The Seattle Globalist http://www.seattleglobalist.com Where Seattle Meets the World Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:58:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Immigrant dancers fighting for U.S. work visas http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/19/dancing-immigration-officers-work-visa-discrimination-dancers/30151 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/19/dancing-immigration-officers-work-visa-discrimination-dancers/30151#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=30151

Ballroom dancers have an American dream too.

They come through customs hoping to propel their careers by training with some of the world’s top coaches.

But often these dreamers are gone again within six months, unable to pay the application fees for an O-1B work visa or meet its high burden of proof.

Sergey Nekrasov, a Russian dancer who immigrated to Seattle in 2005, was lucky. Though it cost him nearly $6,000 in legal and submission fees, he was able to secure a work visa two months after mailing his application.

A five time Russian Samara Regional Champion and a finalist in a variety of competitions across Europe, Nekrasov has waltzed and sambaed for over 27 years. He trained some of the top couples in Russia and received governmental recognition for his instruction.

“Compared to America, it’s very hard to teach and dance in Russia money-wise,” he said. “That’s actually why a lot of dance couples move from Russia or the former USSR region to the United States.”

467634_3222024923998_788590959_o

Sergey Nekrasov and former partner Ekaterina Zakharoff preparing to compete in Samara, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Sergey Nekrasov)

Home to a few of the nation’s top couples, Seattle has seen an expansion in its ballroom community over the past couple years. With a number of high quality studios both in the city and on the east side, the Pacific Northwest has become an attractive destination to more than just social dancers.

Lured by the prospect of teaching in America, Nekrasov came to Seattle on a visitor visa after friends from his ballroom circle in Samara had found success working in a studio in Everett. The fastest way to acquire a work visa for a dancer is to apply under studio sponsorship. Unfortunately, many studios abuse dancers’ dependency and exploit them for the sake of profit, according to Nekrasov.

“You can get into a situation where you’re not just teaching,” said Nekrasov. “For the first few years I was in the studio from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., cleaning and doing other odd jobs. I was only getting paid for the amount of hours I was teaching.”

The loneliness, paired with the financial, emotional, and physical costs, becomes hard to endure.

“It’s definitely way harder for ballroom dancers to get visas than it is for doctors, engineers or any other profession,” said Nekrasov. “Not so many people in immigration services know about dancing, that it’s actually a serious career for people.”

According to the nonimmigrant admissions report provided by the Department of Homeland Security, only 3.6% of the 1.9 million temporary workers and trainees allowed to work in the United States were granted an extraordinary ability or achievement (O-1) visa in 2013.

In Washington state, a mere 864 O-1 visas were granted in 2013, while specialty occupations (jobs dealing with science, engineering, medicine, education, and law) were granted nearly 22,000 visas.

While an H-1B visa requires a valid employer-employee relationship and a bachelor’s degree, an O-1B visa requires “evidence that the beneficiary has received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field.”

Many dancers, having devoted their entire lives to their craft in lieu of higher education or job training, are unable to apply for an H-1B visa. The “extraordinary ability or achievement” visa becomes their only hope.

“I had couples I was working with here in the states that became the national champions in the youth division,” mentioned Nekrasov.

“The officer from the immigration office who reviewed my case said that kids don’t

The post Immigrant dancers fighting for U.S. work visas appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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Ballroom dancers have an American dream too.

They come through customs hoping to propel their careers by training with some of the world’s top coaches.

But often these dreamers are gone again within six months, unable to pay the application fees for an O-1B work visa or meet its high burden of proof.

Sergey Nekrasov, a Russian dancer who immigrated to Seattle in 2005, was lucky. Though it cost him nearly $6,000 in legal and submission fees, he was able to secure a work visa two months after mailing his application.

A five time Russian Samara Regional Champion and a finalist in a variety of competitions across Europe, Nekrasov has waltzed and sambaed for over 27 years. He trained some of the top couples in Russia and received governmental recognition for his instruction.

“Compared to America, it’s very hard to teach and dance in Russia money-wise,” he said. “That’s actually why a lot of dance couples move from Russia or the former USSR region to the United States.”

467634_3222024923998_788590959_o

Sergey Nekrasov and former partner Ekaterina Zakharoff preparing to compete in Samara, Russia. (Photo courtesy of Sergey Nekrasov)

Home to a few of the nation’s top couples, Seattle has seen an expansion in its ballroom community over the past couple years. With a number of high quality studios both in the city and on the east side, the Pacific Northwest has become an attractive destination to more than just social dancers.

Lured by the prospect of teaching in America, Nekrasov came to Seattle on a visitor visa after friends from his ballroom circle in Samara had found success working in a studio in Everett. The fastest way to acquire a work visa for a dancer is to apply under studio sponsorship. Unfortunately, many studios abuse dancers’ dependency and exploit them for the sake of profit, according to Nekrasov.

“You can get into a situation where you’re not just teaching,” said Nekrasov. “For the first few years I was in the studio from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., cleaning and doing other odd jobs. I was only getting paid for the amount of hours I was teaching.”

The loneliness, paired with the financial, emotional, and physical costs, becomes hard to endure.

“It’s definitely way harder for ballroom dancers to get visas than it is for doctors, engineers or any other profession,” said Nekrasov. “Not so many people in immigration services know about dancing, that it’s actually a serious career for people.”

According to the nonimmigrant admissions report provided by the Department of Homeland Security, only 3.6% of the 1.9 million temporary workers and trainees allowed to work in the United States were granted an extraordinary ability or achievement (O-1) visa in 2013.

In Washington state, a mere 864 O-1 visas were granted in 2013, while specialty occupations (jobs dealing with science, engineering, medicine, education, and law) were granted nearly 22,000 visas.

While an H-1B visa requires a valid employer-employee relationship and a bachelor’s degree, an O-1B visa requires “evidence that the beneficiary has received, or been nominated for, significant national or international awards or prizes in the particular field.”

Many dancers, having devoted their entire lives to their craft in lieu of higher education or job training, are unable to apply for an H-1B visa. The “extraordinary ability or achievement” visa becomes their only hope.

“I had couples I was working with here in the states that became the national champions in the youth division,” mentioned Nekrasov.

“The officer from the immigration office who reviewed my case said that kids don’t count. That this wasn’t an achievement and that it wasn’t enough. I got asked to somehow prove that the national championships are actually nationals,” he said, laughing.

A number of dancers receive necessary documentation, mentioned Nekrasov. But many more struggle, are forced to return to their home countries, or lose precious time from their careers, he said.

This story was produced in partnership with the First Days Project.

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What are the top Seattle Globalist stories of 2014? http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/18/top-seattle-globalist-stories-2014/31649 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/18/top-seattle-globalist-stories-2014/31649#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:29:50 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31649 Gov. Jay Inslee signing the Washington State Dream Act. (Photo thanks to OneAmerica)

Gov. Jay Inslee signing the Washington State Dream Act. (Photo thanks to OneAmerica)

2014 has been quite the year. We’d like to know what you think are some of the top Seattle Globalist moments from 2014. What Globalist stories or issues struck you as notable this year?

Let us know via Facebook, Twitter, here in the comments below or via email at editor@seattleglobalist.com what we should include in our news roundup. It would be great to include a little description about why the stories you picked are noteworthy, and we might quote you in the article. We’ll publish the list at the end of the month.

