5, near 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street.
Continuing waves of immigrants from all over Asia have helped to keep the International District alive, along with the many people and organizations who are committed to the neighborhood’s welfare.
In the 1990s, the International District Station of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel opened, and Union Station was restored as a regional transit hub.
In the first decade of the 21st Century the Kingdome was demolished to make way for two new professional sports stadiums southwest of the International District. Nearby King Street train station was restored to its original stately elegance of the previous century.
Other large scale development projects have continued throughout the District. Many old buildings have been renovated and the streets and alleyways have been reclaimed for her resident’s enjoyment.
Chinatown-International District events
Throughout the year, Chinatown International District comes alive for fairs, festivals, parades, night markets, and food walks. Some of the major events are described below.
Scroll down for a calendar of upcoming events.
Most Seattle Chinatown events center around Hing Hay park.
Lunar New Year festival in Seattle’s Chinatown
Lunar New Year in winter in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District is one of the largest Lunar New Year events in the region. Festivities include traditional dragon and lion dances, Japanese Taiko Drumming, martial arts demonstrations, arts & crafts, and a variety of family friendly activities.
The lunar calendar follows the phases of the moon. Therefore, the date for Lunar New Year shifts each year, but occurs somewhere in the last ten days of January and the first twenty days of February. More info: https://cidbia.org/events/lunar-new-year/
- 2020 is the Year of the Rat/Mouse. Seattle’s Chinatown-International District Lunar New Year Celebration is one of the largest events of its kind in the region and showcases diversity, richness, and culture of the Asian community drawing thousands of visitors from throughout the region for a day of festivities. The celebration includes traditional dragon and lion dances, martial arts, taiko drumming, and other cultural performances on the Main Stage, plus arts, crafts and a variety of family friendly activities. FREE EVENT.
- Find more Lunar New Year celebrations around the Puget Sound region.
- Don’t forget the neighborhood’s $3 Asian Food Walk, featuring tasty bites at participating restaurants throughout the neighborhood. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/2593498150769103/
$3 Asian Food Walk in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District
Asian Food Walks are held throughout the year, often in conjunction with other Chinatown festivals. During food walks, restaurants across the International District offer a variety of modestly priced “bites” featuring foods from China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and other Asian countries. More info: https://cidbia.org/
- Find more food festivals around the Puget Sound region.
Dragon Festival in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District
Dragon Fest in summer is one of the largest pan-Asian events in the heart of Seattle’s historic Chinatown-International District. Dragon Fest features cultural performances including Dragon and Lion dances, Traditional Korean drumming, martial arts demonstrations, the Chinese Girls Drill Team, and more. More info: https://cidbia.org/events/dragonfest/
Chinatown Seafair Parade in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District
Seattle Chinatown Seafair Parade in summer is a Seafair tradition. The family-friendly event features lion and dragon dances, the Seattle Chinese Girls Drill Team, and many more local community groups parading through the International District. More info: https://www.seattlechinesechamber.org/chinatown-parade.html
Night Market Festival in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District
Chinatown-ID Night Market Festival is one of the Seattle’s largest outdoor markets. As the sun sets, the International District awakens. Food vendors dish out a variety of street food, local restaurants serve up popular Asian staples, and the outdoor international market features handmade local goods, fresh cut flowers, and Asian inspired items. Live bands and dance groups perform throughout the evening. More info: http://cidbia.org/night-market/.
More festivals in the Puget Sound region
Listed below are some upcoming festivals around the Puget Sound region. We
(If nothing is listed below, there are no upcoming festivals in our calendar. Theoretically, this should never happen. We update festivals on a rolling basis throughout the year and offer over 400 throughout the year in every month, although summer time has the most festivals.)
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Upcoming events in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District
(If nothing is listed below, there are no upcoming Chinatown events in our calendar. Most of their festivals occur in summer and fall.)
But wait, there’s more!
- Find more Cultural heritage festivals in the Puget Sound region.
- There are more festivals of all kinds on our big list of annual festivals, fairs, and parades.
- And here’s a list of 101+ always free things to do for fun.
- Find free and cheap things to do every day on the Greater Seattle on the Cheap event calendar.
- Visit the Greater Seattle on the Cheap home page and choose from a menu of free and cheap activities in the Puget Sound region.
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