“did you know jim wong-chu?”
“yea, did he die?”
“yes, two days ago”
“of course i knew him from the RP days and he was also my mailman”
“oh yea, he was a mailman”
“and then he called me a bridge-burning lesbian”
i mean, this was less of a big deal to me than the person who informed me of jim’s passing over text, and jim himself. he definitely had a problem with lesbians.
admittedly, i was always on the outskirts of his legacy, even when i lived in vancouver, and moved into the neighborhood that the ricepaper office was in that also happened to be his route (no accidents). i was a freshly minted women’s studies (under)grad and oh so worldly because i spent a year in viet nam immersing myself in “my culture”-i was ready to claim my place amongst the great magazine writers of the world.
so i got a retail job. because no writer can make it just writing, right?
well, jim started an asian-canadian arts and culture magazine so that we could not only see ourselves reflected, but we also had a platform to create our own culture, and document it as it was happening. it wasn’t perfect, but it was/is.
he also started a grant (that i’ve been meaning to apply for) so that we could ensure our place in the canadian literary canon.
he also had a day job, and stayed at it because hey-writers gotta eat, and he chose one that allowed him to be not only publisher and literal distributor (he put my copies right into my mailbox, and probably saved on postage too!) but also to hang around the office and suggest wild article ideas to any young writer trapped in asian filial politesse he could see.
there were people-editors, directors, managers between jim and me, and most of them at one time or another had an estranged relationship with him, and to be honest, i think i forgot he was the founder and publisher until i googled the death announcement this morning, two days late.
as i write this, i’m in a text conversation with a RP affiliate that i’ve been meaning to see for some time now. this is not the reason that i envisioned that would bring us together. but it is the one that brought us together officially.
i lost track of jim when i left vancouver (presumably to become a bridge-burning lesbian) for montreal, but i thought he would always be there. i would hear about him from time to time, and even asked about him.
he was born two years after my father, so he died at 68.
it would seem that i haven’t asked about him in some time. and i haven’t heard.
but here’s to the legacy of jim wong-chu. i will forever respect his hustle and his humility to disappear into the footnotes, never use his own platform to write all the stories about the bands of acrobatic asian janitors that he met, and all the times he offered his own money to one (or all) of us to eat.
i’m great-full to him for never checking me, as i’m old enough now to know that i should’ve been checked many times over. i’m sure that there are many who can testify more intimately to the ways their lives and careers have been touched by jim wong-chu, but i offer this peripheral blink.
thank you, jim, for the reminder of impact, vision, and the importance of taking up space because it’s not a high school dance.
the next time i’m at main and broadway, i’ll pour out a little congee for you. unless they’ve razed my congee joint too. (sigh).
as much as i was lost in a self-absorbed fog of how i had to leave vancouver, it was perfect at that time of my life, and i was exactly where i needed to be. this reminder comes not a minute too soon, here in this city that i’ve finally reached after idealizing it for so long from there.
things are pretty freaking good here and now, too.