Seattle Story Project | KUOW News and Information

Seattle Story Project

Sian Cullen and her daughter Aine. Cullen was a teenager in Dublin, Ireland when Aine was born. They now live in Seattle.
Credit Courtesy Sian Cullen

The Seattle Story Project: First-person reflections published at KUOW.org. These are essays, stories told on stage, photos and zines.

To submit a story – or note one you've seen that deserves more notice – contact Isolde Raftery at iraftery@kuow.org or 206.616.2035.

The writer with her mother and son.
Courtesy of Shin Yu Pai

My relationship with my Taiwanese immigrant mother, Noko, has always been mediated by my father.

We were separated by cultural and language differences, and my dad kept us apart by making us depend on him as our translator, cementing his importance in our lives by putting himself at the center. When my son, Tomo, was born last year, I asked Noko to stay with me to assist me in my transition to becoming a mom.

Meri Putnam, age 11. She was adopted from Ethiopia at age 5.
Courtesy of the Ryan-Putnam family

It was a long trip and many things were different. But I enjoyed it. I was young so I wasn’t that close to many people. But it was hard to let go of my grandma, who took care of me when my mom wasn’t there.   

Then I met my adoptive parents.  

I knew they were going to be my parents the second I saw them, the way they smiled at me. They were crying but trying to act calm.

Orphans at the Ghenh Rang Orphanage in South Vietnam before Operation Babylift. Julie Davis, who lives in Minneapolis, belies that's her looking at the camera.
Courtesy of Julie Davis

Julie Davis, who was airlifted to Seattle from Saigon in 1975, shares her story. This week marks the 40th anniversary of Operation Babylift, the mass evacuation of children from South Vietnam. 

I was just a year old when a Boeing 747 airlifted me and hundreds of other babies from Saigon. We headed to Seattle, Houston, Minneapolis.

Thirty years later, I returned to Vietnam to find the orphanage where I had been dropped off just after my birth.

Bernie Lau when he first became a Seattle Police officer in the early 1970s. Lau soon became a detective working undercover in Chinatown, as the International District was known then.
Courtesy of Bernie Lau

In late January of 1983, Seattle homicide detectives contacted me and asked if I knew the whereabouts of a young Chinese individual named Benjamin Ng.

A week earlier, two women  had been murdered in their home on Beacon Hill. Someone had tied them up and wrapped duct tape around their heads, covering their mouths and noses. 

Jason Schmidt, the writer, with his dad.
Courtesy of Jason Schmidt

When I was 16 years old I came home from school one day and found my dad crawling around on the kitchen floor in a big pool of blood.

He was down on all fours with a dishrag, trying to mop it up, but there was a lot of blood and it was a small dishrag so things weren’t going very well. When I walked in from the back hallway and saw what he was doing, it wasn’t immediately obvious where the blood had come from.

I stopped in the doorway and stood there for a minute, hoping he’d notice me and offer some kind of explanation. But he just kept scrubbing away.

Mama, I Was Supposed To Be Born A Girl

Jan 29, 2015
Marlo Mack and her daughter. Marlo's daughter is part of a University of Washington study on the lives of trans children.
Courtesy of Marlo Mack

My son was barely 3 years old when he informed me that … I didn’t have a son.

He looked me square in the eyes and said, “Mama, I think something went wrong when I was in your tummy, because I was supposed to be born a girl, but I was born a boy instead.” 

The First Time My Mother Lied To Me

Jan 27, 2015
Storyteller Silas Lindenstein, center, with his parents at his high school graduation in Massachusetts.
Courtesy Silas Lindenstein

It was summer of 1992, and I had just graduated from high school in a small town, Millis, Massachusetts, where I had been living with my mother and stepfather for the previous seven years.

I was flying out to California to go to college. When I got to California, I called my mother to let her know that I was there safe. And she commented that when I went down the airport terminal I never looked back once. And I didn’t.

Two teenagers in Kivalina, Alaska, play near a skinned polar bear. Scientists predict Kivalina, an Alaskan village, will be the first casualty of climate change and sea rising in the U.S.
Suzanne Tennant

I first heard of Kivalina, a sliver of an island in far northwest Alaska, when I was looking for a photo project.

It appealed in part because of this one startling fact: Scientists believe that Kivalina, population 457, will be the first casualty of climate change in the U.S., and that it will be inundated by sea water by 2025. That’s in just a decade.

