BBC Pop Up: Behind the scenes in Tacoma

Welcome to BBC Pop Up.

The BBC's first mobile bureau is spending a month in each of six very different parts of the US. We want Americans to tell us what local stories we should share with a global audience. We've created a behind-the-scenes blog so we can tell you not only what we're up to, but also explain why and how we're doing it. Please use the comments section on this page or contact us on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr.

This month the Pop Up team is in Tacoma, Washington. Lindsay Patross is documenting their adventures for this blog.

Glassblowers versus skaters

5 March, 2015

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BBC Pop Up in Tacoma: Glassblowing keeps kids out of gangs

Tacoma is a gritty industrial port city and one notorious neighbourhood in particular has a long history of being blighted by poverty and violence.

But things are changing in Hilltop, in part because of an unlikely project aimed at keeping at-risk children off the streets and away from drugs.

BBC Pop Up's Matt Danzico reports on how the ancient art form of glassblowing is proving an attractive alternative to gangs.

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While filming the glassblowing story in Hilltop, Matt came across another not-for-profit group helping young people stay out of trouble.

Alchemy Skateboarding takes the sport seriously. And as well as learning new tricks, students take classes to learn about the history of skating.

Only a few years ago, skateboarding was banned in public places by the authorities in Tacoma but now it's hugely popular.

Chinese exclusion and inclusion

27 February, 2015

Last week was the start of the Lunar New Year, celebrated by people around the world, and even here in Tacoma.

This is the year of the Sheep (or goat, or ram), and myself and the Pop Up team decided to celebrate it by taking a look at Tacoma's Chinese community. I attended an event at the University of Puget Sound where I ate traditional food and watched some Chinese opera act.

I also learned about a Chinese sport called Jianzi that is a cross between football and hacky sack but played with a shuttlecock.

Unlike their biggest neighbour Seattle, and many other cities on the West Coast, Tacoma does not have a strong Chinese community, nor a Chinatown. It's the consequence of a long, and very difficult history.

Chinese migrants arrived in Tacoma in the 19th Century to build the first transcontinental railroad. From their arrival, migrants faced discrimination in a land that was considered by many at the time to be "white only".

Anti-Chinese sentiment increased following the construction of the railroad. In 1882, the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting all immigration from China to the US.

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pop up chinese

On 3 November 1885, a large group of men rounded up the 200 remaining Chinese people left in Tacoma and marched them out of town. Chinese buildings, houses and communities were destroyed in the following days. What happened became known as the "Tacoma Method", and was used as an example of how to forcibly remove Chinese populations from cities.

The events that took place led to minimal levels of Chinese immigration to the city for the next 100 years. While Seattle has close to 20,000 Chinese residents, Tacoma has just over 700.

The city is now working hard to attract wealthy Chinese residents into the area, just as Seattle has done. They have also dedicated a small park to Chinese Reconciliation, to remember what happened thanks to the Tacoma Method, and to ensure it never happens again.

Benjamin Zand

Life on the water

26 February, 2015

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A guide to Tacoma's port

The Nisqually and Puyallup called it "Shubahlup", or sheltered place.

Tucked away at the southern edge of Puget Sound, the deep waters of Commencement Bay are protected from harsh coastal weather, making Tacoma the perfect spot for a port.

The Puyallup people were the first to establish it as a centre for commerce - trading goods with other tribes - and the pioneers who followed saw a business opportunity in the abundance of trees in the Pacific Northwest. The first sawmill was established in 1852 and the first load of lumber shipped to San Francisco soon after.

More than a century and a half later and the Port of Tacoma has become a vital cog in a global trade machine. Cargo is shipped from all over the world, shifted onto railcars which come right up to the docks and then transported across the US.

In recent months, however, things have not run as smoothly. A slowdown, part of a labour dispute between ports and longshoremen up and down the West Coast, has meant more ships at anchor out in the bay and more containers piling up on the docks.

A new contract deal has just been announced and in Tacoma they are quickly trying to clear the backlog. The Port of Tacoma says it plays a vital role in the local economy, with an estimated 29,000 jobs in Pierce County linked to shipping.

