Before emigrating from China to Seattle nine years ago, Suqin Zhang didn’t think too much about race. In China her family is 100 percent Chinese and concepts of race didn’t exist.

Now as a member of the Racial and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) team, Zhang says the topic has been on her mind more often.

“What is race? And how are we going to define it?” Zhang asks. “It’s a manmade concept, definitely. But what’s the definition of that? …We might need to change it because right now skin color doesn’t really tell the whole story.”

When I asked Zhang about the “RACE: Are we so different?” exhibit at the Seattle Pacific Science Center, she said she was drawn to a section that discussed accents. Zhang unfolded a piece of paper and read aloud a statement she had written down. It said that people shouldn’t feel like they need to mask their linguistic background. That instead, people should be free to speak in whatever way they feel comfortable.

Zhang said she always felt that way until she started working in a customer service.

Working in a position that requires a lot of communication with the public, Zhang started to feel people shutting her off when she would speak because of her native accent. Shebecame stressed from these kinds of interactions and felt pressure to disguise her linguistic background. Zhang says this was a bit of a burden, but that it’s also a reality depending on the type of work you’re pursuing.

Another part of exhibit that Zhang was intrigued by was a photo series by Kip Fulbeck called “The Hapa Project.” She remembered one woman’s quote under her picture that said, “I’m a person of color. I’m not half white; I’m not half black. I am 100 percent others.”

“So maybe ‘others’ is the way todefine everyone, and if it’s the only way to define everyone then there’s no difference,” said Zhang.

Zhang hopes that this exhibition will spark great conversations on race and plans on participating in upcoming workshops that will be held by the Racial and Social Justice Initiative at the Seattle Center.

“The more we talk about it, the more we think about it, I think the better it will benefit the society.”


Before emigrating from China, Suqin Zhang didn’t think about race as often as she does living in Seattle.
Photo credit: Anna Erickson