Seattle Ferguson Protest Photos

People gather at the University of Washington for a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration on Nov. 25. (Photo by Jama Abdirahman)

An 12-year-old Syrian boy sews reinforcement stitches on donated shoes at his parent's storefront in the Zaatari Camp's main market area. In lieu of going to one of the schools offered at the camp, many children end up working for their parents or in other shops to bring in extra money for the family. (Photo by Alisa Reznick)

An 12-year-old Syrian boy sews reinforcement stitches on donated shoes at his parent’s storefront in the Zaatari Camp’s main market area. In lieu of going to one of the schools offered at the camp, many children end up working for their parents or in other shops to bring in extra money for the family. (Photo by Alisa Reznick)

The post What are the top Seattle Globalist stories of 2014? appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

]]>
Gov. Jay Inslee signing the Washington State Dream Act. (Photo thanks to OneAmerica)

Gov. Jay Inslee signing the Washington State Dream Act. (Photo thanks to OneAmerica)

2014 has been quite the year. We’d like to know what you think are some of the top Seattle Globalist moments from 2014. What Globalist stories or issues struck you as notable this year?

Let us know via Facebook, Twitter, here in the comments below or via email at editor@seattleglobalist.com what we should include in our news roundup. It would be great to include a little description about why the stories you picked are noteworthy, and we might quote you in the article. We’ll publish the list at the end of the month.

Seattle Ferguson Protest Photos

People gather at the University of Washington for a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration on Nov. 25. (Photo by Jama Abdirahman)

An 12-year-old Syrian boy sews reinforcement stitches on donated shoes at his parent's storefront in the Zaatari Camp's main market area. In lieu of going to one of the schools offered at the camp, many children end up working for their parents or in other shops to bring in extra money for the family. (Photo by Alisa Reznick)

An 12-year-old Syrian boy sews reinforcement stitches on donated shoes at his parent’s storefront in the Zaatari Camp’s main market area. In lieu of going to one of the schools offered at the camp, many children end up working for their parents or in other shops to bring in extra money for the family. (Photo by Alisa Reznick)

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Sony cancels release of “The Interview” after threats to theaters http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/sony-cancels-release-interview-threats-theaters/31697 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/sony-cancels-release-interview-threats-theaters/31697#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 02:24:41 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31697

Guess that's not happening… #TheInterviewMovie pic.twitter.com/yBZnIWlNt7

— Ninette Cheng (@ninettecheng) December 18, 2014

“The Interview,” a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has been canceled by Sony Pictures on Wednesday following threats made to theaters that had been scheduled to show the film.

The comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, had been slated for  Christmas release. Major theater chains canceled the showings after a group called the “Guardians of Peace” threatened an attack on movie theaters, invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Variety.

The threats followed a widespread hack of Sony Pictures in November, which resulted in the release of emails that embarrassed Sony executives.

According to NPR’s The Two Way blog, U.S. investigators believe that the origin of the hack and the threats can be traced to North Korea.

Seattle Twitter users responded to the furor around the movie over the past few days:

 

 

The post Sony cancels release of “The Interview” after threats to theaters appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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Guess that's not happening… #TheInterviewMovie pic.twitter.com/yBZnIWlNt7

— Ninette Cheng (@ninettecheng) December 18, 2014

“The Interview,” a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has been canceled by Sony Pictures on Wednesday following threats made to theaters that had been scheduled to show the film.

The comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, had been slated for  Christmas release. Major theater chains canceled the showings after a group called the “Guardians of Peace” threatened an attack on movie theaters, invoking the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Variety.

The threats followed a widespread hack of Sony Pictures in November, which resulted in the release of emails that embarrassed Sony executives.

According to NPR’s The Two Way blog, U.S. investigators believe that the origin of the hack and the threats can be traced to North Korea.

Seattle Twitter users responded to the furor around the movie over the past few days:

 

 

The post Sony cancels release of “The Interview” after threats to theaters appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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Opportunities, challenges await immigrant parents eligible for Obama’s deferred action http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/jobs-immigrant-parents-eligible-obama-deferred-action/31679 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/jobs-immigrant-parents-eligible-obama-deferred-action/31679#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 23:06:20 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31679 The turnout at Highline College at an informational event earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of NWIRP)

The turnout at Highline College at an informational event earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of NWIRP)

Ray Corona works as a student recruiter at University of Washington (UW) Bothell, a job he knows he couldn’t have gotten if not for a policy change the Obama administration initiated two years ago granting work permits and a reprieve from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants.

But Corona, 23, who is hoping for a career in the corporate sector, worries the limitations of his deferred action status puts him at a competitive disadvantage.

“These work permits have an expiration date to them,” said Corona, who also heads the Washington Dream Act Coalition. “It’s an obvious and clear thing for an employer who may start questioning the longevity of someone they are about to make an major investment in.”

These same concerns are likely to confront some of the nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants eligible for work authorization and other benefits through an expansion of the deferred action program the president announced last month.

Under that plan, immigrant parents of U.S citizens and green card holders — about 70,000 people across Washington state — would be granted a renewable, three-year work permit and a social security number as well as protection from deportation.

They must pass a criminal background check and must have been physically present and continuously living in the U.S. since January 2010. Their qualifying child must have been born on or before the date of the president’s announcement, Nov. 20, 2014.

They can begin applying in May.

Applying for deferred action will require these parents to exit the shadows and make themselves known to the government. In addition to the work permit that accompanies deferred action, recipients also get a social security number, valid as long as the work permit is, that recipients can use to open bank accounts and apply for credit cards.

Zaida Rivera, staff attorney for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), said one question many applicants often ask is whether they can be deported if they are not approved for deferred action.

For those applicants who have been denied, that hasn’t happened, she said.

“This program offers protection and work authorization; it allows people to live without fear of deportation and being separated from their families,” Rivera said. “If you are eligible, we suggest you apply.”

To respond to questions parents will undoubtedly have, NWIRP has been hosting a series of community presentations across the state, including one event scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall. 

The granting of work permits to undocumented immigrants is not new. It’s common for asylum seekers or those marked for deportation, but out on bond, to be granted employment authorization.

Ray Corona, UW Bothell recruiter and "DREAM"-er. (Courtesy of Ray Corona)

Ray Corona, UW Bothell recruiter and “DREAM”-er. (Courtesy of Ray Corona)

The millions of parents who will qualify for work permits under this expansion could possibly represent, in sheer numbers, the largest granting of work authorization in history.

But while there are clear benefits to being able to work legally and above board, there may also be limitations.

Corona said many of the large employers he’d like to work for include a series of questions on job applications that would easily reveal an applicant’s employment eligibility even before that person reached the interview stage.

One question: “Do you now or will you in the future need employment sponsorship?” Employment sponsorship refers to a federal process through which employers petition the federal government for an employment visas on behalf of a foreign worker.

Given the political uncertainty of deferred action, Corona said, the answer to

The post Opportunities, challenges await immigrant parents eligible for Obama’s deferred action appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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The turnout at Highline College at an informational event earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of NWIRP)

The turnout at Highline College at an informational event earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of NWIRP)

Ray Corona works as a student recruiter at University of Washington (UW) Bothell, a job he knows he couldn’t have gotten if not for a policy change the Obama administration initiated two years ago granting work permits and a reprieve from deportation for hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants.

But Corona, 23, who is hoping for a career in the corporate sector, worries the limitations of his deferred action status puts him at a competitive disadvantage.

