We recently lost two incredible members of our community, Jim Wong-Chu and Tracey Morrison. We send our condolences to Jim and Tracey’s friends and families.
Jim Wong-Chu was an author and mentor. His friend and colleague, Rich Shiomi, shared his words with us below.
Tracey Morrison was an activist and community leader in the Downtown East Side and was President of the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. She was also active at Vancouver Area Network of Drugs Users. She was often seen in the Downtown East side selling bannock in the street, which she identified as outreach work. Tracey authored an essay on the fentanyl crisis published by the CBC earlier this year. Her celebration of life was held at Oppenheimer Park on August 21st.
In the early years of the Powell Street Festival, Jim was one of the key people from the Chinese Canadian community that crossed over to volunteer for the festival, along with others like Paul Yee, Sean Gunn and SKY Lee. They saw our efforts as part of the larger Asian Canadian arts movement and supported us with their time and energy.
But Jim Wong-Chu was so much more. He was in many ways the “mayor” of the Asian Canadian arts community in Vancouver. With his founding and leading of the Pender Guy radio program, the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop, the literASIAN festival and the Ricepaper literary magazine, he was the leading light of the Asian Canadian writers’ scene not only in Vancouver but across Canada. I still have a copy of Inalienable Rice: A Chinese and Japanese Anthology from 1979, which I had the honor of somehow ending up as a co-editor with him and several others. And he was an accomplished and published poet in his own right, a martial arts instructor and insightful photographer. With all of these accomplishments, I will always feel deeply about Jim because he understood that it is the tide of our movement that raises all the boats in the water. And he did this work of mentoring and organizing, not out of some sense of duty or obligation, but because he cared so much about all of us, had the vision to see what was possible and took on the leadership for these projects.
On a personal note, I have so many fond memories of Jim from the early days, wandering through Chinatown, working on new projects and having meals at the old Ho Ho restaurant. But the one I will always remember was the time we formed the producing company Breakeven Productions (with Mayu Takasaki). Our one great adventure was bringing up the musical group from San Francisco that included Philip Gotanda, David Hwang, Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Sammy Takimoto. We were crazy but committed to something bigger than either of us individually. Our ways parted as I moved off into the Asian American theater world and he stayed to become the founding father of so many Asian Canadian arts institutions. But we remained close in spirit and one of the joys of my return to Vancouver last year for the 40th anniversary festival was having Jim take me on a tour of the city, two old friends just hanging out together and then having a big meal with lots of friends at a Chinese restaurant of Jim’s choosing.
For me, Jim was a giant upon whose shoulders so many have been raised up. I was so fortunate to have been his friend when we were both starting out and I will always be thankful to him for all he has done for the Asian Canadian community.