Eastwind Books of Berkeley, a community hub, closes

COMMUNITY GATHERING SPOT SHUTTERS ­— Eastwind Books of Berkeley closes after 27 years. Proprietor Harvey Dong (pictured) ran the shop with his wife, Beatrice. photo by Ryan Nakano

BERKELEY, Calif. — Eastwind Books of Berkeley spent its last day as a brick and mortar bookstore, April 14, like any other day, with owner Harvey Dong laughing among regulars, students rifling through wooden bookshelves, and community members coming together to organize.

For the past 27 years, Harvey and his wife Beatrice have been running the store, providing a space for writers and people in the community to talk about new works related to Asian American and ethnic literature.

From hosting events and publishing books, to carrying titles one customer swore “couldn’t be found anywhere else in the world,” Eastwind Books of Berkeley quickly became an institution in the community after the Dongs purchased it in 1996.

While reasons for its closure vary from raised rent to the bleak reality of the brick and mortar bookselling market, according to Harvey Dong, the decision has just as much to do with slowing down, taking care of family and shifting priorities.

“This is the last day, so it’s kind of sad but at the same time, hopefully what Eastwind did inspires other people and this opens a new chapter for everyone, including ourselves,” Harvey Dong shared.

Currently teaching part-time as a lecturer in Asian diaspora studies at UC Berkeley and continuing to publish and organize events through their sister nonprofit Eastwind Books Multicultural Organization, Harvey Dong still plans to sell books online and maintain the store’s goal of building community.

Visiting the store on its last day with a group of colleagues and friends, UC Berkeley graduate and Filipino American Edrick Willie Sabalburo shared his thoughts on the bookstore he frequented often as a student.

“We decided to take a pilgrimage to Eastwind today because we wanted to pay our respects,” Sabalburo said. “This was always a place where people could remember together and my hope is that it’s not the last space where people will be able to do that.”

To remember Eastwind Books of Berkeley, is to also remember the legacy of Bay Area activism in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the context in which the Dongs met.

Involved early on as a member of the UC Berkeley Asian American Political Alliance and active in the fight for Asian American and ethnic studies during the Third World Liberation Front strikes, Harvey met Beatrice during her freshman year at Berkeley where she took advantage of the newly formed Asian American studies class on campus.

Around the same time, both Harvey and Beatrice were active in protesting against police brutality, organizing what Harvey Dong called the Chinatown Co-op Garment Factory and fighting against the I-Hotel Manilatown evictions in San Francisco.

In fact, long before Eastwind Books of Berkeley, Harvey helped organize and run the first Asian American bookstore in the country, a small 10 by 10 foot space located in the basement of the I-Hotel, known as Everybody’s Bookstore.

A project of the AAPA, Everybody’s Bookstore was one of many community organizations to occupy space in the I-Hotel and pay rent to finance a newly negotiated lease agreement for tenants from 1969 to 1972.

“In those years Everybody’s Bookstore was a place of gathering, a place to meet people and bring them in, a place to organize,” UC Santa Cruz literature professor and acclaimed author Karen Tei Yamashita said. “I think it was kind of the same for Eastwind, to sell Asian American books alone, even supporting the readings, authors and people coming through, it was always a labor of love and a labor of activism.”

While conducting research for her critically acclaimed, “I Hotel,” an experimental novel based on the Asian American Movement in the Bay Area, Yamashita, got to know Harvey Dong over the course of several interviews and lunch dates where he shared stories about the hotel and his experience as a Chinese American activist at the time.

“Eastwind is really Bea and Harvey to me,” Yamashita said. “I know about the bookstore and even launched my books there, but really, it’s the people.”

Of course, the couple didn’t operate the store completely alone.

For the past decade, Chinese American poet Brian Ang, worked behind the register at Eastwind Books of Berkeley, learning of the owners’ history of activism, meeting their friends and even taking up an unofficial artist-in-residence between the store’s walls.

“I wrote my long poem ‘The Totality Cantos’ which took about 10 years to write in the exact amount of time I was working here. I even released the book in the store and it was a bestseller,” Ang said. “This is really the end of an era but its spirit will live on in another way.”

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