This column taught me Seattle’s true global reach

The author reporting from an Islamic religious school in Pakistan in 2009 (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

When I started this column five years ago, I was nervous. I didn’t know how I’d handle a hungry deadline or respond to angry readers. More than anything, I was worried I’d run out of stories.

A lot changes in five years.

In 2012, when I started covering our region’s global connection and communities, my beat felt, well, offbeat. My column was a heads-up that we were home to growing immigrant and refugee communities, as well as increasing international cultural, economic and political ties.

But I worried people might lose interest after the novelty wore off, or that I’d quickly burn through a series of nonprofit profiles and have nothing left to write about. I admit that now with shame — that I had such a shallow understanding of the profound impact international communities have, and have always had, in the shaping of this city.

Immediately I was inundated, almost daily, with leads on complex, surprising and timely stories that urgently deserved telling.

There were Kenyan immigrants signing up for the U.S. military, local Syrians organizing to help victims of war, Eritrean refugees breaking into tech jobs and Indian transplants transforming Seattle’s yoga scene.

These stories were not an asterisk to the “mainstream” news of Seattle, but were among the most important things happening in our community.

I quickly went from worrying that I wouldn’t find enough stories, to worrying that I wouldn’t do them justice. Or that the funding for my column, which came via a grant to The Seattle Times, would run out before I had the chance to tell them all.

The funding has ended, and today’s column will be my last. Now I know there would have been no way to report all the stories that deserve attention because these stories aren’t finite. They are part of the ever-unfolding narrative of our city.

I’m grateful for the years I had. I heard the poetry of Hamda Yusuf, talked food-justice activism with Jiji Jally, learned about international birthing traditions at Open Arms Perinatal Services and ate the transcendent pastries of Nohra Belaid.

And though I still feel an urgency to get these stories front and center, in recent years other news organizations and journalists have shown up to do the same. On any given day, outlets all over town are leading with a story about an international company, community or cultural trend. Anyone with a reporting beat in this region knows that our city’s future is increasingly diverse, globally connected and internationally inclusive.

But to be a world-class city, we have to go beyond clichés and platitudes.

Seattle offers immigrants sanctuary, but we still regularly experience hate crimes. We say we value diversity, but the cost of living in this city has risen so high that most immigrants and refugees actually live outside the city limits. And our schools don’t offer children in immigrant communities equal opportunities.

In the time I’ve had the privilege to write this column, I’ve come to see that this quirky town tucked between the sea and mountains is as much a global city as it is an American one. This has always been the case — entrepreneurial weirdos from around the world have long been attracted to our rainy shores. And I believe it is one of our greatest assets.

But to embrace that identity, we need to fully understand we are all in this together — whether you arrived here yesterday or your roots stretch back generations.

We have to commit to each other. Or as I said in my first column those years ago, we must be fascinated by “all the ways we are different” and “all the ways we are the same.”

And after five years of reporting with you, Seattle, I know it won’t be easy, but I believe we’re up for the challenge.

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Sarah Stuteville

Sarah Stuteville is a print and multimedia journalist. She’s a cofounder of The Seattle Globalist. Stuteville won the 2011 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine writing. She writes a weekly column on our region’s international connections that is shared by the Seattle Globalist and The Seattle Times and funded with a grant from Seattle International Foundation. Reach Sarah at sarah@seattleglobalist.com.
Sarah Stuteville

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