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Megan Asaka’s Journey

By David Yamaguchi
For The North American Post

The subtitle reads Exclusion Erasure and the Making of a Pacific Coast City UW Press Dec 2022 272 pp

New author Megan Asaka spoke on her new book, “Seattle from the Margins,” on May 9 at the Museum of History and Industry. The former Densho staffer, presently an Assistant Professor of History at UC Riverside, was driven by her wondering why the mainstream Seattle history that she read differed so much from her family history. Her great-grandfather was a sawmill worker in Mukilteo.

An early spark had also been her reading the “As I Recall” essay of Frank Kubo, an Auburn-born Kibei who worked in Alaskan salmon canneries. She wondered how common migrant-laborer stories like his are.

As she burrowed into historical archives, she found that Seattle has a deep history of using/exploiting on-the-move laborers, beginning with natives, then continuing with Chinese, Japanese, Fillipinos… The toil first centered on hops — aided by a Wisconsin hops blight — followed by salmon processing (cleaning, canning), then railroad and lumber work. Only later would come stationary employment: dairy, to make fields suitable for agriculture, then strawberry fields.

The pattern explains the high concentration of hotels in the International District, where the workers stayed when in town (see map in “Flourishing Japanese Hotel Businesses, Concluded,” napost.com, Aug. 2022). Yesler St. served as the north-south line dividing the Caucasian upper class from the undesirables Notably, Main St., the primary Japanese street, is a block south of Yesler.

In addition to natives and Asian immigrants, the itinerant laborers included single Scandinavian men. The latter, while among the so-called “desirable immigrants” ethnically, held the lowest rung in the White social ranking of the day.

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David Yamaguchi has written for the NAP since 2006, at first as a volunteer, then as a paid freelancer (2016-2020),then as a staff writer/editor (2020-2023). He is presently executive director of the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington (JASSW).