Where is home? Who are my people? How did we come to live in this place? Who can we trust? What are the rules? How do we define “the common good”?
Three years ago, local writer and teacher Nancy Rawles began posing those questions to her students and neighbors in 98118, considered to be one of the nation’s most diverse zip codes.
The questions formed the basis of a community-building project now known as REPRESENT! 98118, which will launch on Sat., Oct. 5, throughout 98118. People are encouraged help write the history of this community through song, dance, photography, art or sharing one’s personal history and perspective. These voices will be collected and displayed on the REPRESENT! 98118 website as well as participating businesses and organizations. Rawles encourages anyone who lives, works, plays, studies, or worships in the 98118 to contribute to this collective history.
“By adding our voices and perspectives to on-going discussions of what it means to be a citizen of the world,” said Rawles, “we seek to challenge age-old ideas of what it means to be an American.”
The part of Southeast Seattle that comprises 98118 stretches from Rainier Beach to Genesee Meadow, from Seward Park to the East Duwamish Greenbelt, from the shores of Lake Washington to the hills overlooking Interstate 5. According to www.city-data.com using data from 2000, 43% percent of residents speak a language other than English at home and 33.6% of the population is foreign-born, compared to the state’s average of 10.4%.
On October 5, Carmen Ufret-Vincenty, a research scientist and long-time resident of Columbia City, will participate in REPRESENT! 98118.
“I moved to this area by accident. It was the only place that I could afford. But I love it. I’ve made more friends there than in any other place I’ve ever lived,” she said. “People are so open minded and interesting. Many of my friends think Seattle is a cold city and I have the totally opposite experience. My experience is that the people are very warm. I think it’s because I live here. Neighbors open their doors, they are curious, they want to know about each other. I think we’re a model community. A lot of people have a lot to learn from us.”
Ufret-Vincenty added, “I will participate by sharing a story. I think my children will contribute poems, because their English is better than mine.”
Zed Aschenaki, owner of Salon Adidez in Columbia City, also plans to participate.
“Being from a different country, Ethiopia, I really appreciate the diversity of this area,” said Aschenaki. “I think when everyone works together, we are able to achieve greater success. Helping each other like this means a lot to me, and that’s why I’m excited about the Represent! 98118 program.”
Columbia City Farmers Market. Photo/Sheila Arthur