Fay Chiang, 65, Poet Who Championed Asian-American Culture, Dies

Blue Lagoon

And she recalled how hard her father, Bay Doc Chiang, had to work. He had cleaned other people’s clothes since immigrating to the United States as a boy in the 1930s from Sunwei, in the southern coastal province of Guangdong, working in the laundry 16 hours a day six days a week while her mother, the former Hop Kun Leo, who was also from Sunwei, ran their modest home.

In “Parents,” Ms. Chiang wrote about her father:

hey! That dude was some snappy dresser.

during the war, they let him work

the navy yards as an apprentice steelwelder

but when the soldiers came home

laundry customers called him Charlie.

(“Charlie” was almost certainly a reference to the fictional detective Charlie Chan, who was considered by many a racist Chinese stereotype.)

Fay Ping Chiang was born in the Bronx on Jan. 27, 1952. While attending Hunter College in Manhattan, she became active in the movement against the Vietnam War and worked with student groups to establish Asian-American studies courses and programs at Hunter and other colleges in the City University of New York system.

But she left college; as the eldest daughter, she was expected to care for her father, who was dying of cancer, and run the laundry. She eventually graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan with a degree in illustration.

In the mid-1970s, Ms. Chiang took the first of what would be a series of jobs with nonprofit groups when she became executive director of the Basement Workshop in Chinatown, a social and cultural organization that mainly served the Asian-American arts community.

“She was a steadfast believer that cultural and educational work was the key to activism,” John Kuo Wei Tchen, a historian at New York University and founding director of the university’s Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute, wrote in an email. “She always talked about people needing to realize they had choices and could get unstuck in their lives.”

After a dozen years with the Basement Workshop, Ms. Chiang worked at the Henry Street Settlement’s outreach program; in New York Newsday’s public affairs department; at Project Reach, a youth program based in Chinatown; and Poets & Writers, a readings and workshop program.

In recent years she had painted dozens of portraits of people, many of them youngsters, who were killed by law enforcement.

“I think people need to see the faces of these young people,” Ms. Chiang told the news website DNAinfo in 2015 when she exhibited the portraits at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts on West 39th Street in Manhattan.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Chiang is survived by her sisters, Jean and Janice Chiang. She never married. Her brother, Peter, died in 1982.

Ms. Chiang documented the toll that metastatic breast cancer had taken on her in “Landmarks and Geography,” a 2012 poem that opens with a list of each surgery and each tumor, node and breast that had been removed from her. Despite three tumors still in one lung, sciatica coursing from her spine to her toes and pain from scars, she wrote that she felt joy at still standing and

still walking

all hours of the day

the streets of this city

of my birth;

Chinatown, the Lower East Side,

And East Village my home.

wind, sun, rain, snow sleet —

elements against my open face

still alive.

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