Community Activist, Journalist, and Author Ron Chew to Retire From ICHS

by Emerald Staff

Community members across Seattle are celebrating Ron Chew for a career totally dedicated to his community as a journalist, advocate, and fundraiser for Seattle’s International District. Since the mid-1970s, he has worked as editor of the International Examiner, director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience, and currently as the executive director of the International Community Health Services Foundation (ICHS) for Seattle’s Chinatown International District (CID). Chew will retire from ICHS on Jan 1 after leading it the entirety of the past decade.

In a recent Emerald article, Glenn Nelson aptly described Ron’s journalistic focus: “Chew practiced his craft largely on a concrete island isolated from the rest of Seattle by railroad tracks and the I-90 and I-5 freeways.”

Long before the Emerald existed, Ron practiced community journalism. “You can’t be a community journalist without being an advocacy journalist,” he says. “It’s a good place to be, because as an Asian American, a Person of Color, you can’t be silent about things. Nothing is neutral.”

Ron has won numerous accolades and awards for his community leadership as well as his years at the helm of the International Examiner. But his journalism career came to an abrupt halt before it ever started. As a UW student writer and section editor for the campus newspaper, The Daily, Ron was passed over for the editor position that was instead given to a white transfer student.

Ron filed a race discrimination case against the UW and won. But the cost was great. While his classmates of color got jobs at local papers around the region, Ron left the UW just short of a degree. Like many young BIPOC professionals, he had to find a different career route. He returned to the neighborhood where he had bussed tables alongside his father, a waiter at the Hong Kong Café. 

After 13 years as editor of the International Examiner, then the only nonprofit Pan-Asian American newspaper in the country, Ron became the director of the Wing Luke Museum. He spent a number of years expanding its exhibit and program focus, then helped launch a $23 million capital campaign for a new museum space. His vision to save the existing building and its community history meant building a state-of-the-art museum inside the historic shell, costing significantly more than building from the ground up. The museum has won numerous awards and is now a Smithsonian Affiliate. 

Ron then moved on to becomes ICHS’s first executive director. ICHS has grown from a tiny storefront to a nationally recognized, multi-million dollar community service. Today, with 600 staff and 11 locations, they provide culturally appropriate, multilingual health care to immigrant groups well beyond the Asian Pacific community. Ron plans to continue supporting ICHS’s partnership with the Kin On senior health program for a new aging-in-place site on Beacon Hill where he has lived all his life and raised his sons as a single father. 

His 40-plus-year career and body of work was instrumental in maintaining the CID for the people who live and work there — and who culturally identify with the area — and staving off gentrification that would have destroyed the community. And while he has earned his retirement, we can look forward to seeing him around the community at book signings and discussions of his new book, My Unforgotten Seattle, or on his daily runs

Featured image courtesy of International Community Health Services.