Skip to content

Asian Americans and Seattle's Civil Rights History

This page is a gateway to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project resources for exploring the civil rights activism of Asian Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Included are activist oral histories, research reports, newspaper reports, photographic collections, maps, historical documents.

Film: "A Family Affair" This 19 minute video explores a century of Asian American community building and civil rights activism in Seattle. It was created for the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project by Shaun Scott.

Activist Oral Histories Click to learn more about these activists and watch video excerpts of their oral history interviews.

Chew, Ron

Born in Seattle's Chinatown, Ron Chew attended the University of Washington in the early 1970s, establishing there his interest in journalism. As writer and editor he helped turn the _International Examiner_ into the respected voice of the International District. Since 1991 he has served as Executive Director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum.

Chin, Doug

A leader in the fight to preserve Chinatown/International District in the early 1970s, Doug Chin is a prominent journalist and author of important books on the history of Chinese Americans in Seattle and the history of the International District.

Cordova, Fred and Dorothy

Active in Seattle's Filipino American community for more than fifty years, the Cordovas created the Filipino Youth Association in the 1960s, the Demonstration Project for Asian Americans in the 1970s, and the Filipino American National Historical Society in the 1980s.

Della, David

David Della grew up in Seattle and became active in the Alaska Cannery Workers Association (ACWA) in the 1970s. He assumed leadership positions in ILWU Local 37 in the 1980s. A former director of the State Commission on Asian and Pacific American Affairs, he was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2003.

Domingo, Cindy

Sister of assassinated union leader Silme Domingo, Cindy Domingo was active in the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP) in the 1970s. In the 1980s, she headed the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes, waging a successful nine year long campaign that proved that the Marcos regime was complicit in the murders.

Domingo, Lynn

The youngest of the Domingo siblings, Lynn joined the KDP while in high school in the 1970s, organized Asian American students at UW, joined ILWU local 37 and organized Alaska cannery workers. She remains an active member of LELO.

Gurtiza, Richard

Born in Wapato, Washington in the 1950s, like many Filipino Americans, Rich Gurtiza went to work in the Alaska canneries. In the 1970s and 1980s he was active in the Alaska Cannery Workers Association and the campaign to reform Local 37, the union of cannery workers. Today he is President of Region 37, Inlandboatman’s Union/ILWU.

Hayasaka, Phil

Born in Seattle, Phil Hayasaka spent WWII in an internment camp. In the 1950s and 1960s he served as President of the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League, President of the Jackson Street Community Council, and became the first Director of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, where he worked to create and enforce civil rights legislation.

Irigon, Francisco

Born in the Philippines, Francisco Irigon grew up in Tacoma/Seattle and attended Seattle Central and UW where he was active in the Asian Student Coalition in the early 1970s. Helping to lead the demonstrations that preserved the International District, he was co-founder of the Seattle monthly, Asian Family Affair.

Kato, Charles

Born in Seattle, Chuck Kato spent WW2 in the Minadoka internment camp. He later attended UW and earned an engineering degree. In the 1970s, Kato became one of the leaders of the movement for "Redress," the campaign to secure compensation for Japanese American families who lost freedom and property during the War.

Lowry, Mike

Mike Lowry was born in St. John, Washington in 1939. Elected to Congress in 1978, he served until 1989. In 1992 he became Governor of the state of Washington, serving until 1996. This interview focuses on Lowry's work to pass a federal law providing redress and compensation to Japanese Americans who had been interned during World War II. Congressman Lowry sponsored the 1988 compensation Act.

Maeda, Sharon

Raised in Portland and Seattle, Sharon Maeda attended UW in the 1960s and became involved in civil rights activities. A teacher and journalist, she has served on the Board of JACL, was a founding member of Seattle Third World Women, and Executive Director of Pacific Radio.

Matsuda, Larry

Born in Minidoka Internment Camp, Larry Matsuda grew up in Seattle's International District and attended the UW. An activist in the Asian American student movement of the late 1960s, an educator who taught one of the first courses in Asian American history in Washington State, he has also been active in the JACL.

Santos, Bob

Robert “Bob” Santos, is the most publicly recognized spokesperson and leader of the movement that began in the 1970s to preserve Seattle’s Chinatown/ International District. Former president of the Catholic Interracial Council, he served for years as Executive Director of Inter*Im.

Smith, Charles Z.

Born in Florida, Charles Smith moved to Seattle in 1955 to attend law school at UW. Active in African American civil rights efforts, he also became a member of the Japanese American Citizens League. He served as Dean of the UW Law School and In 1988 became the first African American to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court.

Sugiyama, Alan

Alan Sugiyama was a leader in the Asian youth movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. He co-founded the Oriental Student Union at Seattle Central Community College, was active in the University of Washington’s Asian Student Coalition, co-founded the Asian Family Affair newspaper, and was the first API elected to the Seattle School Board.

Tagawa, Mike

One of only three Japanese Americans to join the Black Panther Party, Mike Tagawa was born in an internment camp, grew up in Seattle, and served in the military before joining the party in 1968. He later helped organize the Oriental Student Union at Seattle Central Community College.

Veloria, Velma

The first Filipina American elected to a state legislature in the continental U.S., Velma Veloria came to Seattle in the 1980s to organize cannery workers under the auspices of the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP). After a decade of labor activism, she turned to electoral politics and served in the legislature for 13 years.

Woo, Michael

Born in Seattle, Michael Woo attended UW in the 1960s. Beginning in 1970 he was an organizer for the United Construction Workers Association, fighting to integrate the construction trades. In 1973 he co-founded the Alaska Cannery Workers Association. Today he is the Director of LELO which carries on the legacy of those pioneering organizations.

