Pramila Jayapal

Best Foe of Hatred

Sept. 11, 2001, and its aftermath wasn't scary only for Americansit was literally life and death for some immigrants. In the days following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a Sikh man was murdered in Arizona. Even in the mellow Seattle area, a Sikh was attacked in SeaTac and six Somali women were attacked in a grocery store in West Seattle.

That's about the time that PRAMILA JAYAPAL's phone started ringing off the hook. An Indian-born immigrant, she was plugged into the world of local immigrant groups by dint of a writing project and previous work in economic development, locally and around the world. The Saturday after 9/11, she heard from a teacher she knew in South Seattle that yet another Muslim family was pulling its children from school.

"I thought this was crazy," she says. "I got an appointment with [U.S. Rep.] Jim McDermott that Monday. He said, 'I think we should do something. But what?' 'Why not hold a press conference with the governor and the mayor and declare Washington state a hate-free state?' He said, 'When?' I said, 'Tomorrow.'"

And so was born Hate Free Zone Washington, a Seattle-based nonprofit with a $678,000 budget. Initially begun to combat the heated reactions against immigrants after 9/11, the organization has morphed in recent years.

"We started off with Muslims and Arabs," says Jayapal, 40, a South Seattle resident, "but we moved into an immigrant and civil rights group more broadly. We've changed from dealing with individuals who've been discriminated against to dealing with larger issues around discrimination by the federal government." The group has fought the federal government over attempted deportation of Somalis and is now a major player in the immigration-reform debate.

As shiny, happy, liberal as Seattle may be, it's not always easy going.

"It's so easy to pit different communities against each other," she says, "and hard to hold out for the big view. It requires there to be trust, when there is not a lot of trust." —Philip Dawdy www.hatefreezone.org.

Pramila Jayapal's Picks

Best Indian Food: Pabla at 1516 Second Ave.

Best Local Tea Company: Choice Teas.

Best Immigrant Rights Attorney: Ann Benson.

Best Ethnic Supermarket: Uwajimaya.

Best Immigrant Neighborhood: Rainier Valley.

Best Immigrant Rights Group: Asian Pacific Islander Coalition.

Best Thing About Coming to America: "The possibility of tremendous freedom."

Best Surprise About Immigrating to Seattle: "Mountains and water everywhere."

Best Thing About Seattle for Immigrants: "An incredibly tolerant place."

Best Bookstore: Elliott Bay Book Co. in Pioneer Square.

Best Vegetarian Food: Cafe Flora in the Madison Valley.

Best Sushi: Mashiko in West Seattle.

Best Bhangra (Indian) Music: Capitol Hill's Baltic Room.

 
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