Editor's note: If you are viewing this story on the KING 5 app, please click here.
Approximately one in five Seattle residents was born in another country. More than 129 languages are spoken in Seattle Public Schools. The state receives an average of 3,000 refugees per year, and that makes Washington the eighth largest state for refugees in the United States, according to the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
“We have people from all over the world,” said Cuc Vu, office director, whose family came to the U.S. in 1975 as refugees from the Vietnam War.
Freedom and opportunity brought them here, Vu said.
“Those are the hallmarks of what America means, and that continue to be the hallmarks of what refugees need from our country,” she said.
Below are three stories of people who came to Seattle from other countries, either by choice or by coincidence, and who describe the opportunities they’ve gained here.
Dr. Filippo Milano
A decade ago, Dr. Filippo Milano was working in Rome, trying to complete his PhD.
The Italian cancer researcher was investigating treatments for patients with Leukemia, who were having difficulty finding stem cell donors through conventional treatment methods.
Milano picked Seattle Cancer Care Alliance as a destination to continue his research.
“The intention was only to stay six months,” he said.
He’s been here nine years.
“Although I miss my country deeply, I have to be honest, the level and the quality of work offered in Seattle and the U.S., in general, is much higher, this is definitely one of the things that’s keeping me here,” Milano said.
He’s now Associate Director of the Cord Blood Transplant Program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and he is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington.
Dr. Milano is leading an effort to use stem cells from umbilical cords, which are usually discarded after childbirth, to treat patients with Leukemia.
“I was doing the same type of transplant in Italy using the same technology and the same ideas but the results were not as good they are here,” he said.
His work is helping improve survival rates for patients who don’t respond well to other treatments.
“I really hope that many others after me can have the same opportunities that I had. I feel, myself, extremely lucky. I had to work hard for it, but I was given the opportunity,” said Milano, who is still an Italian citizen and is currently applying for permanent U.S. residence.
Isuzu Niizuma Arambula
Isuzu Niizuma Arambula's path to the U.S., helps her guide other families through the process of settling in Washington. She was born in Mexico, moved to Japan, and then came to Washington 14 years ago.
“I’m half-Mexican, half-Japanese. My father is Japanese, my mother was Mexican,” she said.
Niizuma Arambula, who is now a U.S. citizen, works for Highline Public Schools as district ombudsman, a position that puts her in daily contact with students and their families. She estimates about half of the families she works with are immigrants or refugees.
“We hear from students who are in fear that when they go home parents are not going to be there,” she said, getting emotional.
“This is subject that really touches me because I’m an immigrant and I have a child here as well,” Niizuma Arambula said.
She said she became a U.S. citizen so she could vote and become more than just a visitor to this country. Though the immigration experience helps her interact with students and families, she says it does not define her life as an American.
“It’s not that I have a label saying ‘I’m an immigrant,’ or I live everyday thinking, ‘because I’m an immigrant, I’m going to act like this.’ You don’t stop and think of those things. You just live your life the best that you can, you respect and honor the country that opened the doors,” she said.
“I definitely think of myself as an immigrant. I’m definitely proud of it,” said Julie Pham, from a small office on the second floor of a shopping center in Seattle’s Othello community.
“I take so much pride, I mean even looking around here at Othello, you just see so much small business owners, and I know that small businesses power communities, they create communities,” she said.
Pham’s family owns and publishes the longest-running Vietnamese language newspaper in the Northwest. They fled Vietnam in 1979 along with thousands of “boat people” who escaped the country following the Vietnam War.
Her family considered living elsewhere in the U.S., but they just felt more comfortable in Seattle.
“I feel a lot more protected because immigrants are really celebrated here,” Pham said.
Pham, who now works for the Washington Technology Industry Association (her parents still run the paper), says she and other immigrants share “a gratitude of getting to come here and build their lives, and benefit from this great system that we have.”
“The most loyal Americans I know are immigrants because they’re the ones who really appreciate what America has to offer,” Pham said.