Gyasi Ross, writer and lawyer.
Courtesy Gyasi Ross

Last year, I had a big business meeting in New York and a reading for my new book, "How to Say I Love You in Indian," at the American Indian Community House in Midtown Manhattan. 

For some inexplicable reason, some television folks were interested in me doing television work. Look, I’m from the rez – we’re hunter-gatherers. If someone is willing to give me free food and an opportunity to provide for my family and me, I’m definitely going to be there. The lunch meeting was at noon. I usually fly red-eyes so I can tuck my son into bed and spend as much time with him before I leave. This time, however, I wanted to be well-prepared and rested, so I flew the night before.  

First half of the flight was cool. I wore my comfortable flying clothes – camouflage sweats, camouflage sweatshirt, braids and a skullcap. 

When my friend tells me she’s thinking about having a baby on her own, my mind flashes immediately to that January morning in 2011 when, as I just settled my eighth graders into a rare calm, my son’s father burst into my classroom with a video camera, sloppy drunk, slurring demands about my son’s whereabouts.

Thornton Wilder, the novelist. Storyteller Gary Heyde wrote him letters before his death.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1975, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Someone handed me a copy of Thornton Wilder’s “The Eighth Day.” When I finished that novel, someone else handed me “Theopolis North.”

I decided I had to get in touch with Thornton Wilder. I remembered from the play “Our Town,” by Wilder, that little Rebecca tells the story of Jane Crofut getting the most amazing letter.

My Dad's Descent Into Terrifying Madness

Dec 19, 2014
Lisa Southworth and her dad
Courtesy of Lisa Southworth

Nando Ferahaha was a real man.

Nando was 48 and newly slim, with a shaved head and a septum pierced with a ring, like a bull. He said he was an amateur body builder.

Nando said he was an active member in our metropolitan area’s search and rescue team. He had $10,000 of new REI gear to prove it.

Becoming A Man (Finally) At 48

Dec 18, 2014
Over the last two years, Kim has transitioned into a male body. He chronicled his transition in YouTube vlogs. This screen grab is from Aug. 4, 2014.
Kim Dogluv on YouTube

Nov. 8, 2012: Female To Male

I’m Kim, and I’m beginning my transition. Right now I’m pre-everything.

I’m 48 years old. I have been wanting to do this for 27 years. I put it off because I didn’t want to tell my family and parents. And also, not to name any names, but various girls I’ve known, some lesbians close to me, kind of put it out there that it’s not necessary. And I went with that instead of my gut feeling.

Courtesy Tony Trinh

Dr. Tony Trinh was doing research in Kenya as an infectious diseases fellow from the University of Washington when he applied for a driver’s license. First though, he had to take a driver's education course. He chronicled that experience on his Facebook page, republished here.

Aug. 17, 2013: Signing Up

Courtesy Paul Currington

The thing about depression is that it magnifies the bad and diminishes the good. And the worst part is the loneliness you feel when you're caught up in it.

Carol was the only one who could take that loneliness away, which is why it was so hard when we broke up after seven years. But what kept me from going over the edge was that we actually kept sleeping together.

We were about a year and a half into this new cutting edge therapy when I went to a coffee shop to see a friend of mine play guitar. I was standing in line before the show to get coffee and I felt someone touch my elbow behind me. It was Carol, and she smiled at me and went to sit over with some mutual friends of ours.

A Young Irish Mom's Painful Decision

Dec 4, 2014
Sian Cullen and her daughter Aine. Cullen was a teenager in Dublin, Ireland when Aine was born. They now live in Seattle.
Courtesy Sian Cullen

I was 16 and going to school; I lived in Dublin and was infatuated with this older fellow who was a jack-the-lad kind of fella.

We met and had a relationship and it was brief. And I got pregnant.

One of the halls at juvenile detention in Seattle. There are 212 beds but less than a quarter of those beds are used.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

It’s April now, and I’m wondering how it came down to this, and how I stooped this low, and how I am in here because of these so-called friends.

We just got back from school, and soon it will be lunchtime. We walk over to G-unit, and I walk straight up the stairs to my room while others stand around wasting time talking to Officer Rob, annoying him.

Rob is the guard assigned to our unit. He’s younger than the others and kinder too. He sings R&B songs to himself throughout the day and he doesn’t send us to our rooms for little things.

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