Meet the Suganumas (and the Jacobsens, and the Luthers): Reunion at Bellingham Bay


Vancouver’s malls are more accommodating than their Walmarts, and we spent our last night in Canada between the Sears and a sporting goods store on a quiet street. Unwanted and underslept, we fled the Left coast of Trudeau’s neoliberal Northland and returned to the land of the free and free National Forest camping. Unfortunately, Google Maps failed us on the way to our camping spot and we were nearly stuck on private logging roads a handful of times on our way to our free camping spot. After finally finding a suitable spot, we settled down and spent the afternoon relaxing and preparing in Sin for our next adventure: Jade’s family reunion.

I had met Jade’s immediate family a few months earlier, and been wholly overwhelmed by their generosity and senses of humor, but the family reunion we were about to attend promised to be a touch more high-pressure than sharing drinks and jokes with her two siblings and parents. No fewer than 24 cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, uncles once removed, spouses, and partners were descending on the sleepy town of Bellingham, WA from places as far as Nebraska, Southern California, and Hawaii. An untold number of horrible comedies have been made about introducing the new boyfriend to large extended families, and even the whiskey and cheap beer we sipped the night before couldn’t stop my mind from conjuring worst-case scenarios. What if a religious aunt asked me when I last confessed? What if an industrious in-law demanded to know what sort of professional job I was going back to after our trip? What if they didn’t like my tattoos? What if the whole bunch simply found the idea of Jade bringing a white Iowan communist with ear piercings into their circle too ludacris and called the whole reunion off?

Fortunately, the generosity and good humor shown me by Jade’s parents, Guy and Deb, and her siblings, Adam and Sara, were matched only by that of her extended family. We spent the week exploring the Bellingham/Fairhaven area and sharing soup, crab, and poke (a Hawaiian traditional made of seasoned rice, salad, and raw fish). Bellingham is a quiet seaside town nicknamed ‘Twin Peaks’ (after the David Lynch series) by the locals and well on its way to transitioning from port town to an attractive tourist city. Jade, me, and the entire family toured the boardwalk and beachside park, took a ferry to nearby islands near Canadian waters (but saw no whales, to Jade’s great dismay), and generally relaxed in a longitude that doesn’t climb above 75 degrees this time of year while Nebraska and Iowa are in peak heat season.

After a few days of the small-city scene, Jade, her sister Sara, and I trekked to Seattle. After exploring the vibrant Japanese quarter and the import-only snacks it afforded us, we hit the sealine and walked up and down stalls peddling everything from magic trinkets to 12-dollar socks. Artwork we bought there reminded us of the open class revolt that had happened in that city in November of 1999, when delegates of the World Trade Organization were prevented from meeting by massive and confrontational protests, and posters on street signs reminded us keenly that the class struggle was still very much burning. The Transit-Rider’s Union had marched on City Hall a week early to demand a steep progressive municipal income tax to fund social services and curb creeping sales taxes, and local antifascists were hard at work mobilizing against far-right agitators. Seattle must be an impossible place to live, it seemed after our first few hours there, for despite the steadily climbing minimum wage and socialist city council member, rent for even the most modest apartments is topping New York City prices and gentrification, as ever, is pushing the poor further and further from the city center. We pondered these contradictions at one of the finest book stores we have visited so far, Left Bank Books, and hit the army surplus store to buy supplies for the struggles ahead (it was all too expensive, and I left without a thing).

We met an old Drake cohort of Jade’s, Xixi, along with her boyfriend Donald (no relation to the president, he informed us) at a hotel on the waterfront for a cocktail and caught up. She offered us a bathroom and shower spot at her condo (the greatest gift a friend can give in our situation), and we made plans to meet again in the coming weeks. Jade’s uncles were playing Hawaiian traditionals when we returned to Bellingham, and we turned in late with no plans to rise early. On the last day of the reunion, we shared a final supper and bid farewell. Sean Spicer had resigned from his White House post, and Jade and I went to the local PeopleReady temp agency to register for employment. The sun set on Bellingham Bay. It was time to get to work.


Sara in Seattle.


Debra (Jade’s mother) on the beach.


Sara again, displaying her hula skills.


Patrick sporting a bad haircut and mid-day grump.


Actual photo of Seattle in November 1999.


Who’s house?


Jade and Patrick matched the other day. She pulls it off a little better than him.


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