Secrets and fear of discovery still felt two generations later | KUOW News and Information

Secrets and fear of discovery still felt two generations later

Jan 25, 2017

The Trump Administration’s talk about changing immigration enforcement is causing anxiety for thousands of immigrants in Washington state who, until now, have had protection.

Even for people who are pillars of the community, the national rhetoric is bringing back memories.


Ron Chew grew up in Seattle’s Chinatown International District. He’s the foundation director at International Community Health Services. He recalls the time his family lived in fear, when anti-immigrant sentiments were running high.

In Ron Chew's words

My grandfather came here illegally, as did 90-plus percent of the Chinese who came and helped build the city. That’s because of laws that didn’t permit the Chinese to come here. You had the Chinese Exclusion Act. So they came here regardless.

I remember growing up as a child, the sense of fear my parents always had about being discovered, and the impact on their kids, which is me and my sister and my brothers and our cousins. We don’t talk about that.

In the case of my father he hid our immigration documents in the basement. I didn’t know he had them until shortly before he passed away. He said, here’s some stuff you should have, which is your family history, and a lot of things they don’t talk about.

Ron Chew holds a portrait of his parents who did not want to talk about how his family came to the states.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

The conversations were always about staying away from participating in society, lay your head low, don’t talk about anything you don’t have to talk about — which disempowers folks from participating in the process. That’s counter to what you want. You want people to become part of the process and to find their voice.

When things happen on national level, profound impact on the people in the neighborhoods and I see that happening now.

Ron Chew's father hid the family's immigration documents in the basement.
Credit KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna