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The Unsettled City: Migration, Race, and the Making of Seattle’s Urban Landscape

Megan Asaka, University of California, Riverside, Mellon Fellow 2016–2017, Fall

My project examined the early period of Seattle’s urban formation from the mid-nineteenth century to the Second World War. During this time, Seattle’s urban workforce consisted of migratory and transient populations who labored in the seasonal, extractive economy of the Pacific Northwest. Though these Native American, African American, and Asian migrant workers figured centrally in the rise of Seattle as a modern metropolis, their role in building the city has largely been forgotten. My research demonstrates that this was not an accident but rather the result of specific laws, policies, and practices that allowed for their inclusion as laborers but not as full citizens or participants in urban society. The project, thus, returns to the origins of Seattle’s urbanization with an attention to the racialized, transient workforce that made the city possible.