“These work permits have an expiration date to them,” said Corona, who also heads the Washington Dream Act Coalition. “It’s an obvious and clear thing for an employer who may start questioning the longevity of someone they are about to make an major investment in.”

These same concerns are likely to confront some of the nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants eligible for work authorization and other benefits through an expansion of the deferred action program the president announced last month.

Under that plan, immigrant parents of U.S citizens and green card holders — about 70,000 people across Washington state — would be granted a renewable, three-year work permit and a social security number as well as protection from deportation.

They must pass a criminal background check and must have been physically present and continuously living in the U.S. since January 2010. Their qualifying child must have been born on or before the date of the president’s announcement, Nov. 20, 2014.

They can begin applying in May.

Applying for deferred action will require these parents to exit the shadows and make themselves known to the government. In addition to the work permit that accompanies deferred action, recipients also get a social security number, valid as long as the work permit is, that recipients can use to open bank accounts and apply for credit cards.

Zaida Rivera, staff attorney for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), said one question many applicants often ask is whether they can be deported if they are not approved for deferred action.

For those applicants who have been denied, that hasn’t happened, she said.

“This program offers protection and work authorization; it allows people to live without fear of deportation and being separated from their families,” Rivera said. “If you are eligible, we suggest you apply.”

To respond to questions parents will undoubtedly have, NWIRP has been hosting a series of community presentations across the state, including one event scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall. 

The granting of work permits to undocumented immigrants is not new. It’s common for asylum seekers or those marked for deportation, but out on bond, to be granted employment authorization.

Ray Corona, UW Bothell recruiter and "DREAM"-er. (Courtesy of Ray Corona)

Ray Corona, UW Bothell recruiter and “DREAM”-er. (Courtesy of Ray Corona)

The millions of parents who will qualify for work permits under this expansion could possibly represent, in sheer numbers, the largest granting of work authorization in history.

But while there are clear benefits to being able to work legally and above board, there may also be limitations.

Corona said many of the large employers he’d like to work for include a series of questions on job applications that would easily reveal an applicant’s employment eligibility even before that person reached the interview stage.

One question: “Do you now or will you in the future need employment sponsorship?” Employment sponsorship refers to a federal process through which employers petition the federal government for an employment visas on behalf of a foreign worker.

Given the political uncertainty of deferred action, Corona said, the answer to that question can be tricky for someone with a work permit that expires in three years.

“As I look into the future at where I can go from this entry-level  position at the UW, I’d really like to get into the corporate sector, he said.

“When I look at applications that ask about employment sponsorship, while at the moment I don’t need it, this is such a temporary thing, I know I may in the future,” Corona said. “Which box I check just adds another layer.”

Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the Council for Global Immigration, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management, said the question regarding employment sponsorship on job applications is not one that has been raised in the context of deferred action.

Even so, she said, employers may not, by law, discriminate against a person with limited work authorization.

“Employers should not be asking for proof of work authorization before they extend an offer of employment,” she said.

Shotwell said a more pressing issue exists for undocumented workers who might step forward now to tell employers they are eligible for the program even before the application window opens.

That not only exposes them as illegally employed, but leaves the employer in an awkward position, she said.

“Immigration lawyers are advising us that person would need to be terminated,” she said.

Corona says this is a “Catch-22.” Many workers who have been with the same employer for several years may need information from that employer to help prove their continuous residency in the U.S as part of their application for deferred action.

Born in Mexico city, Corona came to the U.S when he was nine and graduated last year with a degree in society, ethics and human behavior from UW Bothell.

He was the first in his family to graduate from high school and attend college and often shares his academic story with the high school students he’s trying to recruit – student from all different backgrounds.

For the last five years he has been active in pushing for immigration changes that would benefit, not just young undocumented folks here in Washington and across the country, but their parents as well.

But the push for permanent, legal status needs to continue, he said.

“I keep hearing students and others getting complacent with this idea of deferred action,” he said. “I don’t want to plan my life out in three-year intervals.”

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U.S. and Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/u-s-cuba-re-establish-diplomatic-relations/31666 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/u-s-cuba-re-establish-diplomatic-relations/31666#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:57:06 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31666 Flag of Cuba. (Photo by Stewart Cutler via Creative Commons license.)

Flag of Cuba. (Photo by Stewart Cutler via Creative Commons license.)

The United States and Cuba will seek to re-establish diplomatic relations, according to a statement released by the White House Wednesday morning. President Barack Obama also delivered an address Wednesday morning on the announcement.

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” he said during this morning’s address.

According to a a statement from the White House:

“It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba.”

“We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.”

(Read the full statement on whitehouse.gov.)

Cuba President Raul Castro addressed his country at the same time as Obama’s address, and Castro called for the U.S. embargo of Cuba to be lifted, according to NBC News.

The announced plans include some easing of travel, but tourist travel will not be eased, according to a story by the Associated Press.

Key to the changes are:

  • The reopening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which were severed in 1961.
  • The re-establishment of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
  • Raising remittance levels from $500 to $2,000 per quarter.
  • Expanding commercial sales to Cuba, and allowing licensed U.S. travelers to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba.
  • Allowing U.S. credit cards and bank cards to be used by travelers in Cuba.
  • Expanding travel visas for: family visits; official government business; journalists; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

AP also reported that the change in policy was announced as Cuba released a spy who provided intelligence to the United States and an American prisoner Alan Gross, who was convicted in Cuba five years ago after installing censorship-free Internet access. The U.S. also released three convicted spies for Cuba, who were convicted in Miami in 2001.

Pope Francis reportedly encouraged the warming of relations between the two countries and the Vatican released a statement following the announcement.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican’s statement read in part.

Several  Congressional critics of Cuba who are also members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized Obama’s move, according to The Huffington Post.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) criticized the exchange of convicted spies for Gross.

“There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted

The post U.S. and Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

]]>
Flag of Cuba. (Photo by Stewart Cutler via Creative Commons license.)

Flag of Cuba. (Photo by Stewart Cutler via Creative Commons license.)

The United States and Cuba will seek to re-establish diplomatic relations, according to a statement released by the White House Wednesday morning. President Barack Obama also delivered an address Wednesday morning on the announcement.

“Neither the American nor Cuban people are well-served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born,” he said during this morning’s address.

According to a a statement from the White House:

“It is clear that decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. At times, longstanding U.S. policy towards Cuba has isolated the United States from regional and international partners, constrained our ability to influence outcomes throughout the Western Hemisphere, and impaired the use of the full range of tools available to the United States to promote positive change in Cuba.”

“We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.”

(Read the full statement on whitehouse.gov.)

Cuba President Raul Castro addressed his country at the same time as Obama’s address, and Castro called for the U.S. embargo of Cuba to be lifted, according to NBC News.

The announced plans include some easing of travel, but tourist travel will not be eased, according to a story by the Associated Press.

Key to the changes are:

  • The reopening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which were severed in 1961.
  • The re-establishment of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
  • Raising remittance levels from $500 to $2,000 per quarter.
  • Expanding commercial sales to Cuba, and allowing licensed U.S. travelers to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba.
  • Allowing U.S. credit cards and bank cards to be used by travelers in Cuba.
  • Expanding travel visas for: family visits; official government business; journalists; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.

AP also reported that the change in policy was announced as Cuba released a spy who provided intelligence to the United States and an American prisoner Alan Gross, who was convicted in Cuba five years ago after installing censorship-free Internet access. The U.S. also released three convicted spies for Cuba, who were convicted in Miami in 2001.

