Neighborhood Identity / by An

The International District is a place of juxtapositions.

Chinese characters and signs supporting the Seattle Seahawks decorate a restaurant's front window.

A man smokes in front of Ocean Star Seafood Restaurant.

Flowers mark part of a memorial for Donny Chin, a community leader in the International District killed in his car by a bullet last summer.

An American flag hangs in the Tsue Chong Fortune Cookie & Noodle Factory.

The International District has always been a destination for me. There's good food, easy transit access, a strong mix of cultural landmarks, and other attractions that would be hard to find anywhere else in the city. However, after working in the neighborhood for a few months, I've lost much of the excitement for this place. Maybe it's because I'm beginning to notice the things I don't like about this place. I've started to notice how dirty some places are. In an area known for its terrific selection of Asian restaurants, the idea of getting Vietnamese or Chinese food is almost obnoxious. The place has lost its shine. Maybe it's because the destination has now merely become part of the routine. Something that I used to look forward to visiting has begun to truly show itself to me, and I am struggling to appreciate it in the same way that I used to.

I wanted to see if I could revisit the neighborhood with a fresh pair of eyes after coming here everyday for the past four months for work. My camera led the way and above is what I found. This kind of outing was helpful. It reminded me that there are gems when you make an effort to see them. Still, I struggle to see the appeal of this neighborhood like I used to. 

I think a part of feeling torn about this neighborhood has to do with how I want to identify myself and how the idea of working in the ID not aligning with that vision.. This neighborhood reflects this identity conflict well: It's a mish mash of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and American culture. It's a place that's growing and changing within the context of a booming metropolitan city while still gripping tightly to its cultural roots. It's a place with a lot of pressure to stay the same and the pressure to adapt. It's a place figuring how to attract a new generation of Asian Americans as well as supporting the families that come before them. What you get from all of those factors is a motley crew of a neighborhood. A neighborhood that's old and new, modern and traditional. Does this mean it has a strong identity or none at all?

Maybe the reason why I like this neighborhood less is because I'm afraid of how closely it resembles myself.