International District Mixtape: Songs Chosen by Asian American-Led Organizations in Seattle

Community Engagement
Wei Wei Xiao
Japanese Breakfast // photo by Peter Hilgendorf (view set)
Blue Scholars // photo by Dave Lichterman (view set)
Yuna // photo by morgen schuler (view set)
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down // photo by Brittany Feenstra (view set)
Mitski // photo by Elizabeth Crook (view set)


Inspired by Albina Cabrera’s playlist of favorite songs chosen by Latinx organizations, I reached out to seven local Asian American-led organizations to curate an International District Mixtape.

Seattle’s International District is located on native land, specifically the Suquamish, Muckleshoot, Duwamish, Stillaguamish and Coast Salish territories. Currently, the borderlines of the International District sit on South Main Street, 5th Avenue South and South Weller Street, and it’s home to Little Saigon, Chinatown and Japantown. I say "currently" because these borders and neighborhoods have never been static. For instance, local Filipino American activists continue to advocate for Filipino Town to be recognized as a historic enclave within the International District. Historically, before the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, Nihonmachi (also known as Japantown) extended as far as 15 blocks north of Jackson Street. In recent decades, the influx of large-scale corporate investment has threatened displacement, especially for houseless, low-income and elderly communities in the International District. Inspired by the activism of Uncle Bob Santos, who protested the development of the Kingdome during the 1970s, groups like the CID Coalition have put their own spin on the original ‘Humbows Not Hotdogs’ slogan with anti-displacement campaigns like ‘Humbows Not Hotels’ and ‘Boba not KODA!’.
The history of the International District is complex, and some of that history is difficult; but more than anything, the district is marked by its community, resiliency, activism and joy. When I think of the the International District, I think of Bush Garden, the first restaurant in the US to have a karaoke bar; the Massage Parlor Outreach Project, a group that advocates for and supports migrant massage parlor workers; ChuMinh Tofu, a Vietnamese restaurant that provides free meals for those in need; and Hing Hay Park, a gathering space for ping pong players, activists and everyone in between. It’s spaces like these, and the people that occupy them, that make the International District a home away from home for so many. The following mixtape, accompanied by comments, are songs curated by ACRS Foodbank, API Chaya, CID Coalition, Friends of Little Saigon, The International Examiner, Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington, and The Wing Luke Museum — these organizations have and continue to do the hard work of preserving and serving the International District and the larger Seattle community.

ACRS Foodbank

About: The ACRS Food Bank currently distributes over 100,000 pounds of food each month to more than 5,200 individuals and families facing food scarcity in King County. It is the only food bank in Washington state that regularly distributes foods that cater to Asian and Pacific Islander diets, including healthy and nutritious staples like rice, tofu, soy milk, noodles, canned proteins, and produce. Food insecurity has risen during the pandemic, and AAPI community members disproportionately lack access to food, emergency meals, and other basic needs. ACRS worked with community partners to transform its food bank and emergency meals program into a home delivery operation.  ACRS chefs make more than 2,000 culturally familiar hot meals a week, while volunteers pack more than 2,250 bags of groceries. Thanks to more than 21 community partners and groups,  the meals and groceries are routinely delivered to community members experiencing hunger in the King County region.

“What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
“Joe Metro” by Blue Scholars
“Harvest for the World” by Isley Brothers
“What a Wonderful World” by Israel Kamakawio’ole
“Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
“First Avenue” by Kore Ionz Feat. Prometheus Brown
“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers

API Chaya

About: API Chaya empowers survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking to gain safety, connection, and wellness. We build power by educating and mobilizing South Asian, Asian, Pacific Islander, and all immigrant communities to end exploitation, creating a world where all people can heal and thrive.

“Blood Moon” by Rogue Pinay
“Minalulok” by Dakota Camacho
“Crush” by Yuna
“Once Kings” by Riz Ahmed
“Thank You Song” by Su Lee 
“Enjoy Enjaami” by Dhee, Arivu, Santhosh Narayanan

CID Coalition

About: CID Coalition is a grassroots organization of Asians + Pacific Islanders with roots, deep love, and connections to the Seattle Chinatown-International District, protecting our people from displacement.

