Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Asian Canadian Archives - a Window Into the Past

I recently had the good fortune to work with a prominent community organizer in donating his archives to the UBC Library.  Wong-Chu was born in Hong Kong and described himself as nomad for many years. He didn’t settle in Vancouver until 1965 when he was an adult. A writer, photographer, historian, radio producer, community organizer, activist, editor, as well as a literary and cultural engineer, Wong-Chu kept meticulous records which include his work with:
  • Canadian cultural and literary communities; 
  • Asian Canadian writers; 
  • social justice and historical issues related to discrimination of Chinese and other Asian ethnic groups; 
  • Canada and Vancouver's Chinese and other Asian cultural communities

As Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art puts it,
 a persistent activist and cultural producer Jim co-founded the Asian Canadian Writers Workshop, Ricepaper Magazine, Pender Guy Radio, the Asian Canadian Performing Arts Resource (ACPAR), literASIAN: A Festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian Writing and the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Festival. With the sheer girth of his activity Jim has been instrumental in creating a cultural scene inclusive of Asian Canadian talent.
As an academic librarian, community engagement has been an important part of my role in the library.    The recent creation of a program called Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies (ACAM) is a new multidisciplinary initiative that provides students with the opportunity to explore the rich history, culture, and contemporary development of Asian communities in Canada. The minor will support the building of a dynamic and sustainable Asian Canadian community initiative at UBC that aspires to build strong peer-to-peer linkages between researchers and provide mentoring and training for students, in concert with supporting collaborative partnerships in the co-creation of knowledge with Asian Canadian community-based organizations.

So instead of textbook-focused program, the collection of these courses focuses on the local history, providing students opportunities to connect and learn from the pioneers that made the community the diversity it is today, and creating course materials through archival research and new documentary approaches such as oral histories - something which brings in the experiential component that academia sometimes misses the point on.

Over the next decade, it will be fascinating to see the rise of this grassroots approach to teaching and learning - the library in many ways is the focal point of this process.  I'm looking forward to reporting back on our progress.