We Are One
The 1982 Chinatown Garment Workers Strike
The ILGWU—Social Unionism in Action is a LaborArts exhibit about the ILGWU leadership in immigrant rights, health care, civil rights, and the culture of solidarity that enrich and empower worker movements at certain times in our history.
Lemlich honorees Shui Mak Ka (2011), Connie Ling (2012), and Agnes Wong (2014) all helped to organize the strike.
Xiaolan Bao, Holding Up More Than Half the Sky—Chinese Women Garment Workers in New York City, 1948–92 (University of Illinois Press, 2001)
ILGWU Local 23-25, We Are One, a 30 minute video made by the union in 1982 in the months after the strike.
Betty Yu, 1982 Chinatown Garment Strike: Women Workers Rising, 5 minute video with oral history and historical photos and video, 2022.
huiying b. chan, “How Chinese American Women Changed U.S. Labor History—Women workers and organizers remember staging the massive 1982 Garment Strike in Chinatown,” The Margins, May 2019, features conversations with May Ying Chen, Connie Ling and Shui Mak Ka.
Katie Quan, “Memories of the 1982 ILGWU Strike in New York Chinatown,” Amerasia Journal (January 2009).
huiying b. chan (link opens in a new window). Our History Is Already Written (I): Chinatown 1982. Poem.
Alina Shen (link opens in a new window), In June of 1982. Poem.
The Kheel Center at Cornell University is the repository for the ILGWU Archives; it features a detailed summary and a comprehensive list of resources at The Chinatown Struggle of 1982.
The Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA) has a rich collection documenting garment workers in NYC’s Chinatown.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum has tours and an online exhibit about garment workers.
A Note on Corky Lee
Corky Lee, who died at the age of 73 in January 2021 of complications from COVID-19, inspired generations of Asian Pacific American photographers with his extraordinary images of everyday life.
Lee was “a photographer who was determined both to restore the contributions of Asian-Americans to the historical record and to document their present-day lives and struggles, especially those living in New York,” according to the New York Times.
The New Yorker’s Hua Hsu writes: “Like many activists, Lee believed that imagining the future of their community required looking after those who came before. He worked as a community organizer in Chinatown, connecting elders to social services, making sure new immigrants understood their rights.”
“Every time I take my camera out of my bag,” Lee told AsAmNews in 2020, “it is like drawing a sword to combat indifference, injustice and discrimination and trying to get rid of stereotypes.”
That spirit, and his extraordinary talent, inspired generations of community organizers and Asian American photographers in NYC’s Chinatown and Asian Pacific American communities that ranged from Chinatown, Japantown, Koreatown, Filipino, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and beyond.
May Ying Chen and Rachel Bernstein curated this exhibit in spring 2022. We are grateful for the inspiration and extensive knowledge provided by veterans and historians of the strike, including Edgar Romney, Muzaffar Chishti, Alice Ip, Betty Leung, and others.
We extend warm thanks to Paul Madlon and Goss Creative for another outstanding design.
The following archives have graciously provided images and retain all rights to the images and videos:
George Colon and Kathy Andrade
ILGWU Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University
Estate of Corky Lee
Museum of the Chinese in America
Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives/Tamiment Library, NYU
Wing On Wo Project