Pope Francis reportedly encouraged the warming of relations between the two countries and the Vatican released a statement following the announcement.

“The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history,” the Vatican’s statement read in part.

Several  Congressional critics of Cuba who are also members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized Obama’s move, according to The Huffington Post.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) criticized the exchange of convicted spies for Gross.

“There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) appeared on Fox News before Obama’s televised address, according to Huffington Post.

It’s absurd and it’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established,” the publication quoted Rubio as saying.

The Seattle Globalist will update this post with more information. Got something to say? Tell us in the comments, or email the Seattle Globalist at venice@seattleglobalist.com

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Japanese-style cat cafe coming to Seattle http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/japanese-style-cat-cafe-coming-seattle/31078 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/17/japanese-style-cat-cafe-coming-seattle/31078#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:00:17 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31078 Two young Seattle entrepreneurs are raising funds to open 'the Meowtropolitan' — Seattle's first cat cafe.

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Cat Cafe in Korea

Cats nestle inside play houses in a Korean cat café. (Photo courtesy of Pornwalai Siripornpitak)

The poster caught my eye recently while I was waiting for my dinner at a local restaurant. It promised an unconventional, but in my mind ‘purrfect’ marriage: cats and coffee.

I rushed home to do some research online and found out more about The Seattle Meowtropolitan, a cat café that is finally bringing this popular Asian phenomenon closer to home. Slated to open around June 2015, its founders are certain that cats and “catpuccinos” are just what Seattle needs.

So what the heck is a cat café exactly?

An image surfaced in my mind of a quirky themed café nestled in some fashionable Japanese district, where cats and humans mingled over pastries and pet treats in some unconventional co-existence. Strange, but a pleasant idea nonetheless.

Cat cafes are sort of like a cross between your local café and a petting zoo. They typically consist of an area for serving food and drinks, as well as a place where cats roam freely and customers are able to interact with them. Payment is usually made based on time spent with cats, though some cafes have also had success with things like day passes.

Many have rules set for the interaction between humans the furry friends in the cafes for both species’ safety, such as enforcing age limits or adult supervision for younger visitors, and advising customers not to pick up sleeping or visibly agitated cats.

Louisa Liu and Matt Lai, two of the founders of the Seattle Meowtropolitan. (Photo by Grace Qian)

Louisa Liu and Matt Lai, two of the founders of the Seattle Meowtropolitan. (Photo by Grace Qian)

“We wanted to fit our café into that culture and be like a community hub for people in Seattle who love cats,” says Matt Lai, the marketing director behind the Meowtropolitan. “More than just being a physical café we want to be like a brand that represents cat lovers.”

The first cat café opened its doors to Taipei in 1998, and since then the craze has slowly but steadily sunk its claws into many overseas locations. Notable shops now include Neko no mise (猫の店) in Japan and the Cat Attic (고양이 다럭방 ) chain of stores in Korea.

These cafes’ extreme popularity in places like Japan have been attributed to the lifestyle of the citizens. Many people who live in apartments with pet restrictions or have busy schedules cannot juggle taking care of a pet in the mix, so cat cafes have become a popular go-to for people to de-stress and have the experience of owning a cat without obligation. This novel idea has spawned a host of spin-off animal cafes such as bird, rabbit, and even a reptile café in Yokohama, Japan

The western world has been relatively slow to catch on to this idea. But back in October, Cat Town Café opened to the public in Oakland, California making it the first of its kind in the United States. Various other establishments such as the Denver Cat Company in Colorado are set to follow before the year ends.

Customers mingle with cats in a Japanese cat café. (Photo courtesy of Hailey Guo)

Customers mingle with cats in a Japanese cat café. (Photo courtesy of Hailey Guo)

“I think it’s because of the popularity on the internet,” says Lai on the sudden surge in popularity of cats everywhere. “I know I’ve personally seen on sites like Reddit that people post about cat cafes they’ve visited and other people are like ‘Oh my God that’s so cool, I’ve never heard of this”

Cat Town Café’s kitty regulars were all taken from the municipal shelter, and are up for adoption by the public if any catch their eye at the cafe. The Seattle Meowtropolitan also aims to also partner with a local shelter by December to employ its cats on their feline staff list. This usage of shelter cats in the café is a relatively new practice that puts the North American establishments at odds with some of their Asian counterparts, where cats will be specially bred or picked based on appearance to inhabit in their cafes.

“I think this idea of making the cats in the cat café adoptable is a very new concept even though the cafes have existed [for a long time],” said Lai. “This new wave of cat cafes in the U.S. were the first ones to say ‘we also double as a shelter.’”

A rule card displayed at the Cat Attic cat café in Korea. Cafes commonly employ rules such as not picking up sleeping or visibly agitated cats. (Photo courtesy of Karla Orozco)

A rule card displayed at the Cat Attic cat café in Korea. Cafes commonly employ rules such as not picking up sleeping or visibly agitated cats. (Photo courtesy of Karla Orozco)

Rules and regulations also play a stronger role in the new cafes that have opened in the States. While cafes in other countries may allow cats and food preparation in one room, health codes in Seattle ban the interaction of these two. The Meowtropolitan plans to have two separate areas within their establishment, with the café and cat interactions area separated by a solid wall.

“So if you were to walk into our café, you’d walk into the café part first,” says Lai. “You’d order a drink and then can either finish your drink in the café, or it’s up to you to take your drink or your pastries into the cat room. Now that is where we meet health code because you go in to the animal portion on your own volition. It wouldn’t even meet health standards if it wasn’t on your own accord.”

“Everyone’s welcome to visit,” says Louisa Liu, another one of the Meowtropolitan’s founders. “So if where you live allows you to have a pet and you want a cat… why not adopt one of ours if it’s for a good purpose?”

The Meowtropolitan is currently working on fundraising for their venture through crowdsourcing on Indiegogo. A recent partnership with Herkimer Coffee has also secured a roaster for their coffee. A timeline estimates that they will continue sourcing funds through crowdfunding for their project until the end of the year, and begin planning and further construction in the months that follow. They are hoping to open to the public mid-2015.

Click here to find out more information about The Seattle Meowtropolitan.

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Study seeks college-educated immigrants from Seattle http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/16/study-seeks-college-educated-immigrants-seattle/31582 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/16/study-seeks-college-educated-immigrants-seattle/31582#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31582 Summer days make the view of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park worth the trek up Queen Anne. (Photo by Annaliese Davis)

A study on skilled and educated immigrant workers seeks respondents from Seattle. (Photo by Annaliese Davis)

Are you an immigrant with a degree from abroad who can’t find a position in the field you studied? Then the nonprofit World Education Services is looking for your input on a study on “underutilized” college-educated immigrant workers.

The group is conducting a Knight Foundation-funded study on college-educated immigrant workers, and seeks respondents from the Seattle area.

World Education Services is conducting the survey as part of a study to track the experiences of underutilized, skilled immigrants in six cities to discover ways to better integrate and leverage the talents of workers who were educated abroad. The study, which is funded with a $70,000 grant from the  John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, also includes Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose, California, and Boston, as well as Seattle.

Seattle and the other cities were selected because they have large pools of college-educated immigrants.

According to World Education Services, the goal of the survey is to document the factors that help immigrant professionals to succeed, and the barriers that can hold them back. The Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University will serve as lead research partner, according to the group.