Special Sections

Research Reports

Ernesto Mangaoang and the Right to Be:
The Fight for Filipino-American Belonging in the United States
by Noelle Morrison

Arrested in 1949 and facing deportation, Ernesto Mangaoang’s four-year fight to remain in the country he had entered legally twenty-seven years earlier resulted in a landmark court decision that clarified the status of 70,000 Filipino Americans who had immigrated during the era of US colonial occupation of the Philippines.

Filipino Americans and the Making of Dr. Jose P. Rizal Bridge and Park byAndrew Hedden

In 1974, Seattle’s 12th Avenue South Bridge was renamed and rededicated in the name of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the martyred Filipino patriot and novelist. This report tells the story of how the bridge and nearby park came to be named for Rizal, and explores their meaning to several generations of Seattle’s Filipino American community. The report includes images and documents, including a full reproduction of the book Rizal Park: Symbol of Filipino Identity.

James Sakamoto and the Fight for Japanese American Citizenship by Andy Marzano

Editor of the Japanese American Courier and founder of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Jimmie Sakamoto began making an impact when he testified before a Congressional committee at age 17. This report details his life and assesses his role in the fight to achieve full citizenship.

White Supremacy and the Alien Land Laws of Washington State by Nicole Grant

In 1966, voters repealed the several Alien Land Laws that had made it illegal for Chinese, Japanese, and for a time Filipino immigrants to own land in Washington State. This essay examines first the campaigns to restrict land rights and then efforts to repeal Alien Land Laws in the 1950s ad 1960s.

"Pride and Shame" The Museum Exhibit that Helped Launch the Japanese American Redress Movement by Allison Shephard

In 1970, the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League changed course on a museum exhibit that was supposed to merely celebrate their community, and instead decided to also revisit the painful history of internment. The exhibit, “Pride and Shame”, ended up traveling around the country, and has been credited with helping launch the internment redressmovement.

The 1920 Anti-Japanese Crusade and Congressional Hearings by Doug Blair

Led by chairman Albert Johnson, the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization came to Seattle and Tacoma in July 1920 to hold hearings on the “Japanese question.” The hearings sparked a fierce xenophobic crusade aimed at Japanese Americans and led directly to the 1924 federal law that banned immigration from Asian countries. Only 17 years old when he testified, James Sakamoto would later help start the Japanese American Citizens League and publish the Japanese American Courier.

After Internment: Seattle’s Debate Over Japanese Americans’ Right to Return Home by Jennifer Speidel

On December 17th, 1944 U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt announced that the federal government would officially end the exclusion order that prevented Japanese and Japanese-Americans from returning to the West Coast. The announcement set off a fiery debate over “resettlement,” with some Seattle residents supporting the right of return, while others, including many public officials, tried to stop it.This essays explores both sides of the resettlement debate in Seattle.

Cannery Worker’s and Farm Laborer’s Union 1933-1939: Their Strength in Unity by Crystal Fresco

Seattle was home to the most important Filipino-American led labor union, the Cannery Worker’s and Farm Laborer’s Union. Organized in 1933, the union represented “Alaskeros,” the men who shipped out each spring to work in the Salmon canneries of Alaska. This essay narrates the dramatic early years of CWFLU which much later became Local 37 of the ILWU. The union was still in its infancy when two of the founders, President Virgil Duyungan and secretary Aurelio Simon, were murdered, but their deaths only solidified the members determination to make their organization survive and succeed.

The Local 7/Local 37 Story: Filipino American Cannery Unionism in Seattle 1940-1959 by Micah Ellison

Historians have concentrated on the early years of the Cannery Workers Union and on the two sets of assassinations that plagued the Filipino-American-led union, the murder of Duyungan and Simon in 1936 and the second dual assassination of union leaders Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in 1981. This essay explores the critical middle period as the union negotiated the 1940s and 1950s, dealing with deportation threats, internal turmoil, but also consolidating and becoming a critical resource for Filipino-American communities on the West Coast.

Victorio Velasco, Pioneer Filipino American Journalist by Erik Luthy

Journalism became very important to Filipino American community development and politics and no one did more to establish the journalistic enterprise than Victorio Velasco, who is best known as the editor of the Seattle-based Filipino Forum (1928-1968). This paper looks at his early career as a student and journalist after coming to the US from the Phillipines in 1924.

Blocking Racial Intermarriage Laws in 1935 and 1937: Seattle’s First Civil Rights Coalition by Stefanie Johnson

In an era of American history marked by racial segregation and anti-immigrant attitudes, Washington was an anomaly: the only state in the west, and one of only eight nationwide, without laws banning racial intermarriage. When anti-miscegenation bills were introduced in both the 1935 and 1937 sessions of the Washington State Legislature, an effective and well-organized coalition led by the African American, Filipino, and Labor communities mobilized against the measure.

Newspaper reports

For more than 40 years, from 1928 until 1969, The Filipino Forumserved Filipinos in the Pacific Northwest. This essay looks at the early years of the newspaper.

This essay examines the sharply conflicting editorial positions of some of the smaller newspapers in the region: the Seattle Argus, West Seattle Herald, Bainbridge Review, Northwest Enterprise, and Japanese American Courier.

The Philippine-American Chronicle was a biweekly newspaper published in Seattle from 1935 – 1936. With its motto was “For Truth Freedom and Justice We Champion the Cause of Labor,” the paper supported the organizing drive of the Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers’ Union Local No. 18257. General national and international news, local society news, poetry, wit and humor sections, and numerous advertisements were also a part of the paper.

Photo Collections

Maps of residential patterns

Document collections

Other resources and links