Eastwind Books of Berkeley — a small-but-mighty downtown bookshop that’s served as library, salon, stage and publisher for generations of Asian American writers, activists and academics — will close its doors on April 30 after more than four decades in business.
It will continue to sell some books online, and its sister nonprofit, Eastwind Books Multicultural Organization, will still host events and publish books.
Closing the 2066 University Ave. bookshop wasn’t an easy decision for Harvey and Beatrice Dong, prominent activists who were on the frontlines of many 1960s and ’70s civil rights battles, including the fight to save the International Hotel, before transforming a niche Chinese-language bookstore they bought in the mid-1990s into a national hotspot for Asian American literature and studies.
Now in their 70s, they said the workload required to keep the store running as they approach retirement age has become too much and they want to spend more time caring for their aging parents. Plus, the business side has been difficult since the rise of Amazon, and things have gotten even harder since the pandemic. A $140 monthly rent increase last summer, combined with an expensive bill their landlord gave them at the end of the year for utilities and maintenance, including repairs for a roof leak, led the Dongs to call it quits. Harvey said he would have loved to pass the store on to someone else, but time was running out and he hadn’t found any buyers. Eastwind’s property owner, Raj Properties, did not respond to a request for comment.
The closure of Eastwind represents the end of a chapter, not just in Harvey and Beatrice’s lives, but for the many Asian American writers who found inspiration in or gave their first book signings at the store.
New Yorker staff writer Hua Hsu, who grew up in Cupertino and attended UC Berkeley, has childhood memories of his parents taking him to Eastwind in the 1980s. Back then, he had little interest in the store’s books and newspapers and gravitated toward the martial arts-related paperbacks. Later on, when Hsu was a Cal student in the ’90s, Eastwind became a crucial part of his education.
“They stocked all the newest Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies books, at a time when those books were harder to find than they are now,” Hsu wrote in an email. “It was the kind of place where you would always stumble into a great conversation, whether it was Harvey and Bea or another classmate whose professor had sent them to Eastwind for readings.”
Hsu still visits Eastwind during his annual visits to the Bay Area. It’s a “clubhouse open to all,” he said — a place to stumble upon material he never knew existed, from rare 1970s recordings of Asian American musicians to secondhand copies of 1980s novels.
For Bay Area author Chenxing Han, visiting Eastwind in the early 2000s, “reconfigured” her sense of what was possible for Asian Americans. “It was the first time I’d ever considered the possibility that there were enough Asian American authors, and people who wanted to read them, to sustain a bookstore,” Han said. “Up to that point, though I loved to write, I never thought it would be possible for someone with a face and name like mine to publish a book that would one day sit on the shelves of libraries and bookstores.”
When Han’s first book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists, was published in 2021, Eastwind held an online book event and invited her to come in for a book signing.
“It felt like home: a place that was nourishing and inspiring all at once,” Han said. “The staff were also so welcoming, and rooting through the bookshelves always yielded hidden gems.”
Harvey Dong co-founded the country’s first Asian American bookshop in the International Hotel
In January 1970, Harvey Dong and nine friends each pitched in $50 to start the country’s first Asian American bookshop, Everybody’s Bookstore, in the basement of the International Hotel, a low-income, single-room occupancy hotel in San Francisco’s Manilatown.
The I-Hotel was the site of a historic nine-year struggle fought against a real estate company seeking to evict tenants — many of whom were elderly and Filipino American — in order to knock down the building and put up a parking garage. The opening of Everybody’s Bookstore and other community organizations in the hotel was part of an extended lease that tenant activists negotiated with the developer to forestall demolition. The I-Hotel was also home to two organizations Harvey helped found: the Asian Community Center and the Wei Min She, an anti-imperialist group focused on Asian American activism.
Everybody’s Bookstore printed Marxist-Leninist pamphlets and distributed photocopied books by out-of-print Asian American authors including Carlos Bulosan and Jade Snow Wong.
The bookshop was evicted from the hotel along with the rest of the building’s tenants in August 1977, during a violent middle-of-the-night action that saw 400 police in riot gear face off against 3,000 protesters. (Two years later, the hotel was demolished.)
The co-owners of Everybody’s Bookstore tried reopening the store two blocks over, but efforts were unsuccessful and it finally closed in 1980.
Harvey, who grew up in downtown Sacramento, near Chinatown, was active in many of the era’s civil rights battles, first as an anti-war protester and Black Panthers supporter and later as a member of the Asian American Political Alliance at UC Berkeley, a group that originated the term “Asian American” and pushed for solidarity among different Asian ethnic groups in the U.S. In 1969, Harvey participated in Third World Liberation Front strikes that led to the founding of UC Berkeley’s ethnic studies department.
Harvey and Beatrice, both Chinese American, met through their activism. She was also involved with the I-House struggle, had protested police killings as an Oakland High senior in 1969 and later fought to improve working conditions in Chinatown garment factories. When she entered Cal as a freshman the following year, she was among the first to take the new Asian American studies program at UC Berkeley for which Harvey and his friends had pushed.
One evening, Harvey said, he offered to drive her home from San Francisco. Eventually, he even gave her his old Volkswagen. (Notably, the white car had a red driver’s door, which he had found in a junkyard and installed by himself.)
Beatrice’s parents were wary of Harvey, as they didn’t consider being an activist a real job, so the two of them made up a title for him: Director of the volunteer-only Asian Community Center. They married at San Francisco’s City Hall in 1974, the same year Beatrice led the Jung Sai Garment Workers Strike, during which she was arrested.
In 1981, Beatrice, then 29, was shot in the back of the neck and permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
“We had to pull ourselves together, not just in terms of dealing with her health situation, but also finding some way to continue all those things that inspired us from the earlier period,” Harvey has written.