The decades of industrial activity have not come without a price. In the 1980s, the EPA declared Commencement Bay a so-called "Superfund" because of the serious levels of pollution in the waterways. There has since been a concerted effort to clean up the Bay with organisations like Citizens for a Healthy Bay partnering with the City of Tacoma, the University of Washington and the Port of Tacoma.

Unlocking the secrets of the City of Destiny

19 February, 2015

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The BBC's popup bureau is in Tacoma, Washington, on the last leg of the tour

Tacoma, Washington, is in the Pacific Northwest of the US, a region know for logging, coffee and outdoors adventure.

The self-described City of Destiny is an industrial port city which has often had to play second fiddle to Seattle, its bigger and wealthier neighbour to the north.

So what should we cover while we're here? Residents of Tacoma have already given us a few ideas.

Local bloggers

This is Angela Jossy, who writes the blog The Dutchess of Downtown. She started it to respond to Tacoma's negative, gritty reputation.

"I wanted show the classier side of Tacoma and make it easier to shop local."

Angela is passionate about promoting local businesses, artists and musicians. Each month she coordinates a bus tour of local art galleries that has a Tacoma celebrity tour guide (including the mayor).

"The big thing Tacoma gives you is opportunity," says Anne Jones.

Anne is better know on Instagram as @tacomajones.

She is a real estate agent in Tacoma who uses Instagram and Twitter to share photos and information about local neighbourhoods.

Tacoma Stories is one of the blogging projects of author Jack Cameron. He started it in 2006 to document the stories of homicide victims in Tacoma, in response to the reputation that Tacoma had developed as a dirty, dangerous place, as well as a way to focus on the victims of the crimes who usually do not get as much attention in the media.

This can be a pretty serious topic to cover. Jack told me that "someone literally has to die to get me to update my blog."

To provide some variety to his blog Jack started a series called 5 Question Friday, where he interviews Tacoma residents, business owners and artists.

Road trip: Tucson to Tacoma

13 February, 2015

We have chosen our next destination. The good news is that we get to travel the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. The bad news is that Tacoma is an 1,800-mile road trip from Tucson. Here are some of the highlights from the journey.

Glendale, Arizona

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Happy Seahawks fans before the game ... and before it all went horribly wrong for their team

Before leaving the Grand Canyon State we stopped off to sample the atmosphere outside the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday. Watch our video with Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots fans before the game here. And see more photos of the tailgating on the BBC Pop Up Facebook page.

Los Angeles, California

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The view from the BBC office on Sunset Boulevard

We didn't get to stay for the game itself because we had to drive that night to Los Angeles (with a stopover in Las Vegas) to finish off the edit of our Arizona documentary. You can check out all the videos from Tucson on the Pop Up index page and also read the behind-the-scenes blog.

The California coast

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Fuel for the road as we head north

We decided to skip the fastest and most direct route up to San Francisco in favour of the Pacific Coast Highway. The drive can be treacherous in the dark, so after sunset we stopped in San Simeon for the night (check out a timelapse of the sunrise the following morning).

There is always something to see on this route.

Image source, Ben Bevington

Around 1,700 elephant seals come to this part of the California coast each winter to breed - there are lots of mother and baby seals. You can see more of the action (not that the seals move much) at Piedras Blancas Rookery's live webcam.

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The stunning Big Sur in northern California where the sand gives way to a craggy coastline


After quick stops in San Francisco and Oakland it was on to Oregon - and landscapes and weather than could not have been more different than the desert we had only left days before.

We spent the night in Ashland just across the state border. It's famous for hosting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is home to one of the oldest Elizabethan theatres in the United States. (We know it's not quite Stratford Upon Avon.) We woke up to mild weather and no rain - but that soon changed.

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Crater Lake was formed when the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed and formed a caldera
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Wizard Island in the middle of the lake was created from cinder cones on the caldera floor. It's only accessible by boat in the summer months.
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Further north, and at lower altitude, the snow went and the rainbow arrived

Tacoma, Washington

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The view of Tacoma from our hotel room

After a night in Portland, Oregon, we crossed the fourth state border of the trip, and drove the last 150 miles to the City of Destiny. We are relieved to be out of the car at last - and excited to find out what stories people here want us to tell.