On July 18th, our Talk Story community gathered once again to hear from former DC Chinatown resident and community staple Harry Chow. Harry shared with us pictures, short videos shot on 35mm film, and newsletters from his youth in Chinatown, providing a snapshot of a vibrant and lively Chinatown experience.

Harry explaining a photo of a typical Chinatown family in the 70s and 80s

Harry grew up in the peak of activity and local engagement for young Chinese-Americans in the neighborhood. As a young man, he wore a number of hats for the community, including a youth program leader with DC Recreation, an aquarium store employee, a designer for a mural honoring the many generations of Chinatown, and a leader of the Courtesy Patrol. As a program leader with DC Rec, Harry was often asked to chronicle his work through photos and videos, leaving him (and us!) with an excellent collection of moments in everyday life in the Chinatown of the 70’s and 80’s. Many of his photos included the youth programs he worked with, featuring children learning traditional Chinese cultural performances, whether an action shot of a dancer in full costume and makeup, or a martial artist in mid-kick. Documents also detailed the jobs of several of the organizations that Harry was involved in, and provide a more technical perspective on the needs they filled for the neighborhood.

A sample of documents provided. Lower left – a budget for the DC Rec program in Chinatown, lower right – a written record of a phone call about several community groups in Chinatown

Harry also provided a number of issues of Eastern Wind, a publication he and several college student peers at the time began to raise awareness and accessibility for Chinatown-specific community events. They held a wide variety of texts, from newsletters reminding readers of upcoming events, to political opinion articles pondering the place of Chinese-Americans in DC. While remaining a small publication, Eastern Wind was often heavily political and tackled issues of immigration, Asian-American neglect in public school systems, and the modern Chinese-American identity.

Harry displays a cover of Eastern Wind from September-October 1973

One picture I particularly enjoyed was a photo of Harry himself with a group of school-aged kids, all listening to no one else than Lady Bird Johnson. Her self-titled Beautification Program brought her to Chinatown to work with both black and Chinese-American youth to work on cleaning up the streets and keeping the neighborhood looking its best. It was an area of history and policy that I had never ever heard of before, but really sparked my interest in its philosophy and justification.

Our next Talk Story event will be held on August 4th, and will feature poet Wing Tek Lum. More details can be found here.

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