Eastwind Books: A Labor of Love for the Asian American Literary Community

This month’s literary adventure was an afternoon of book shopping at Eastwind Books, a beacon of the Asian American literary community, where I picked up Cathy Park Hong’s bestselling memoir and work of cultural criticism, Minor Feelings.

Eastwind Books is Beatrice and Harvey Dong’s labor of love for the Asian American and ethnic literary community. Founded in 1982, Eastwind Books is an independent bookstore in Berkeley that initially focused on Chinese language books. When it was set to close in 1996, Harvey and Beatrice bought the store, transforming it into one of the leading bookstores in the United States to focus on Asian American and Ethnic Studies.

The Dongs’ mission goes back to 1969 when Harvey participated in the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) Strike, and Beatrice was a student at Oakland High involved in the Asian Bloc in coalition with the Black Students Union. The TWLF was a coalition of Black, Chicano, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American students calling for ethnic studies programs at San Francisco State and UC Berkeley.

The TWLF initiated and sustained one of the longest student strikes in US History, which among other things, resulted in the founding of the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Today, Dr. Harvey Dong is an Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies lecturer in the Ethnic Studies Department. 

Harvey and Beatrice Dong and staff, Source: Eastwind Books Facebook Page

Eastwind Books Multicultural Services

To stay afloat in the internet age when online competitors undercut brick and mortar stores, Eastwind Books registered a nonprofit arm, Eastwind Books Multicultural Services (EBMS), in 2018, dedicated to the promotion and accessibility of Asian American and Ethnic Multicultural Literature. Dozens of volunteers work with paid staff to perform this work.

EBMS hosts author readings and collaborates with the Oakland Asian Cultural Center to host book panels. Many of their initiatives focus on developing interest in a range of social, political, and cultural issues. One recent symposium focused on Asian American activism, while another focused on reclaiming mental health.

Variety of Literature and Devoted Fanbase

Eastwind offers a variety of Asian American and ethnic literature. Want to learn Chinese brush painting? They have a book for that. Want a book of vegan Japanese recipes? They’ve got one. Want children’s books or graphic novels that reflect the Asian American experience and culture? They’ve got those.

They have novels and non-fiction titles centering on ethnic characters and historical figures. They are also a supplier of textbooks to the San Francisco State, UC Berkeley, and Peralta College ethnic studies and English literature programs.

Eastwind has a devoted fan base, with one Yelp reviewer referring to the store as a “beacon of the community” and another calling it her “go-to spot for books by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) authors and topics.”

Dr. Dong has a favorite story about the interconnectedness of his work. His student, Kenneth Tan, took his Asian American history class as a UC Berkeley freshman and wrote an oral history report about his Filipina immigrant lola (grandmother) Crescenciana Tan for his final paper. A decade later, he volunteered to care for her during her decline. To help her recall more stories, he encouraged her to create art about her life. After her passing, Tan published Crescensiana: A Memoir of Words and Illustrations. The book is now for sale at Eastwind Books.

How to Go and Upcoming Events

Eastwind Books is at 2066 University Avenue, Berkeley, steps from Shattuck Avenue and about 2-1/2 blocks from the Downtown Berkeley BART station. The Center Street Parking Garage is just over a block away. Check the website for upcoming book readings and signings and Asian American cultural events. Asha Tea House is two stores away for pre or post-shopping refreshments.

(This story originally appeared on NewsBreak here.)

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