By Geraldine Shu, For The North American Post
Many of us grew up around the same time and place as Ron Chew, former editor of the International Examiner and former director of the Wing Luke Museum. We attended the same schools, patronized the same stores and businesses, and frequented the same restaurants in Chinatown. Some of the kids he talks about were the same ones we knew. Thus, he begins his book by taking us on a nostalgic journey back in time.
As the author searches for his purpose in life, he finds his place within the Asian community. He reveals his own history as well as that of Chinatown by listening to and relating the stories of elders. The numerous and varied personalities he encounters and describes show us how the community came together to shape the heart and soul of the International District. The presence of activists explain how many of our values were defined. In reminding us of the tragedies and losses that have occurred, Chew shows us the fragility of life. Part of the magic of the book is the way neighborhood first-responder Donnie Chin comes alive, darting in and out of the chapters, offering information and advice, often with his usual sarcasm. Some of us were not totally aware of what a central and critical role Donnie played in the ID until after his untimely death by shooting.
This is the story of how Ron Chew persevered in spite of being subjected to blatant racism. He was denied the proper credentials to do what he wanted to do. Yet, thanks to his own determination and to the support of those who believed in him, he was able to accomplish what he did. As editor of the IE, Chew handled everything from answering phones to distributing newspapers. He learned about community concerns and political causes but had to set boundaries for himself and the newspaper.
As the director of the Wing Luke Museum from 1991-2007, he faced numerous challenges. He shifted the focus away from Asian folk art toward local Asian American history and Asian American art. Creating programs that were meaningful to the local people and providing an educational experience were essential. He spearheaded the largest nonprofit fundraising campaign in the region at the time. Under Chew’s leadership, the museum became the first Smithsonian Institute of the Pacific Northwest.
Although an autobiography, “My Unforgotten Seattle” is also very much the history of local Asian Americans, the ID, and Seattle. It is a must-read for those who care about the ID and its people because of the storytelling expertise and experiences of the author. Readers will come away with a deeper understanding of and a greater appreciation for our community.
Chew, page 336: “I loved living in the ID. It was close to work. There were cheap Asian meal choices. I was close to my activist friends and surrounded by a history that nourished my soul. I felt a powerful sense of belonging.”