When they bought Eastwind in 1996, it was a “good healing mechanism”; the store kept them busy and prevented him from constantly pondering the what-ifs, he wrote.
How Eastwind Books became a community fixture
When Harvey and Beatrice took over Eastwind Books’ Berkeley location, it had been in operation for 14 years, owned by a Hong Kong company and focusing on books written in Chinese, not English. (The Hong Kong company had two other Eastwind locations in L.A. and San Francisco; the Dongs were never involved.)
They slowly started to fill the shelves with the kind of books they wanted to read — Asian American and ethnic studies books and literature with a focus on social justice. There were fewer titles to choose from back then, when the field of Asian American studies was still new and most publishers were hesitant to bet on books they thought wouldn’t sell. At first, offerings tended to be nonfiction books written by local historians and professors.
“At one point, I could count on a desk the number of books that were written by Asian Americans about Asian American things,” said Asian American activist Steve Louie, who sometimes helped out at the store. By 2000, Louie said, “you could have a dozen shelves … and that’s just a conservative view because Harvey and Bea couldn’t carry everything.”
The UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Library has been one of Eastwind’s biggest clients, buying hundreds of books ranging from general ethnic studies to Asian American, Native American and Chicano and Latino topics. Cal professors, including Elaine Kim, UC Berkeley’s first Asian woman to be granted tenure, also supported the store over the years by suggesting students buy course materials from Eastwind.
Book events, Harvey said, were key to promoting the “fruits of what started in the ’60s.”
An event featuring Filipino American poet Al Robles, a vocal critic of the I-Hotel evictions, was one of the first they held, and to accompany it, they set up a prominent display of photos from the I-Hotel struggle in the shop’s front window.
It may have even gotten them evicted from the store’s original location around the corner on Shattuck, next to the Missing Link Bicycle Co-op, according to Harvey. The eviction notice came soon after. Harvey later discovered that the property owner was the son of a San Francisco real estate developer who had called for the eviction of I-Hotel tenants in public meetings. Eastwind Books moved to the store’s current location on 2066 University Ave. in 1998.
“The events were pretty selective in that they should have a community worth and value in terms of breaking understanding,” Harvey said. “It’s also justice, solidarity and giving voice to the community, and that even evolved into publishing” in the mid-2010s.
One of the first books Eastwind published was Filipino American author Patty Enrado’s novel A Village in the Fields in 2015. The book tells the story of a Filipino farmworker’s struggle for civil rights in Delano, California, and was based on more than 14 years of research and writing.
No one was willing to publish it, so Eastwind did, Harvey said. Since then, Eastwind has published around 40 other books.
A bookshop full of treasures
Eastwind’s front windows are lined with distinctly Asian American works: What I See, an illustrated children’s book on anti-Asian racism, sits alongside a book of traditional Asian postpartum recipes translated into English. Also displayed are books on contemporary Asian American activism and another on model-minority identity.
With each passing day, the books on the Eastwind’s large wooden shelves — some built by Harvey himself — have become sparser. A few weeks ago, books in the back of the store were marked down to $5.
Taped to the window is a yellow-and-black poster depicting a tiger and a black panther next to the slogan “Yellow Peril supports Black Power.” Also displayed on the window is a brown “Asians for Black Lives” poster with a raised fist.
Harvey’s own history as a Third World Liberation Front student activist is interwoven throughout the store; his work can be found in some of the pages of Eastwind’s books and his name is even printed on a few covers.
Harvey was classmates at Cal with the infamous Black Panther and FBI informant Richard Aoki. And civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, who knelt beside Malcolm X after his assassination, once gave out Eastwind’s address as her own. Harvey didn’t know about it until the piles of letters from inmates began to show up at their doorstep.
Last Thursday, Harvey had just finished teaching an Asian American studies course at UC Berkeley, where he works as a lecturer, and was unboxing a shipment of hardcover copies of Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s novel Dust Child in advance of a book event.
Nearby, massive cardboard printouts of the pages of a novel were propped up next to a desk. “These are props from when Berkeley Rep performed Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior,” Harvey said. “They were found in a dumpster and brought here.”
In person Harvey is less the rabble-rousing activist and more the quiet bookseller. He has a lingering cough, not because he is sick, he said, but because of all the wood dust he inhaled while working in construction.
A rolled-up copy of the Daily Californian’s “March Madness” issue sticks out of his jacket pocket. He doesn’t usually read the paper, he said, but he wanted to see how the basketball teams were doing.
Throughout our conversation, he took sips from a can of Coke, his eyes occasionally flickering to the security monitor. It was the same seat he sat at while watching footage of his storefront egged in April 2022, at a time Asians were being scapegoated for the pandemic.
Harvey has supervised around 100 workers over the years. Some stay longer than others. Poet Brian Ang, who first heard of Eastwind through his mother, has worked for Eastwind since 2012, and celebrated his first poetry book release at the store in August 2022. Ang doesn’t know what he’ll do next.
As Harvey walked around the store, he paused occasionally to point out a book he liked or draw attention to a relic. The yellowing painting of a dragon propped up on a bookshelf behind the cashier was made by an employee on their last day of work. A teal vase used to belong to his grandparents. One set of bookshelves was bought from beloved Berkeley institution Cody’s Books when it closed down.
Harvey’s not one to mourn, at least outwardly.
“Different spaces I’ve been in, the [Chinatown] Cooperative Garment Factory, Everybody’s Bookstore, Asian Community Center, Asian American Political Alliance … those all had a beginning and end,” Harvey said. “This bookstore, for me, is a continuation of the movement, the activity, the interest, so that part will continue. It’s just that this space, and the lease, won’t be around.”