Letter from the Closing of New York's I Wor Kuen Storefront

I Wor Kuen, a revolutionary Asian American organization, helped initiate the Asian American Movement on the East Coast. One of its signal acts was the opening of a storefront at the corner of Market and Henry Streets in New York Chinatown in 1970. As one center of activity for the new movement, it attracted radical and revolutionary activists from across the east. As I Wor Kuen, the organization, grew and its scope of activities expanded, it decided to close its founding storefront. The following is the community letter reviewing its early history and explaining the closing.  

A LETTER TO THE CHINESE COMMUNITY ABOUT MOVING OUT OF THE STOREFRONT

It has been four years since the beginning of I Wor Kuen. Four years in the history of Chinese in the United States, or even in the history of New York Chinatown is a short period of time. However, the last four years in the history of New York Chinatown has opened up great changes.

The shift in the international situation and the general direction of the U.S. society has had profound effects in Chinatown. Chinatown has been in constant motion. New ideas and forces are emerging. The hopes of the community people to improve their lives in this country are being expressed in a growing mass movement. The movement continues to roll forward - - sometimes rapidly, sometimes with periods of calm, and sometimes with twists and turns; but certainly the will to change is reaching deeper into our community all the time.

Many people will remember that IWK was born in N.Y. Chinatown during a period of great motion in society. The Black Liberation movement, the American anti-war movement, and the movement of Third World minorities against discrimination were all inspirations to us. At the time when we first started the organization, we had only T.B. tests. Draft Counseling, and progressive films--just these few simple activities. Nevertheless, in our community these few programs created widespread response. There was support from community residents, as well as some reluctance and fear because of the new ideas and stands we took. There was also furious opposition from the reactionary forces, who daily slandered us in the newspaper, physically tried to disrupt our film showing and broke windows in the storefront.

When any new force establishes itself, it cannot follow old methods and trends. The completely new way that IWK appeared in Chinatown was what impressed people the most. Looking back on the past few years at some of the new attempts: the anti-tourist bus demonstration, defending the small store owners from harrassment by the meat inspectors, opposing the Bell Telephone, Co. and its attempt to destroy resident housing, opposing the CCBA's closing down the community gym, selling publications and goods from China, supporting the People's Republic of China’s restoration of rights at the U.N. and celebrating October 1st. We had successes and failures, but at any rate all those new stands we took have now been gradually accepted in the community.

Over the past year or so, there have been even deeper changes. Those brothers and sisters who participated in the early activities must remember the reluctance and fear of coming to the film showings and the danger of going to a demonstration. But now, seeing films or demonstrating for more medical or legal rights have now become an established part of community life. The recent Chinatown Street Fair certainly exemplifies how public mass activity has become well accepted by people from all walks of life. The ideas and types of activities started by IWK as well as by other progressive organizations have now spread throughout the community. New forces of young and older people have taken the initiative in starting progressive activities. As the movement broadens, it reaches deeper into the lives of community people and extends to all strata and sectors of the population. This is in great contrast to the situation four years ago when there were no open progressive organizations.

At the same time we look back over the changes in the community in the past four years, we must reaffirm the goal IWK had from the beginning. The same conditions that prompted the formation of IWK still cause intense suffering in our community today. Through our successes and failures, we feel that one thing has stood out above all. That is our determination to stay in and fight for the basic changes in the community and society that will guarantee people the right to a basic and decent life. This has been and remains to be our goal. Four years ago, it was with this intent that we opened up the storefront. At that time, the storefront was the symbol of new stands and approaches in the community. It was the center for new programs and activities. A center was needed for mass activities because those activities had not yet been introduced to the community at large.

Also over the past few years people will remember that IWK worked with different community people and groups -- groups within the Asian American movement and progressive Black, Puerto Rican and white people around the city Some activities took place outside the setting of the storefront. Those activities were also important in furthering our goal of fighting for basic changes in the society. We have always been active in the anti-war and anti-imperialist activities. In May of this year, we joined in a coalition with other Asian groups to celebrate May Day, the International Workers Day in Chinatown. There have also been many other important events in the community, such as the Health Fair and the fight to hire more Chinese workers at Gouveneur Hospital. We feel it is important to continue these activities and struggles in the years to come.

In accordance with our goal of fight for basic changes in the community and society, it is our responsibility to adapt and carry it out in every changing situation. Many of our friends have helped us to look back upon the past four years and understand the contributions and shortcomings of our work. Many times we feel we have not taken an active enough part in the many different activities and struggles going an around the community. We feel that the movement for equality for the Chinese people and for a better life in this country must reach even deeper in to the factories and restaurants, the schools and community organizations at large.

The purpose of the IWK storefront has always been to help further the mass movement within the community. But over the past many months we have come to see that retaining the storefront is secondary to our basic long range goal. The urgent task of today is to immerse ourselves in the mass struggles within the community, at the workplaces and in schools, and help to promote even wider participation of Asian people in the progressive activities and struggles all around. We believe that by supporting and joining with other forces within the movement we can open better communications. Together we can work to advance our common goals. There will be twists and turns in the movement, and there will always be new situations, new activities and new work developing to involve ourselves in. We have no doubt that the movement will grow with even more vigor and penetrate deeper among the working people in the community.

For these reasons, we have decided to close the storefront on October 2. Our landlord bas asked us to leave by December, but we decided to close earlier and not find another storefront because of the more urgent tasks we must engage ourselves in.

For the past four years, we have received the warm and sincere support and friendship of many people in the community through the programs and activities of this storefront. We want to especially thank those of you who have come to the movie programs and celebrations. Ours is a lifelong effort together. In new ways we will continue our work in this community for a better life for all our people for our legitimate rights and full equality, and for an end to the injustices and oppression in Chinatown.

New York I Wor Kuen, September 1973