Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Len Beckett and Richard Donnelly some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

The Eastside express lane to the American Dream

In a Crosscut collaboration with Seattle magazine, Eric Scigliano explores why so many immigrants find the road to the American Dream runs through Bellevue and Redmond.
Downtown Bellevue

Downtown Bellevue Photo: Tom James

The world has converged on the Eastside in the past 20 years, and as usual, preening Seattle hipsters are the last to know. Many (and I confess I’ve been one) still picture Bellevue and its neighbors as bland, homogenous strip mall and cul-de-sac nowheresville — “a yuppie, upscale, white-bread suburb,” as the marketing director of Cellophane Square called Bellevue in 1994, after his company deigned to open a store there in 1985. In 2011, a Seattle songwriter named Igor Keller updated the stereotype in an album entitled “Greater Seattle”: “Yuck, Bellevue! It’s such a soulless place! Yuck, Bellevue! They’re enemies of the whole human race!”

The cul-de-sacs and strip malls are still there, along with much more opulent malls and enough outsized SUVs to make a Subaru-driving Seattleite feel like a Tonka truck at a big-wheel rally. But the people living, shopping and riding in them hardly match the stereotype. It turns out that many people from Shanghai, Chennai, Moscow, Mogadishu and most points in between want the same things that drew upwardly mobile native-born Americans out from the teeming cities to the greener suburbs in past decades: bigger, newer houses; spacious yards; safety or the perception of it; and, above all, good schools for their kids.

In the white-flight years of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, those amenities were reserved for those with names like Bailey and Roberts, or at most, Bernstein and Rossi. Today, the allure endures, but with a very different complexion.

Conrad Lee was an early adopter of the immigrant suburban ethos. He came to the States from Hong Kong in 1958 – one soul in the mid-century “forgotten wave” of Chinese immigrants – moved to Seattle in 1962 and became an engineer at Boeing. In 1967 he crossed the lake to Bellevue and never left. In 1994, he was elected to Bellevue’s city council. Today, he is its mayor.

Bellevue mayor, Conrad Lee. Photo: City of Bellevue. 

Kim Pham was a member of a more sudden and conspicuous immigrant wave: the refugees who poured out of Vietnam in the late 1970s, after surviving the battlefields and reeducation camps. He and his young family landed first in Tacoma, where he found work as a designer at a shipyard. They moved from there to Seattle’s Beacon Hill, where Kim started Northwest Vietnamese News, a Vietnamese-language weekly newspaper based just down the hill on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

He and his children still publish it, but he no longer lives nearby. By the mid-1980s, many doctors and other leading figures in the local Vietnamese community had moved across the lake, and his friends said Bellevue was the place to go. Two of his children were admitted to a program for gifted students at a Bellevue elementary school. After two years of driving back and forth across the lake each day, he and his family made the move.

Thushara and Asanka Wijeratna wasted no time getting to the Eastside. They’d worked a couple years as software engineers, first in their native Sri Lanka and then in the Caribbean, when Thushara landed a job at Microsoft in 1999. Asanka also went to work there, and they settled in Kirkland. Both have since left the company. Thushara joined a startup in Seattle, then another firm there. He says that’s where the entrepreneurial action is now in IT: “On the Eastside, it’s pretty much two big companies – Microsoft and Google. Seattle is more a startup thing.” He and Asanka enjoy visiting Seattle, but he’d rather join the commuter scrum on the Lake Washington bridges then move there.

What draws immigrants to the Eastside and keeps them there, even when, like Tushara, they go to work in Seattle? Lee could be speaking for all of them when he answers, emphatically, with a single word: “School! I needed to raise kids, and Bellevue’s the place to do it.”


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

This is a great description of what Bellevue is all about. Thirty years ago Bellevue was a vast white-bread conservative wasteland, where I could never imagine myself living. But now it is far more vibrant and diverse. We love the Crossroads food court because of the people there.

Here is something that has somewhat disappointed us, however. At Interlake High School, by any measure a very diverse place, our kids have noticed that the students still clump into racial and language groups. They have to make a special effort to break out of these clumps, and only a small fraction of the kids are willing to do it. The kids are friendly and welcome outsiders (not cliquish at all), but mostly they stay in their comfort zones. So the diversity represents an opportunity rather than a widespread reality for many kids. Still it's far better than a place where everyone is the same.

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Depends on your definition of same, because from the tone of the article it seems that everyone is very much the same, just different looking.

Djinn

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

A great piece. I'd love a follow-up with immigrants about how the choice they made where to live has played out for both Seattle and the eastside. (I'm sure their schools must be experiencing the same kinds of costs that Seattle Schools does in providing ELL - English Language Learner - services.)

westello

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 3:11 p.m. Inappropriate

The costs of immigrants and their children learning English should be on the immigrant. It is simply impolite to move to a nation, and not have already learned its language. We do not need parallel education in foreign languages payed for by the taxpayer. Where did this idea come from that the Citizenry is obligated to provide education in the language of anyone who shows up?

jhande

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

I would agree that the length of time to get students to English langage comfort does take a lot of time. But many people don't have access in their native country to learn English before they get here. Also understand that we have students coming in that may have never been in any kind (or a traditional) school setting and need help adjusting. But one of the best ideas around are the foreign language immersion schools that Seattle Schools has. Students need one language under their belt and the best way to learn is from native speakers (and that may include other students).

westello

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Microsoft is the driver of the excessive immigration on the East Side. The immigration driven by Microsoft, which does not pay its taxes, has costs for United States Citizens. There are infrastructure costs Microsoft does not pay, there are educational costs Microsoft does not pay, and there is displacement of Citizens that Microsoft does not pay.

One in three Bellevue residents being immigrants is not good for the United States Citizen.

Also, it is incorrect to state that the immigrants, who work for Microsoft or other tech corporations, have brought wealth. The immigrants simply displaced Citizens, who would have brought the same wealth, if not more.

Immigration is excessive, and the current levels do not benefit the United States, or United States Citizens. Also, are the tech corporations and Microsoft racists? I do not see Microsoft bringing in many H-1b holders from Africa, or from Europe; no Microsoft seems to only bring individuals of the same race/ethnicity.

Anyway, Where is the data that shows that current levels of immigration benefit the United States Citizen? No where; for some reason a comprehensive study of the economic/environmental impacts of immigration do not get done. I guess, that makes it easier to glamorize immigrants, and to continue the special benefit immigrants get over United States Citizens.

jhande

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 4:22 p.m. Inappropriate

You are mistaken. The newspapers are full of stories about how UW cannot churn out tech-educated grads fast enough to fill the needs of our high-tech industries that help drive our economy. These new immigrants are NOT displacing American citizens in these jobs. Also, many of them come from India so now, Microsoft does not favor any one country or race.

westello

Posted Wed, Mar 20, 7:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for Eric Scigliano and Crosscut for an insightful profile of a rapidly-changing city. We at Eastside Pathways are proud of the commitment the community is making to try to make it possible for each and every child to reach their potential, whatever their background, home language or economic circumstance. It's work that is being shared by the schools, the city, social service agencies, business, parents and the community at large.

Whether you arrived here last century or last year, that idea - that the next generation should be able to make the most of themselves - has always been part of what draws people here.

billhe

Posted Sat, Mar 23, 5:03 a.m. Inappropriate

everyone is treated equal

growth pays for itself

free country

divided we fall

where are we heading?

salmonjim

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »