On October 16, 2021, Dear Chinatown, DC emerged at the front entrance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library to host a poster-making workshop with former Chinatown resident, designer, and social activist, Miu Eng; hosted in partnership with Jenn Low, 1882 Foundation, The Urban Studio, the DC Public Library and our youth collaborators at AALEAD.
Inspired by Eng’s prolific graphic design contributions from the 1970s and 1980s for Chinese and Asian American organizations and initiatives, including a poster collection for DC’s Asian American Heritage Week*. We set-up our poster-making workshop tables at the corner of G Street and 9th Street NW and spent the afternoon recruiting library patrons and passersby to make their own Eng-inspired poster, “A People Emerging.” Poster-making stations were outfitted with Chinese calligraphy brushes, ceramic trays of black ink and a few rubber stamps to try out some of the hand-drawn, graphic techniques Eng used to achieve the people figures in her original poster. Reminiscent of the same printers Eng used in her youth, poster templates were produced using a risograph printer by Resolve Studio. Eng herself used to live above a print shop in the neighborhood, called Jeanie’s Litho at 929 New York Avenue.
The Humanities Truck displayed a few of Eng’s poster, which you can also find in the Miu Eng Collection at the Anacostia Community Museum’s digital archives, along with her newsletter work with Eastern Wind, a former Asian American organization documenting the community’s social activism in Washington, D.C. during that time. The display surrounded our screening of the Asian American Context Study’s spring virtual event, “Coming of Age in the 19760s to ‘70s”, where former Chinatown residents, Eng, Eddie Moy, and Jack Lee tell stories about their childhoods growing up in the neighborhood, moderated by fellow long-time Washingtonian, Tony Sarmiento.
Participants shared their posters with us, avid library patron, Oludae Byrd, was inspired by images of Chinese dragons and lanterns, and Young Pal Stalling from AALEAD took cues from Eng’s original poster to create a piece of self-expression that reflects his identity as a Japanese American incorporating Japanese characters in similar fashion to Eng’s use of Chinese characters in the original poster. Participants spanned across different ages and cultures, stopped by to create their own piece of artwork. During Eng’s interview with us, she shared with us why she was lured to the arts, and its catalyst as an accessible means of expression. “You know, it’s one of those things where, when you have nothing like musical instruments. You need to have money to buy the instrument, you know, sports, you need the sports equipment. But with arts, if you have a pen and paper, you can create whatever. So really it was more just having material easily accessible, not having other distractions and really sort of, as a child being sort of, living more in my head than, you know, not many friends.”
It was a joy to reunite in-person with our friends and community after over a year and a half of virtual collaboration as a result of the pandemic. We hope 2022 brings more of these opportunities to convene, create, and play.
*Before the U.S.’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month designation, the early decades of the Resolution to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander Americans was recognized as a weekly celebration until 1990, when it was then expanded to the entire month of May.