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Latino Heritage in King County

Texto en español.

Today, the Greater Seattle area has a vibrant Latino community spread across numerous neighborhoods and outlying cities. In some places, Latinos represent nearly 30 percent of the population. For example, Seattle’s South Park neighborhood and nearby White Center community are long established centers for King County’s Latino culture, serving as home to many Latino families and businesses. The cities of Sea Tac and Burien, in contrast, are emerging as relatively new and sizable, culturally recognizable Latino neighborhoods.

Prior to the 1940s, there were few Latino residents in the Greater Seattle area, or King County in general. But, during World War II, many Latinos migrated there for work in the wartime industries, especially shipbuilding and aircraft assembly jobs. These early economic migrants were primarily of Mexican descent, referring to themselves as Mexicans, Texans (those from Texas), and so on. In 1946, the Boeing aviation company laid off more than half of its workers in the post-war slow down, and most of those newly unemployed workers left King County in search of jobs elsewhere. Many returned to agricultural work in the Yakima Valley.

Starting in the late 1960s, a second wave of Latino residents came to the University of Washington. Almost all of them were recruited from farming communities in the Yakima Valley and were the first in their families to pursue professional careers. Those pioneers had a lasting impact not only on the University but the Seattle area in general. They brought a strong work ethic, pride in their culture, and more awareness for social issues affecting minorities, such as the national farmworker and labor rights movement at the time.

The 1970s, though, is the decade when the Greater Seattle’s Latino community began to flourish and take permanent root. The 1970s witnessed the establishment of significant social justice and community service organizations such as Sea Mar Community Health and the Center of Race, both of which have become strong voices for the Latino community in the region. The 1970s also brought new immigrants from other countries, seeking asylum from political upheaval. For example, the 1973 military coup in Chile sent many political refugees to the Seattle area. New arrivals from Central and South America continued to settle in the Seattle area in the 1980s and 1990s.

This special focus on Latino culture in the Greater Seattle area has identified sample destinations, or waypoints, to help illustrate the development of the Latino community in King County. Some of the themes (and sample sites) highlighted include:


From dress shops to bakeries and restaurants, these businesses have kept Latino culture thriving. (See the Salvadorean Bakery, Panaderia La Ideal, Jalisco Mexican Restaurant (South Park), Decoraciones Ely, and more.)


The Students of ’68 (see video for the University of Washington) paved the way for more Latino students to pursue higher education. Proyecto Saber, a dropout prevention program started for the Seattle public schools in 1975, was based out of Chief Sealth High School. Places like Casa Latina today offer English language classes, among other programs. Bilingual schools such as Holy Family School offer classes in English and Spanish.


Several significant murals related to Latino heritage are scattered around Seattle, as well as many more examples of street art around various neighborhoods such as South Park. (See Kane Hall/UW, Ethnic Cultural Center at UW, El Centro de la Raza, and video segments.)

Social Justice & Civil Rights

Seattle has a strong history of Latino leaders who have formed prominent organizations such as Sea Mar, El Centro de la Raza, and Casa Latina. All of these serve as models for social justice, civil/labor/immigrant rights and health care services.


Churches can be anchor points for communities, and several churches in the Seattle area serve as cultural havens for Latinos. The churches here selected all offer masses in Spanish and some flavor of Central or South America.

This project is made possible through generous support provided by


2018 image of piñatas for sale at La Ideal in South Park

2018 image of bakers at work at La Ideal in South Park

2018 photo of Estela Ortega, Director of El Centro de la Raza

Cultural Waypoints Points of Interest icon

Casa Latina

In 1994, Casa Latina was founded when large numbers of Latino workers began arriving to Seattle. Many of them lined up on the street in the Belltown neighborhood to wait for day jobs. Casa Latina was begun as a way to organize themselves and demand fair and just working conditions.

Visit Casa Latina

Cesar Chavez Park

This public park takes inspiration from Cesar Estrada Chavez, a 20th century labor activist and human rights leader who championed the rights of farm workers. The park is enriched by the sculpture titled “Musical Steles”, a donation by the recognized stone sculptor Jesus Bautista Moroles.

Visit Cesar Chavez Park

Chief Sealth High School

Chief Sealth High School was established in 1954 from the need to serve the growing and multicultural population of southwest Seattle.  When ‘Proyecto Saber’ (translates to Project To Know) pioneered in 1975 as a counseling and tutoring program for Latino/Chicano students, it operated out of Sealth.

Visit Chief Sealth High School

Christ the King

Christ the King is a bilingual catholic church serving the Latino community in North Seattle. Build in 1949, the clean design and circular interior space is reminiscent of modern churches across Mexico.

