December 20

Settled in Seattle

For more than 113,000 foreign-born residents, Seattle is a place of opportunity, hope, and sanctuary. In our corner of the city, you’ll find them advocating for local youth, playing key roles in local business and activism, and even bringing a taste of their homeland to the neighborhood. These stories began across the globe, but all share a common thread—a community found in South Lake Union.

A Voice for the People

How a Gambian immigrant is giving back to Seattle youths in need

Modou Nyang spends much of his day trying to convince Seattle’s most vulnerable kids that he can actually help them. As an outreach worker with YouthCare, Nyang meets with homeless families and kids to assess their needs and lay a path to stable education and housing. But his message is a tough sell for kids who have bounced around the foster-care system, been swept from encampments they call home, or watched their undocumented parents struggle to find work and aid. Most kids Nyang interacts with on the street, in encampments, or at community centers have the same question: Why should they trust him? “We engage mostly with young people who have 1: lost trust in the system, and 2: see the system not as a helping institution, but as a victimizing institution.”

Nyang knows about victimizing institutions. He is from the Gambia, where former President Yahya Jammeh, for decades, imprisoned and tortured activists. Nyang was an advocate for international children’s rights, and in 2014, he attended the United Nations’ Youth Assembly in New York. While there, contacts in the Gambia’s security forces told Nyang that an arrest warrant for him had been issued, and that his life was at risk if he returned home. He sought asylum in the U.S., and has been here since. His wife remains in the Gambia; she is undergoing the refugee resettlement process, which can take years.

“It was my purpose in life… to be part of a voice for the people, and speak for the people. It was a tough decision [to seek asylum], but at the end of the day, people were telling me, ‘Well, what are you going to achieve if you die?’”

Nyang says living as a black Muslim refugee is a challenging existence, particularly when he first arrived. But he sees Seattle as a place of opportunity, and his work with YouthCare is his vehicle for improving society as he did in the Gambia. Once Nyang, after weeks or months of continued outreach, finally builds trust with kids, he can usher them toward the stable life he envisions for all Americans.

The Diversity Advantage

An Amazon employee outlines why Seattle and, by extension, his company, are great for foreign workers.

Alonso Prato was born in Caracas, Venezuela. His family moved to Europe after he graduated high school in 1996. Prato has worked for Amazon for nearly 12 years, including his start in the UK as the EU accounts payable lead and four years in Spain working with a finance team. He moved to the U.S. in 2015 to take a job as the senior finance manager for Canada and Mexico.

“I appreciated how much Seattle has to offer—from a culturally diverse city itself with unique concerts, restaurants, and parks to all the outdoor activities nearby, my family is sure to take advantage of activities through all Pacific Northwest seasons,” he says.

Prato has built a cozy life for himself here, but he’s also aware of how complicated and charged our current political climate can be toward foreign workers. “I understand why every country is working to adjust their immigration policy. Our world is adapting to mobility as traveling and moving to new countries becomes easier and more common. I was impressed with Amazon’s response to the executive order earlier this year restricting entry to the U.S.—emphasizing how critical having diverse ideas and talents in the workplace is. I feel lucky to work for a company that values and stands for diversity of thought and background.”

In January, Jeff Bezos sent a memo to employees emphasizing the importance of a diverse workforce as a competitive advantage. Amazon pledged resources to company employees affected by the travel ban and positioned itself to publicly oppose the executive order.

The support for diversity is further reflected in Amazon’s Affinity Groups, which help employees shape their work environment and amplify diverse voices. Groups include Black Employee Network, Latinos@Amazon, Women@Amazon, Amazon Warriors for military veterans, and many others.

To read more stories like these, check out the latest issue of Discover South Lake Union magazine.

Story by Jake Bullinger and Ethan Chung, Photographs by Carlton Canary.

Bluebill

Boeing’s first plane flies from Lake Union in 1916