Today is Jim Wong-Chu’s birthday and he would’ve been 74 years old. It’s been five years since the passing of my friend and I dearly miss his presence and mentorship. Jim was a “writer, photographer, historian, radio producer, community organizer and activist, editor, and literary and cultural engineer,” but to me, most of all, he was a role model for young people finding their way in this world. He was a polymath of ideas and very inspiring and had a moral compass. Jim was born in 1949 in Hong Kong. In 1953, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Canada as a "paper son", a term which referred to the practice of children who immigrated to Canada by using real or falsified identification papers of relatives living in Canada.
Though his formal education was never completed, Jim inspired me that formal education never ends, and learning is lifelong. He wanted to learn more about the publishing business, so he also worked as an associate editor for Douglas and McIntyre and as an associate editor for Arsenal Pulp Press. Jim attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) with a focus on photography and design from 1975-1981. He also attended the University of British Columbia for creative writing from 1985-1987, all the while working as a letter carrier at Canada Post. He was a founding member of various community and cultural organizations including:
- Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW)
- Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society
- the Pender Guy Radio Program, Asia Canadian Performing Arts Resource (ACPAR)
- Go for Broke Festival
- B.C. Sinfonetta Society
- Federation of British Columbia Writers
- The Chinese Community Library Association
- B.C. Heritage Trust
- Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver
- Chinatown Ghosts
- Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Fiction;
- Many-Mouthed Birds: Contemporary Writing by Chinese Canadians;
- Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry
I'm heartened that Jim's work and legacy live on at the UBC Library's Rare Books and Special Collections. In a way, it's comforting to know that I sit above his archival fonds each day, knowing that the many late-night conversations, early-morning deadlines, and everything in-between, continue as a lasting resource to many researchers and academics. In 2021, for example, a graduate student Brandon Leung, writes about how Jim's life and insights influenced and shaped the way he researched and thought about Asian Canadian studies. Here is a fantastic Finding Aid of the Jim Wong-Chu fonds (RBSC-ARC-1710) available online. Jim, thank you for the memories.