The survey ends Dec. 20.

“Gathering this information will help ensure that cities can draw on the full talents of their foreign-born residents,” said Paul Feltman, director of the Global Talent Bridge initiative at World Education Services, in a prepared statement. “While many of these individuals hold jobs as doctors or engineers, others have struggled to transfer their international credentials and obtain professional employment in the United States; this study will help us to understand why.”

According to World Education Services, approximately 3.7 million immigrants to the United States have degrees from abroad, but 26 percent of these skilled workers are unemployed or working in low-wage jobs.

Results will be publicly announced in March 2015.

 

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Summer days make the view of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park worth the trek up Queen Anne. (Photo by Annaliese Davis)

A study on skilled and educated immigrant workers seeks respondents from Seattle. (Photo by Annaliese Davis)

Are you an immigrant with a degree from abroad who can’t find a position in the field you studied? Then the nonprofit World Education Services is looking for your input on a study on “underutilized” college-educated immigrant workers.

The group is conducting a Knight Foundation-funded study on college-educated immigrant workers, and seeks respondents from the Seattle area.

World Education Services is conducting the survey as part of a study to track the experiences of underutilized, skilled immigrants in six cities to discover ways to better integrate and leverage the talents of workers who were educated abroad. The study, which is funded with a $70,000 grant from the  John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, also includes Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia and San Jose, California, and Boston, as well as Seattle.

Seattle and the other cities were selected because they have large pools of college-educated immigrants.

According to World Education Services, the goal of the survey is to document the factors that help immigrant professionals to succeed, and the barriers that can hold them back. The Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University will serve as lead research partner, according to the group.

The survey ends Dec. 20.

“Gathering this information will help ensure that cities can draw on the full talents of their foreign-born residents,” said Paul Feltman, director of the Global Talent Bridge initiative at World Education Services, in a prepared statement. “While many of these individuals hold jobs as doctors or engineers, others have struggled to transfer their international credentials and obtain professional employment in the United States; this study will help us to understand why.”

According to World Education Services, approximately 3.7 million immigrants to the United States have degrees from abroad, but 26 percent of these skilled workers are unemployed or working in low-wage jobs.

Results will be publicly announced in March 2015.

 

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Ksenia Anske writes her way onto Amtrak with fantasy http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/16/ksenia-anske-fantasy-writer-amtrak-seattle-moscow/31602 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/16/ksenia-anske-fantasy-writer-amtrak-seattle-moscow/31602#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:00:09 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31602 Ksenia Anske reading from Amanda Palmer's book, 'The Art of Asking', at Town Hall on November 18th. (Courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Ksenia Anske reading from Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking,” at Town Hall on Nov. 18. (Courtesy of Ksenia Anske)

Ksenia Anske seems to have a respectable mantra for everything.

On keeping up with the dying book industry:  “Just give it out for free.”

On accepting praise: “Take the f*cking donut.”

On children’s books: “Adults should read them, too!”

On the digital age: “What’s everyone so stressed out about?”

Most importantly, when life hands you lemons, write fantasy novels.

Anske is a Russian expatriate architecture student who went on to become a successful fantasy writer (not before taking a piece of the Seattle startup scene pie), so she hasn’t exactly followed the straight and narrow.

She immigrated to the U.S. in 1998, like many before her, to accompany her then-husband to start a job at Microsoft. Without a car, trudging up the sidewalk-less streets of Redmond with a backpack to get groceries through 90 days of rain, Seattle made even a bleak Moscow winter seem idyllic.

“I was like, ‘What is this place? There’s nobody outside in the streets!’” she recalled.

Anske's printed tweet t-shirts, for sale on her website. (Photo courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Anske’s printed tweet t-shirt sold on her website. (Photo courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Anske eventually found her way across the bridge and her sense of place. She learned English, earned her bachelor’s degree, started her own business, got a car, and then sold it. On Saturday she posted a photo of herself riding the bus reading Pushkin — in English.

She had arrived.

That hard-earned rootedness will send Anske on a whirlwind train trip this spring to Chicago and back, to write a book. In September, Amtrak announced that she was of two local winners of the first ever Amtrak Writers Residency. The residency, which sounds exactly like what it is, was inspired by a retweeted interview with writer Alexander Chee, who cheekily suggested a program for writers like himself who got their best work done while riding the rails. It saw more than 16,000 applications in its first year for 24 spots. Those odds are harder than getting into Harvard.

Though Anske still seemed giddy about her win, it comes as no surprise. In addition to being named one of the Top 100 Women in Seattle Tech by Puget Sound Business Journal and winning the UW Business Plan Competition in the “best idea” category for her startup, Lilipip, she’s the author of six publish fantasy and flash fiction books that can be downloaded for free or by donation. And with a growing readership stretching across the globe, it’s no wonder her book “Rosehead” has been read over 120,000 times.

Anske’s renegade style and dark, funny, genre-defying stories (“weird shit,” she calls it) added to the mish-mash of residency candidates, ranging from former CIA officers, to historians, to novelists.

According to the Amtrak blog, criteria for the residency relied not only on application materials, but “the extensiveness of their social community and ability to reach online audiences with content.”

Anske, who posts bi-weekly on her own blog, is now fully supported by the donations and sales from her online readers.

“I love [social media],” she shared. “Nothing changed, we just have the tools now to do what we always did. It’s people’s way of connecting.”

Online, Anske isn’t afraid of intimacy between herself and her nearly 57,000 Twitter followers, with whom she shares everything from life advice to the experience of eating the perfect bagel. Her fans helped pitch in for her daughter — a college student who designs Anske’s book covers — to buy new art supplies after posting about

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Ksenia Anske reading from Amanda Palmer's book, 'The Art of Asking', at Town Hall on November 18th. (Courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Ksenia Anske reading from Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking,” at Town Hall on Nov. 18. (Courtesy of Ksenia Anske)

Ksenia Anske seems to have a respectable mantra for everything.

On keeping up with the dying book industry:  “Just give it out for free.”

On accepting praise: “Take the f*cking donut.”

On children’s books: “Adults should read them, too!”

On the digital age: “What’s everyone so stressed out about?”

Most importantly, when life hands you lemons, write fantasy novels.

Anske is a Russian expatriate architecture student who went on to become a successful fantasy writer (not before taking a piece of the Seattle startup scene pie), so she hasn’t exactly followed the straight and narrow.

She immigrated to the U.S. in 1998, like many before her, to accompany her then-husband to start a job at Microsoft. Without a car, trudging up the sidewalk-less streets of Redmond with a backpack to get groceries through 90 days of rain, Seattle made even a bleak Moscow winter seem idyllic.

“I was like, ‘What is this place? There’s nobody outside in the streets!’” she recalled.

Anske's printed tweet t-shirts, for sale on her website. (Photo courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Anske’s printed tweet t-shirt sold on her website. (Photo courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Anske eventually found her way across the bridge and her sense of place. She learned English, earned her bachelor’s degree, started her own business, got a car, and then sold it. On Saturday she posted a photo of herself riding the bus reading Pushkin — in English.

She had arrived.

That hard-earned rootedness will send Anske on a whirlwind train trip this spring to Chicago and back, to write a book. In September, Amtrak announced that she was of two local winners of the first ever Amtrak Writers Residency. The residency, which sounds exactly like what it is, was inspired by a retweeted interview with writer Alexander Chee, who cheekily suggested a program for writers like himself who got their best work done while riding the rails. It saw more than 16,000 applications in its first year for 24 spots. Those odds are harder than getting into Harvard.

