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The Seattle International District summer pig roast is a labor of love and community

Food often brings a community together, but when there’s a pig roast, it takes a lot of hands working together.

Over the weekend, volunteers in Seattle’s Chinatown International District worked in shifts turning a whole pig, mounted onto a spit, over hot coals.

The pig roast is a summer tradition in the ID that brings regulars back to the Danny Woo Community Garden. While some set the tables, a handful of longtime volunteers stuff the pig’s belly with garlic, lemongrass and other aromatics before it’s sewn up and prepped fors the spit.

Anne Xuan Clark used to work in the neighborhood many years ago. These days she divides her time between Bali and Seattle as a fundraising consultant. She’s seen a lot of changes lately in the ID—most notably, in the people who live here.

“Before, there was limited family housing,” said Clark. “Now if you come here you’ll see kids playing in the parks in the library, and so it’s really exciting to see families in the neighborhood.”

It’s not always been this way. The historic district has been home to elderly Asian immigrants and low-income residents who lived in single-occupancy units. Over the decades, activists clashed with developers over construction of I-5, sports stadiums, and market-rate buildings.

All to try to preserve the neighborhood.

As the city continues to grow, the ID once again, is feeling the market pressure.

"There’s so much market-rate housing here now,” said Clark. "We become concerned, at a certain point, people will get priced out of the neighborhood.”

The pig roast was started 43 years ago by longtime activist Bob Santos. Santos passed away two years ago, but was a mentor to many young people, including Clark and her friend Mai Nguyen.

Nguyen started her career in the ID, working with Santos. These days she lives in the Central Area, but she still comes here every week because it’s her community.

Nguyen doesn’t want the ID to turn into Chinatowns in other cities like Portland or Washington, D.C. Those feel like Chinatowns in name only, she said.  “Is it just going to be a neighborhood with a gate and that’s it?" she asked. 

Nguyen said that back in the day, Santos instilled a sense of pride and community. Now she wants to inspire more young people to be engaged with their community.

While volunteers put the finishing touches to the pig, neighbors wait for the roast to start. Barbara "b.g." Nabors-Glass used to work in the area at the Seattle Housing Authority. She, too, sees hope in the younger generation. And it’s okay if they have different ideas for the neighborhood’s future, she said.

“Not everyone wants to see development stop,” said Nabors-Glass. “But is it thoughtful, is it inclusive, is it diverse?"

"There are young people who say we need to see a certain level of development in order to house people of the future," she continued. "That tension is healthy tension and so is a community with a number of ideas.”

After a couple of hours of prep, the pig is ready to roast. Volunteers bring it down to the roasting pit in the middle of the garden. Overnight, they’ll take turns turning the spit while others mop the pig with salt water. When the pig’s ready, the community will gather again for the big feast and more conversation.

Year started with KUOW: 1994