Where to Explore Seattle's Cultural Connections

Learn about the diverse cultures that helped shape Seattle.

Like any city, Seattle is a product of the diverse communities that have called it home. Today, the city's population is skyrocketing with many arriving to work in the growing tech industry—but this isn't the city's first boom. The quest for new opportunities has drawn new inhabitants since the first pioneers arrived on Coast Salish land.

Native American

The city’s Native American heritage is reflected in its very name; Chief Si’ahl—Anglicized as Seattle—was a Suquamish and Duwamish tribal leader who developed close ties with “Doc” Maynard, one of Seattle’s primary founders. Si’ahl's tribes, just two of the dozens that make up the Coast Salish group, the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.

Today, you can learn more about the Coast Salish at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, situated not far from the 1851 West Seattle landing site of the earliest settlers. It displays art, artifacts and historical photographs, as well as serving as the tribal community center. The Burke Museum  and Seattle Art Museum offer more opportunities to view traditional art and objects, while Stonington Gallery and Steinbrueck Native Gallery feature contemporary works by Native artists, including fine art, textiles and jewelry. Eighth Generation, in Pike Place Market, sells Native-designed items such as blankets in traditional and modern patterns.

Asian

Seattle’s Chinatown-International District goes back to the late 1800s, when Chinese pioneers arrived to work in the new city’s booming lumber and established their own quarter near the waterfront. Soon after, Japanese pioneers arrived and built their own neighborhood immediately north of Chinatown. Over the next century, other Asian peoples—from the Philippines, Korea, Southeast Asia, et al.—arrived as immigrants or refugees and made their homes nearby, bringing their own traditions, arts and cuisine with them.

Today, the district is a living, breathing opportunity to explore the Asian cultures that shaped it, especially during events such as the Lunar New Year celebration and Bon Odori, a Japanese summer festival. The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience explores the past, present and future of the district’s diverse communities through traditional and contemporary art exhibits, interactive educational displays and tours that aim to show what life was like for early immigrants to the Northwest.

Nordic

Like many of the city's original Asian immigrants, Nordic newcomers arrived in the late 1800s to work in fishing and logging. Most settled in Ballard, where the fishing, canning and boat-building industries were based, and by 1910 they made up more than 30 percent of Washington's foreignborn population and several years later played a major part in establishing Fisherman's Terminal, where the city's commercial fishing fleet docks. The Nordic Heritage Museum opened in its expansive new home in May 2018 and features an impressive collection of more than 77,000 items, including household and occupational objects, furniture, clothing and textiles, fine and decorative art and more, representing the material culture brought or produced by Nordic immigrants from 1940 through today.

African American

Although a small population of African Americans also settled in Seattle in the early pioneer days, it was the defense-related industries related to World War II that caused the biggest boom: The number of African Americans living in Seattle almost doubled from 1940 to 1943. For a look at the African American experience in the Northwest, from the late 18th century to today, check out the Northwest African American Museum, which also exhibits works by contemporary black artists.

Lara Hale
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