Though Anske still seemed giddy about her win, it comes as no surprise. In addition to being named one of the Top 100 Women in Seattle Tech by Puget Sound Business Journal and winning the UW Business Plan Competition in the “best idea” category for her startup, Lilipip, she’s the author of six publish fantasy and flash fiction books that can be downloaded for free or by donation. And with a growing readership stretching across the globe, it’s no wonder her book “Rosehead” has been read over 120,000 times.

Anske’s renegade style and dark, funny, genre-defying stories (“weird shit,” she calls it) added to the mish-mash of residency candidates, ranging from former CIA officers, to historians, to novelists.

According to the Amtrak blog, criteria for the residency relied not only on application materials, but “the extensiveness of their social community and ability to reach online audiences with content.”

Anske, who posts bi-weekly on her own blog, is now fully supported by the donations and sales from her online readers.

“I love [social media],” she shared. “Nothing changed, we just have the tools now to do what we always did. It’s people’s way of connecting.”

Online, Anske isn’t afraid of intimacy between herself and her nearly 57,000 Twitter followers, with whom she shares everything from life advice to the experience of eating the perfect bagel. Her fans helped pitch in for her daughter — a college student who designs Anske’s book covers — to buy new art supplies after posting about her being robbed.

Much like herself, Anske’s readers cannot be pegged as this or that.

Anske holding her book, 'Irkadura', about a Russian mute with special powers. (Photo courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Anske holding her book, ‘Irkadura’, about a Russian mute with special powers. (Photo courtesy of Ksenia Anske)

Nearly half of her son’s class has read “Rosehead” — they’re eleven. Readers write her from India, Russia and New Zealand. They are simply, as she describes it, “people who love weird, odd, stuff that’s slightly on the edge.”

Anske wasn’t always a writer with a robust internet following. After being unable to transfer credits from her architecture degree in Russia, she brought her portfolio full of drawings to Cornish College of the Arts, where she was accepted for a degree in design.

While her son was young, she began making cartoon videos to teach him Russian. Others began asking for videos, explaining languages and other concepts, in the digestible, playful and quirky style that is decidedly hers. An avid reader, she devoured books about social media and marketing, and soon gained financial investors. Freelance “how-to” videos turned into a startup, attracting the attention of clients like Zappos.com and Microsoft.

After several years of enjoying the expansion of her business and recognition for it, Anske’s childhood trauma resurfaced, leaving her immobilized and unable to work. Her career came to a halt.  In 2010, she left Lilipip.

“I just fell out of my life,” she said.

When her thoughts moved to suicide, her therapist encouraged her to journal. Meanwhile, she managed to work  in the social media marketing industry for another two years, allowing her to accumulate some savings that would allow her to pursue writing full-time.

Soon, “Siren Suicides,” Anske’s first book, was born. The 2013 trilogy, divided into three parts — “I Choose to Die,” “My Sisters in Death” and “The Afterlife” — served as an enchanting processing of her own experience, striking a chord with online readers.

Anske's first books follow the supernatural story of a suicidal teenager. (Courtesy Ksenia Anske)

Anske’s first books follow the supernatural story of a suicidal teenager. (Courtesy of Ksenia Anske)

In her mind, there was no question about giving out her books for free.

“I thought, ‘If it were not for this story, I would be dead,'” she said. “I was just so grateful for anybody to read it, to even be alive.”

More stories followed. As readership grew, people asked whether the next one would be free, too.

As her savings dwindled, Anske continued writing and struggling to keep up financially. Some writers wrote her angrily, claiming she was devaluing their craft by giving it away for free. She didn’t budge.

“This is just how I see it,” she told me. “This is my way of giving love to people, and they give it back”.

And they did.

As readership grew, Anske eventually began asking for donations for sale of her books, especially signed paperbacks. Readers, she said, would come in and read a book or two for free, and later on, choose to donate or buy a signed copy.

She now makes her entire income writing — 60 percent of it in donations, and 4o percent from sales.

Earlier this month, she spoke to a sold-out room at Town Hall with musician Amanda Palmer (who crowd-sourced the entire funding for her latest album). The evening was aptly titled, “The Art of Asking.”

Despite all this, Anske said she never imagined she’d become a professional writer.

“Someone had to hit me on the head with a pillow saying, ‘Hey! You’re a storyteller.’”

In March, she will set out for two weeks on a train from Seattle to Chicago through Los Angeles. The journey is the penthouse suite of writing — solitude, natural beauty and someone else picking up the bill.

She’s already begun sketches of a story, about — what else? — a Russian troupe of traveling ballerinas eaten one-by-one by a flesh-eating train car.

For all her asking, it’s a not a bad thing to receive.

 

This post has been updates since its original publication. 

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Seattle top chef throwdown sends winner to Washoku World Challenge http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/15/seattle-top-chef-japanese-washoku-itadakimasu-day/31586 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/15/seattle-top-chef-japanese-washoku-itadakimasu-day/31586#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 14:00:43 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31586 Chef Shota Nakajima makes a 30-minute, daikon festooned masterpiece at Seattle’s inaugural “Itadakimasu” Day celebration in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Suzi Pratt)

Chef Shota Nakajima makes a 30-minute, daikon-festooned masterpiece at Seattle’s inaugural “Itadakimasu” Day celebration in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Suzi Pratt)

As a food enthusiast, watching cooking competition shows is a bit of an addiction of mine. From “Hell’s Kitchen” to “Top Chef” or “Chopped,” I’m instantly hooked.

So, when I had the opportunity to attend a live  local cooking competition, I was more than stoked.

Seattle chefs Shota Nakajima of Kappo Kitchen and Aaron Pate of Shiro’s Sushi went head-to-head at a cook-off on Dec. 11 at The Kitchen by Delicatus in Pioneer Square. The event was Seattle’s inaugural “Itadakimasu” Day, a global celebration recently established by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and Nikkei Business Publication, Inc. The event recognizes chefs outside of Japan for their efforts to keep Japanese culinary traditions alive. (“Itadakimasu” is a Japanese expression of thanks before a meal and translates to “humbly receive.”)

Nakajima and Pate each had 30 minutes to cook up one dish that would be judged on their originality, presentation, understanding of Japanese cuisine represented in their dish and — obviously — taste. The winning chef will be be sent to Kyoto, Japan to participate in the Washoku World Challenge 2015, in which several chefs compete to create their versions of traditional Japanese cuisine.

A committee of judges would taste the dish. The panel included Taichi Kitamura, executive chef at Sushi Kappo Tamura; Allecia Vermillion, food and drink editor at Seattle Met Magazine; Holly Smith, chef at Café Juanita; Nancy Leson, food writer and KPLU contributor; and Kenji Toda, executive editor of Nikkei Restaurants.

Sustainable albacore tuna appetizers, courtesy of Sushi Kappo Tamura. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

Sustainable albacore tuna appetizers, courtesy of Sushi Kappo Tamura. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

Guests were not able to sample the chefs’ dishes, but had catered-in food from judge Kitamura’s Sushi Kappo Tamura. The catering was good, but I was still bummed out. Though the guests were at a distance — watching the chefs assemble their dishes from a projection screen in the venue’s dining room — they were stressing out right alongside them (or at least I did).

