Happy Lim

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from East Wind Magazine (1982) Vol. 1 No. 1

Subheadings were added to the original publication to make this more readable on the web.

Time has slipped by - 40 or 50 years in the blink of an eye. The U.S. society of the '30s was one of economic depression. Confronted by this hard fact and living in a grey social atmosphere, struggling to make a livelihood, I became tempered. Some of my childish dreams were shattered, but a vision of the future lent an incandescence to the era.

The Chinese community of the '30s was one full of economic oppression. It was a hard time to find a job and it was a time of racial discrimination. Many of the scenes of that time still stir up strong feelings within me. My strongest impression is one of many people out of work and little shops unable to survive.

Even for myself who was single, did not know where I would stand from one day to the next. It was this kind of hardship that threw me into struggle and led me to follow a revolutionary path.

Under these conditions, many progressive-thinking young people stood up to the call of the times and became staunch fighters for the betterment of society, although there were also those who were confused and unclear. And there were even a few who strived to step on top of others for their own gain and oppose the great tide of social transformation.

Those revolutionary-minded youths who were advanced in thinking had an unshakeable determination and faith. They provided a solution to transform the social services of the Chinese community, to fight against poverty, and to answer "the problem of starvation."

These were the youths who established a new and broad ideal. During these times, they worked with others in the labor sector to organize the "Afterwork Club" which staged frequent propaganda forums on the street corners to educate people about exploitation, oppression and the unemployment suffered by workers. They even organized demonstrations and petitioned to the Chinese Six Companies demanding unemployment assistance. Even though they were unable to get definitive results, they did reflect the basic demands and aspirations of the masses.

The corrupt society brought about those who would rebel against it. Thus, the birth of the California Chinese Workers Mutual Aid Association was like a clarion call in the darkness. It was the summer of 1937. A group of fishshop workers returning to San Francisco from far away Alaska discussed how to organize a Mutual Aid Association. Life up North was so extreme that after a few months' seasonal work, Chinese workers felt their lives were without purpose.

Without being united, the Chinese workers would never be able to improve our livelihood and fight for rightful treatment. So when we got back to San Francisco, several of us Chinese workers resolved to form the Chinese Workers Mutual Aid Association, which was founded on October 9, 1937, at a storefront at 1038 Stockton Street, and later moved to 947 Stockton Street.

From the very beginning, the Chinese Workers Mutual Aid Association called for the unity of workers. Many workers from the restaurants, laundries, sewing trades, farms, seafaring workers and longshoremen joined. It became a workers mass organization. With this collective power, it started to engage in propaganda and education for Chinese workers,

The Association, at the same time, kept close connections with the mainstream of the U.S.' labor movement, through groups such as the International Dock Workers Union, the Seafarers Union and the Dishwashers Union.

The Association assisted workers of all trades to get organized. It can be said that the Association was in the forefront of bringing the Chinese workers into the labor unions.

Because it met the needs of the times, it rapidly expanded its membership to over 600 within two years.

The Association held regular sessions to teach Chinese workers about the new world view and to help them to establish the necessary ideology for the modern-day working class.

There were many educational activities like English class, Mandarin classes and singing classes for workers to learn songs of revolution and about the War of Resistance. Most importantly, there was the Workers Movement Study Group, where people with experience in labor organizing strategies and general basic knowledge talked to the workers.

The Association published the "Cooperative Pamphlet" from the very beginning. It was a quarterly, which, other than reports of the organization's work and the labor movement, had political viewpoints and analysis on the current situation as well as cultural pieces.

In 1938, Mao Tse-tung published the renowned article "On Protracted War" which greatly armed the thinking of the broad masses in China and later led to the historic victories of the Resistance War and the War of Liberation. It also helped progressive people overseas by deepening the understanding of the significance and strength of ideological work and pointed out that only if we persist in struggle will we overcome any weaknesses and achieve final victory.

Looking back, the path we treaded was an extremely difficult one. As for the future, I feel that the tasks we are facing are tremendous. We have to unite more people and raise our ideological level. Based on my experience as a revolutionary, I believe that this is what we have to center our work around.

Comparing the conditions of the '30s to today, I feel that the situation now is better than before. With the reactionaries weaker and the inspiration of new China, more and more progressive youths are springing up, although there are still some people who cannot rid themselves of the need for self-indulgence and thus cannot depart from the realm of being above the masses.

Only if we take reality as it is, do mass work, persist in the correct line and struggle relentlessly will a free, just and equal society become a reality. I will follow the advanced youths of today and keep on fighting.