Photo of a memorial to Donnie Chin with a sign that reads "Protect Asian Communities."

Virtual Event Sunday to Honor Donnie Chin’s Legacy as CID Advocate

by Ronnie Estoque

The recent rise in violent attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) nationally has galvanized community organizers, old and new, to take a stand for justice. History shows us that such hate-fueled violence is not new in any way, and activist legacies left by the likes of Seattle’s Chinatown-International District’s (CID) Donnie Chin continue to inspire the next generation of young AAPIs to organize and protect those most targeted and vulnerable in our neighborhoods.

Donnie Chin was a respected Seattle Asian American activist and organizer. Chin left his impact on the CID community through the establishment of the International District Emergency Center (IDEC), which started in 1968 as the Asians for Unity Emergency Squad. He was inspired by the Black Panther Party to support the CID community with a block watch patrol, free emergency medical services, de-escalation, substance-abuse and mental health check-ins that city departments failed to provide.  

“Donnie Chin was a selfless defender of this Chinatown-International District community,” said Robert Fisher, Collections Manager at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. “He spent his entire life helping others and the community. His daily presence is missed even more today.”

According to a piece published by the Emerald last July honoring his five-year death anniversary, Chin was shot and killed while patrolling the CID neighborhood on Jul 23, 2015. To this day, those responsible for his death have not been brought to justice. This Sunday, May 9,  at 4:30 p.m., during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a free virtual event honoring Chin’s legacy in the CID will be livestreamed through a collaboration between the Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound (MIPoPS), Northwest Film Forum, and the Wing Luke Museum.

Libby Hopfauf is a program director and audiovisual archivist at MIPoPS, which helped digitize several of Chin’s videotape interviews that were originally collected by the Wing Luke Museum. MIPoPS was formed to help preserve audiovisual heritage in the Pacific Northwest by assisting heritage organizations with the conversion of analog video recordings to digital formats using archival best practices.

“If you dig a little into local archives, you’ll see what’s happening now, the rise in violence against the AAPI community, isn’t new. Seattle has a long, bloody history of oppressing Asian Americans,” Hopfauf said. “Asian Americans were exploited to build our railroads, rounded up and forced to leave the city by rioters with the tacit approval of city leaders, laws were created to deny them citizenship, they were forcibly incarcerated during World War II and restricted by redlining through the 1960s.”

Sunday’s event is part of Virtual Moving History, a bi-weekly archival screening night series curated by MIPoPS and hosted through the Northwest Film Forum. The Wing Luke Museum is co-presenting their material which MIPoPS helped preserve as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Hopfauf believes that the recent national rise in violence against the AAPI community re-asserts the necessity of community watch organizing that Chin helped establish within the CID. “The IDEC addressed the needs of the community that were largely being ignored or underserved by the police, fire, and other city departments handling public health and safety,” Hopfauf said. “Donnie Chin’s legacy speaks directly to the need for building strong community involvement, support, and trust to ensure public safety.”

Since 2016, NWFF has hosted MIPoPS screenings and archival events, originally in theatre and now online due to COVID-19. All Virtual Moving History programs are intended to promote public access to historical moving image materials available from the various MIPoPS’ local archive partners. All the content featured in the events is also publicly available to stream online via MIPoPS Internet Archive collection page.

Hopfauf believes that it is archivists’ responsibility to provide free, public access to records documenting the legacy of AAPI exclusion, exploitation, and harm in Seattle while encouraging people to research the history of the area. Ultimately, she hopes that Sunday’s screening, alongside previous ones released such as the oral history style by Uncle Bob Santos, will encourage the community to dig deeper into the importance of grassroots organizing and activism locally. MIPoPs also echoes the call issued last month by the Wing Luke Museum: Support and join grassroots organizations and engage in local community, attend anti-bias, anti-racism, bystander intervention training, and report anti-Asian violence.

“MIPoPS will continue to prioritize assisting with the preservation of historic BIPOC- and AAPI- made and centering material, and support public access to it,” Hopfauf said.

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Community organizers gather at Hing Hay Park on April 17, 2021 and set up a memorial to honor local Asian Americans that have been killed. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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