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Seattle's C/ID needs an independent bookstore

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

by Sokha Danh

7-months ago is when I first started working on my vision of opening an independent, Asian American bookstore in Seattle's Chinatown/International District. I'm working day-by-day to make this happen, but honestly I still really don't know what I'm doing... I'm kind of just going for it! I've never run a physical storefront and it's not secret that the book business is a tough one to crack. With these things going up against me and the idea of a bookstore, then why am I even trying? The answer is simple and it isn't, but let me try to explain:

1. There are zero independent bookstores in the Chinatown/International District. My hope is that an Asian American bookstore will be a center point for community conversations and organizing in the Chinatown/International District. We all know that bookstores are special places especially in this digital age. People purchase books from bookstores to support small businesses and also to feel connected with their community. More than any other business, I believe that a bookstore has the potential to mirror the heart and soul of neighborhood with the selection of books available on its shelves, the authors and writers that it supports and with the type of conversions that it helps sparks between community members. The Chinatown/International District is in a "bookstore desert" for a Seattle neighborhood. The Capitol Hill neighborhood alone, has at least 5 bookstores. West Seattle and Columbia City, both have at least 3 bookstores. The Chinatown/International District needs and deserves its own bookstore too!

2. It's really on us to create new and relevant cultural spaces in the Chinatown/International District. My hope is that this Asian American bookstore will be a welcoming space that creates a deeper sense of belonging and identity for us in the Chinatown/International District. It's simple. If we don't do it, then someone from outside of our community will probably do something we don't like or have no real control over. The displacement pressure in the Chinatown/International District is at at a tipping point. It's doesn't take a genius to see that the future of the neighborhood is at stake, caught in the crosshair of luxury developments, the scheming of inequitable regional infrastructure and a real public safety crisis. We may or may not be ready. We may or may not have the approval or support of our community elders. But it's finally our generation's turn at the plate to lead the Chinatown/International District into its next chapter. It's now up to us as organizers, professionals, entrepreneurs, creatives, artists and community members to continue making this neighborhood our home for as long as we can.

3. We need to pass down our stories to the next generation of Asian Americans that will inherit the Chinatown/International District. My hope is that this Asian American bookstore will be a liberating space for us to pass down our stories to the the next generation. It's a bitter, but harsh reality that history has proven that our very own existence and even humanity is erased when we are unable to share or shape our own narratives. "I'm not a writer. I'm a storyteller" was the confession of Seattle's own legendary civil rights leader, Uncle Bob Santos, when asked about his reason for writing a memoir after a lifetime of activism in the Chinatown/International District. Uncle Bob clearly understood the importance of owning, creating and sharing our stories (even though he wasn't a writer!) so that future generations could learn from us, and hopefully be inspired to live their own truths.

7-years ago is when I first start working in the Chinatown/International District for a community nonprofit. I was in my mid-twenties and trying to figure out where I belonged in this world after college. What I didn't know back then was that my involvement in this community would give me the most sense of belonging and purpose than any other work that I would be a part of in the future. Right now, I feel like I'm a chapter of my life where I need to be courageously honest with myself about how I want to spend my time and energy in these upcoming years of my true adulthood. My mentor, Ron Chew, who I know because of my work here in the Chinatown/International District likes to remind me that, "Life is too short to not do what you love." Making an Asian American bookstore a reality in our neighborhood is nothing short, but a labor of love for me. And I know that the only reason I can do this is because I'm anchored by the very love that was given to me by all of you, the people in this community, past and present - who've made the C/ID such a special place for all of us.

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