Visit Christ the King

Decoraciones Ely

A long time business at White Center, Decoraciones Ely is a traditional dress shop, packed with religious accessories to commemorate various Catholic festivities as well as colorful garments to dress both infants and adults.

Visit Decoraciones Ely

Ethnic Cultural Center

The relatively new building which houses the University of Washington’s Ethnic Cultural Center has some significant artwork, including a mural on the ceiling (best seen from the 3rd floor) of the main space. Titled “Aztlan,” the mural was done by Emilio Aguayo in 1971 and relocated from elsewhere on campus to this building in recent years.

Visit Ethnic Cultural Center

Franklin High School

In March of 1968, a young Roberto Maestas was part of the faculty at Franklin High School in southeast Seattle. Maestas, recently graduated from the University of Washington, was working as a Spanish teacher when a now legendary sit-in led by members of the Black Student Union took place at Franklin High.

Visit Franklin High School

Holy Family Church

Holy Family is a bilingual parish located in the White Center neighborhood.
The present church was constructed in 1954, replacing a former, smaller church on the same site.

Visit Holy Family Church

Holy Family School

Holy Family School is a bilingual, multicultural institution that serves many Latino families and helps them maintain a strong bond with their home language and traditions.

Visit Holy Family School

Salvadorean Bakery

The Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant is a local favorite for authentic desserts and more from Central America. This family business was founded in 1996 by two sisters who emigrated to Seattle from El Salvador.

Visit Salvadorean Bakery

Sea Mar Community Health

To meet the need for bilingual, community based health care, local Latino leaders and health activists formed Sea Mar Community Health. This organization, established in 1978, opened its first health clinic in South Park. Today, Sea Mar operates health related facilities across the state -- but South Park is still their headquarters.

Visit Sea Mar Community Health

South Park neighborhood

The former town of South Park has been part of Seattle since it was annexed in 1907. Throughout its history, people who have called South Park their home, from farmers to blue-collar workers, have come from very diverse backgrounds.

Visit South Park neighborhood

Southeast Seattle

Comprising the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, Mount Baker, Columbia City and the Rainier Valley, this multicultural enclave is home to significant sites of the Latino community of Seattle. Immigrant communities have flourished in this area for decades, and people of every ethnicity now call Southeast Seattle home.

Visit Southeast Seattle

St. Mary’s Church

Saint Mary’s is a diverse parish serving a primarily immigrant community. Masses are celebrated in both English and Spanish, and the church calendar is filled with cultural events showcasing the diversity of its parishioners.

Visit St. Mary’s Church

University of Washington

In the fall of 1968, a group of 35 students of Mexican descent from the Yakima Valley enrolled at the University of Washington. At that time, the UW campus was less than diverse. The Chicano “Students of ‘68” were the sons and daughters of rural farming towns, the first wave of young Latino students who transitioned from farmworker backgrounds to professional careers in engineering, law, medicine, government, education, and more.

Visit University of Washington

White Center neighborhood

This unincorporated King County neighborhood on the south edge of West Seattle, is a multicultural hub that tells the story of immigrants and refugees who joined local blue-collar workers in the search for affordable housing and a place to call home.

Visit White Center neighborhood

Pasteleria y Panaderia La Ideal

Pasteleria y Panaderia La Ideal is a small bakery shop in the South Park neighborhood where traditional Mexican baked goods, including flan and sweet breads (pan dulce), are made fresh daily. Seattleites in the know pop in to be transported to Mexico by the sweet smell of bread.

Visit Pasteleria y Panaderia La Ideal

Jalisco Restaurant

Established in 1992, Jalisco is one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Seattle. Recognized all over town, Jalisco is owned and operated by a friendly family who treat patrons as if they were sitting for lunch at their home table.

Visit Jalisco Restaurant

Nuevo Amanecer Pupuseria

This site in its various incarnations has been a Latino restaurant for decades. Now home to the Nuevo Amanecer Pupuseria restaurant, it used to be until recently the Mexican restaurant Juan Colorado, and before that the well-known “Sabor a Mi” restaurant.

Visit Nuevo Amanecer Pupuseria

La Canasta Food Mart

This modest one story building houses a bright and colorful restaurant and grocery store filled with goods from Latino countries. Meals prepared on-site are available to take home, and a friendly staff greets you as you make your way through the aisles filled with products that remind Latinos of home.

Visit La Canasta Food Mart

Kane Hall

Kane Hall at the University of Washington is now home to a historic mural by renowned artist Pablo O’Higgins. Painted in 1945 for a local maritime labor union, the mural originally adorned their labor hall until the building was scheduled for demolition in ca. 1959. It was donated to the UW but not displayed and restored until the mid-1970s. It has hung in Kane Hall since 1977.

Visit Kane Hall