"Star" by Nic Masangkay
"Sick Sad World" by Hollis
"Stop the Killings" by Sendai Era
"Joe Metro" by Blue Scholars
"Good People (Doing Bad Things)" by Prometheus Brown

Friends of Little Saigon 

About: Founded in 2011, Friends of Little Sài Gòn (FLS) is celebrating 10 years of preserving and enhancing Little Saigon’s cultural, economic, and historic vitality. FLS operates out of the Little Saigon Creative, a community gathering space dedicated to Vietnamese culture and experiences, providing community-centered services, and being a place to socialize and dream of new ideas.

“Trên Tình Bạn Dưới Tình Yêu” by MIN (Chosen by Ricky)
“Slash/Burn” by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (Chosen by Valerie)
“Supermarket Love Affair” by Trang Đài (Chosen by (Quynh) Lynda)

Comment: We chose these three songs because they remind us of the diverse cultures, stories, and experiences that make Little Saigon so unique. These songs represent Viet love and friendship (Trên Tình Bạn Dưới Tình Yêu by MIN); the diversity of creatives in the Vietnamese-American diaspora (Slash/Burn by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down); and a nod to the place we all know too well: Asian supermarkets (Supermarket Love Affair by Lynda Trang Đài). 

International Examiner

About: Established in 1974, the International Examiner (IE) is the oldest and largest nonprofit, pan-Asian and Pacific Islander publication in the Northwest. Named after the historic and thriving multi-ethnic International District (ID) of Seattle, the IE aspires to be a credible catalyst for building an inspiring, connected, well-respected, and socially conscious Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

“Be Sweet” by Japanese Breakfast
“Holy Roller” by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
“Racist Sexist Boy” by The Linda Lindas

Wing Luke Museum

About: Located in the heart of the Chinatown-International District, the Wing Luke Museum is the only pan-Asian museum in the nation featuring unique and authentic perspectives on the American story. From stories around the Asian pioneers that helped shape Seattle to national icons like Bruce Lee, the Museum offers an insider look to the history, sights and foods of the neighborhood. Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with us! 

“Spring” by Mini Trees
“Held Open Door” by Floating Room
“Your Best American Girl” by Mitski
“FYO” by Michelle

Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington

About: We are an organization that is committed to preserving, promoting, and sharing Japanese and Japanese American culture and heritage.

“Fields of Gold” by Jake Shimabukuro

Comment: Jake Shimabukuro is Nikkei. One of JCCCW’s staff loves both the way he plays the ukulele and the lyrics of "Fields of Gold" written by Sting.

"Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto 

Comment: This song received nationwide airplay in the US back in the 1960’s and was a top hit at the time. Fun fact: Did you know this song is not about Sukiyaki at all? The Japanese title is “Ue o muite aruko” which literally means “look up when you walk.” We teach our Japanese Language School students to sing this song. Their grandparents love this song. This song was very popular in the '60s in the USA — SUKIYAKI song!

“Plastic Love” by Mariya Takeuchi 

Comment: Responding to the recent revival of the Japanese '80s City Pop, we chose this song!

“Love me, Love you” by Mrs. GREEN APPLE 

Comment: This is a total feel-good song that’s sure to put everyone who listens to it in a great mood while they enjoy J-pop!

“Furusato” by 畠山美由紀 (Miyuki Hatayama)

Comment: Furusato means hometown in Japanese. This is one of the famous folk songs that children learn at schools in Japan.

“Koinobori” by 童謡スーパー スター

Comment: Celebrate Kodomo no Hi with this song! Every year in May, JCCCW hosts Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day), an annual event that encourages children and families to explore and learn about Japanese and Japanese American art, culture, history, food and music.

“Dancing on the Inside” by Gen Hoshino

Comment: The Japanese title of the song is “Uchi de odoro” meaning “Let’s dance at home.” The song was created amidst the COVID-19 and became popular in 2020.

“Universe” by Official Hige Dandism

Comment: One of our staff likes this song and many others by Higedan.

“Tanko Bushi - Boogaloo” by Minyo Crusaders

Comment: A contemporary version of this by a contemporary Japanese group that re-does traditional Japanese songs in different musical genres.

“Misty” by Deems Tsutakawa

Comment: A standard Jazz classic redone in a RnB style. One of JCCCW staff had the pleasure of playing drums on this song and several others on his album On Irving Street back in 2009.

“Tough Tofu” by Deems Tsutakawa 

Comment: Tsutakawa and friends live in Hawaii passed away at the age 69 in 2021. Deems was a long-term supporter of the JCCCW and performed at JCCCW's annual fundraising event, "Tomodachi Gala."

“Demon Slayer: Kimetsuno Yaiba” by LiSA 

Comment: The most popular manga movie in 2020 in Japan.

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