Pate of Shiro’s Sushi went first and created a platter of tonyu shabu shabu (a soymilk hot pot) and bowls of rice topped with crab claws, marinated black cod, grated radish and a raw oyster.

Chef Aaron Pate eagerly talks with guests about his food spread after the competition. (By Ana Sofia Knauf)

Chef Aaron Pate eagerly talks with guests about his food spread after the competition. (By Ana Sofia Knauf)

The spread was impressive, considering the small allotment of time given. Its only downside was its bulkiness – the platter was laden with bowls, dipping sauce and a miniature stove for the hot pot.

Still, it was impressive.

Due to technical difficulties and general audience excitement, I couldn’t hear the judges’ comments, but they seemed to enjoy all of Pate’s dish’s components.

Nakajima of Kappo Kitchen took an entirely different approach and created a scene to represent Japan’s first snowfall. The chef began with an empty bamboo platter and a bamboo leaf, which was intricately sliced-up, much like paper snowflakes you might have made as a kid. On top of that, Nakajima arranged a paper-thin slice of daikon radish, a slice of lotus root and other edible decorative elements. For the main dishes, he grilled chunks of marinated black cod and served up uni (sea urchin) alongside it.

“Itadakimasu” Day guests watch Chef Shota Nakajima put together his dish for the judges in dining room of The Kitchen by Delicatus in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

“Itadakimasu” Day guests watch Chef Shota Nakajima put together his dish for the judges in dining room of The Kitchen by Delicatus in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

The judges seemed floored by Nakajima’s dish. The chef said his goal was to create a minimalist dish that echoed Japan’s first snowfall,

The post Seattle top chef throwdown sends winner to Washoku World Challenge appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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Chef Shota Nakajima makes a 30-minute, daikon festooned masterpiece at Seattle’s inaugural “Itadakimasu” Day celebration in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Suzi Pratt)

Chef Shota Nakajima makes a 30-minute, daikon-festooned masterpiece at Seattle’s inaugural “Itadakimasu” Day celebration in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Suzi Pratt)

As a food enthusiast, watching cooking competition shows is a bit of an addiction of mine. From “Hell’s Kitchen” to “Top Chef” or “Chopped,” I’m instantly hooked.

So, when I had the opportunity to attend a live  local cooking competition, I was more than stoked.

Seattle chefs Shota Nakajima of Kappo Kitchen and Aaron Pate of Shiro’s Sushi went head-to-head at a cook-off on Dec. 11 at The Kitchen by Delicatus in Pioneer Square. The event was Seattle’s inaugural “Itadakimasu” Day, a global celebration recently established by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and Nikkei Business Publication, Inc. The event recognizes chefs outside of Japan for their efforts to keep Japanese culinary traditions alive. (“Itadakimasu” is a Japanese expression of thanks before a meal and translates to “humbly receive.”)

Nakajima and Pate each had 30 minutes to cook up one dish that would be judged on their originality, presentation, understanding of Japanese cuisine represented in their dish and — obviously — taste. The winning chef will be be sent to Kyoto, Japan to participate in the Washoku World Challenge 2015, in which several chefs compete to create their versions of traditional Japanese cuisine.

A committee of judges would taste the dish. The panel included Taichi Kitamura, executive chef at Sushi Kappo Tamura; Allecia Vermillion, food and drink editor at Seattle Met Magazine; Holly Smith, chef at Café Juanita; Nancy Leson, food writer and KPLU contributor; and Kenji Toda, executive editor of Nikkei Restaurants.

Sustainable albacore tuna appetizers, courtesy of Sushi Kappo Tamura. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

Sustainable albacore tuna appetizers, courtesy of Sushi Kappo Tamura. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

Guests were not able to sample the chefs’ dishes, but had catered-in food from judge Kitamura’s Sushi Kappo Tamura. The catering was good, but I was still bummed out. Though the guests were at a distance — watching the chefs assemble their dishes from a projection screen in the venue’s dining room — they were stressing out right alongside them (or at least I did).

Pate of Shiro’s Sushi went first and created a platter of tonyu shabu shabu (a soymilk hot pot) and bowls of rice topped with crab claws, marinated black cod, grated radish and a raw oyster.

Chef Aaron Pate eagerly talks with guests about his food spread after the competition. (By Ana Sofia Knauf)

Chef Aaron Pate eagerly talks with guests about his food spread after the competition. (By Ana Sofia Knauf)

The spread was impressive, considering the small allotment of time given. Its only downside was its bulkiness – the platter was laden with bowls, dipping sauce and a miniature stove for the hot pot.

Still, it was impressive.

Due to technical difficulties and general audience excitement, I couldn’t hear the judges’ comments, but they seemed to enjoy all of Pate’s dish’s components.

Nakajima of Kappo Kitchen took an entirely different approach and created a scene to represent Japan’s first snowfall. The chef began with an empty bamboo platter and a bamboo leaf, which was intricately sliced-up, much like paper snowflakes you might have made as a kid. On top of that, Nakajima arranged a paper-thin slice of daikon radish, a slice of lotus root and other edible decorative elements. For the main dishes, he grilled chunks of marinated black cod and served up uni (sea urchin) alongside it.

“Itadakimasu” Day guests watch Chef Shota Nakajima put together his dish for the judges in dining room of The Kitchen by Delicatus in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

“Itadakimasu” Day guests watch Chef Shota Nakajima put together his dish for the judges in dining room of The Kitchen by Delicatus in Pioneer Square. (Photo by Ana Sofia Knauf)

The judges seemed floored by Nakajima’s dish. The chef said his goal was to create a minimalist dish that echoed Japan’s first snowfall, and he certainly accomplished that.

After 15 minutes of private deliberation, the judges announced that Chef Nakajima had won the competition and would go to Kyoto for the Washoku World Challenge in 2015.

Chef Nakajima embodied Japan's first snow in the arrangement of paper-thin daikon radish, a slice of lotus root and other edibles. (Photo by Suzi Pratt)

Chef Nakajima embodied Japan’s first snow in the arrangement of paper-thin daikon radish, a slice of lotus root and other edibles. (Photo by Suzi Pratt)

The experience of attending a live cooking competition was surprisingly stressful. Although guests had no responsibility in the kitchen, we were all still on the edges of our seat as the 30-minute timer wound down to the last few seconds. We all cheered once the completed dishes were placed at the food window for service.

Guests gave congratulatory hugs and took pictures with each of the chefs at the end of the evening. There wasn’t really a sense of disappointment in the room — even from the losing side.

Sure, food is about competition and putting out your best dish, but ultimately, it is about bringing together community. This chef challenge certainly did that.

This story has been updated  since its original publication. 

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Upaya helps India’s ultra poor get higher-paying jobs http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/12/upaya-helps-indias-ultra-poor-jobs/31564 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2014/12/12/upaya-helps-indias-ultra-poor-jobs/31564#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 23:03:08 +0000 http://www.seattleglobalist.com/?p=31564  A silk weaver at his loom in Bhagalpur, January 2013. (Upaya courtesy photo)

A silk weaver at his loom in Bhagalpur, January 2013. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Extreme poverty is an unavoidable reality in India. The first time I traveled in the country — as an inexperienced and idealistic 20-year-old backpacker — I was shocked by the families living on the street, the children begging for food, the old women breaking rocks on the side of the road.

I wondered what could be done to help these people — the poorest of the poor. Some travelers gave them money, others didn’t. One (loosely) quoted the Bible by saying “Sarah, the poor are always with us.”

Everyone seemed convinced that extreme poverty was an intractable problem beyond straightforward solutions.

But Sachi Shenoy disagrees. She says these “ultrapoor” just need jobs.

“In India we estimate that there are almost 400 million people living under the extreme poverty line. … One of the root causes (is) unemployment and underemployment” explains Shenoy, executive director and a co-founder of Seattle-based nonprofit Upaya Social Ventures.

Upaya — which recently received a grant from The Seattle International Foundation, the foundation that funds this column — hopes to address that unemployment by investing in business ventures that have the potential to expand and employ those who otherwise have few, or no employment opportunities.

Eco Kargha weaver Poonam Devi prepares bobbins of silk thread, January 2013.

Eco Kargha weaver Poonam Devi prepares bobbins of silk thread, January 2013.

Shenoy says she was inspired to start Upaya while working for a microfinance organization in Delhi, India. Microfinance is a development approach that lends money to poor people, usually for small-business ventures. She says the microfinance approach tends to focus on the “midlevel poor” — people who made $2 to $4 a day — rather than the “ultra poor” — those who make less than $1.25 a day.

“There was a cutoff for being too affluent and then there were people we would do surveys on and say, ‘These people are too poor; they’re too much of a credit risk,’ ” says Shenoy, describing the selection process for microfinance applicants with organization she formerly worked with. “That’s when my interest got piqued.  … If we’re really trying to alleviate poverty, what do we do about the extreme poor?”

Her answer was Upaya, which focuses on entrepreneurs who have ideas with big business, and thus, big employment potential. They offer investments, not loans, with the hope of creating jobs for those often left behind by microfinance.

“You can think of us as the angel funders for small businesses in India,” says Shenoy, explaining that Upaya makes a point of working with entrepreneurs who may have trouble attracting traditional investors or securing bank loans.

The investments, usually between $10,000 and $75,00,  go to businesses from areas that have a large concentrations of “ultra poor.”

The goal is to help grow promising businesses with capital as well as mentorship. In exchange, business owners promise to hire the poorest people in their region as jobs are created.

Two ElRhino employees lift wet paper out of a vat. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Two ElRhino employees lift wet paper out of a vat. (Upaya courtesy photo)

In the past three years, Upaya has invested in six businesses, ranging from a dairy collective to a company that makes “luxury paper” out of rhino and elephant dung, and an operation that turns fallen palm leaves into biodegradable plates. All told Upaya ventures now employ more than 1,100 people in jobs that pay, on average, between $2.25 and $4 a day.

It’s still a tiny paycheck for a tiny percentage of the millions living in desperate poverty. But it’s enough to move those few from that dangerous ultra poor category to the more stable midlevel-poor group. At this level,

The post Upaya helps India’s ultra poor get higher-paying jobs appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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 A silk weaver at his loom in Bhagalpur, January 2013. (Upaya courtesy photo)

A silk weaver at his loom in Bhagalpur, January 2013. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Extreme poverty is an unavoidable reality in India. The first time I traveled in the country — as an inexperienced and idealistic 20-year-old backpacker — I was shocked by the families living on the street, the children begging for food, the old women breaking rocks on the side of the road.

I wondered what could be done to help these people — the poorest of the poor. Some travelers gave them money, others didn’t. One (loosely) quoted the Bible by saying “Sarah, the poor are always with us.”

Everyone seemed convinced that extreme poverty was an intractable problem beyond straightforward solutions.

But Sachi Shenoy disagrees. She says these “ultrapoor” just need jobs.

“In India we estimate that there are almost 400 million people living under the extreme poverty line. … One of the root causes (is) unemployment and underemployment” explains Shenoy, executive director and a co-founder of Seattle-based nonprofit Upaya Social Ventures.

Upaya — which recently received a grant from The Seattle International Foundation, the foundation that funds this column — hopes to address that unemployment by investing in business ventures that have the potential to expand and employ those who otherwise have few, or no employment opportunities.

Eco Kargha weaver Poonam Devi prepares bobbins of silk thread, January 2013.

Eco Kargha weaver Poonam Devi prepares bobbins of silk thread, January 2013.

Shenoy says she was inspired to start Upaya while working for a microfinance organization in Delhi, India. Microfinance is a development approach that lends money to poor people, usually for small-business ventures. She says the microfinance approach tends to focus on the “midlevel poor” — people who made $2 to $4 a day — rather than the “ultra poor” — those who make less than $1.25 a day.

“There was a cutoff for being too affluent and then there were people we would do surveys on and say, ‘These people are too poor; they’re too much of a credit risk,’ ” says Shenoy, describing the selection process for microfinance applicants with organization she formerly worked with. “That’s when my interest got piqued.  … If we’re really trying to alleviate poverty, what do we do about the extreme poor?”

Her answer was Upaya, which focuses on entrepreneurs who have ideas with big business, and thus, big employment potential. They offer investments, not loans, with the hope of creating jobs for those often left behind by microfinance.

“You can think of us as the angel funders for small businesses in India,” says Shenoy, explaining that Upaya makes a point of working with entrepreneurs who may have trouble attracting traditional investors or securing bank loans.

The investments, usually between $10,000 and $75,00,  go to businesses from areas that have a large concentrations of “ultra poor.”

The goal is to help grow promising businesses with capital as well as mentorship. In exchange, business owners promise to hire the poorest people in their region as jobs are created.

Two ElRhino employees lift wet paper out of a vat. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Two ElRhino employees lift wet paper out of a vat. (Upaya courtesy photo)

In the past three years, Upaya has invested in six businesses, ranging from a dairy collective to a company that makes “luxury paper” out of rhino and elephant dung, and an operation that turns fallen palm leaves into biodegradable plates. All told Upaya ventures now employ more than 1,100 people in jobs that pay, on average, between $2.25 and $4 a day.

It’s still a tiny paycheck for a tiny percentage of the millions living in desperate poverty. But it’s enough to move those few from that dangerous ultra poor category to the more stable midlevel-poor group. At this level, people can begin to secure housing, eat regularly, keep kids in school and even address chronic health problems — all developments that Shenoy says they’ve seen among workers employed by their Upaya ventures.

Hitesh Pathak operates three machines at the Tamul factory. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Hitesh Pathak operates three machines at the Tamul factory. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Creating stable, decent-paying jobs in some of India’s poorest (and often) rural communities is a difficult business. Shenoy says their first business (the dairy collective) endured religious unrest and droughts in the first year. It was an experience that taught them to think in “contingency plans” and to closely consult with entrepreneurs about specific needs (special accountants to help prevent corruption and bribery, for example).

But it’s worth it to reach those who might not otherwise be reached, says Steve Schwartz, a fellow co-founder of Upaya. For him, the mission boils down to one of simple belief.

“The best way to get someone out of extreme poverty,” says Schwartz, “is to pay them better than someone living in extreme poverty.”

Maybe the “ultra poor” aren’t such an intractable problem after all.

Twenty-two-year-old Tanjit Pathak was originally a leaf washer at the Tamul factory. After six months, he became a machine operator. (Upaya courtesy photo)

Twenty-two-year-old Tanjit Pathak was originally a leaf washer at the Tamul factory. After six months, he became a machine operator. (Upaya courtesy photo)

The post Upaya helps India’s ultra poor get higher-paying jobs appeared first on The Seattle Globalist.

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