By Irfan Shariff
Northwest Asian Weekly
Some people may remember Vera Ing from the 1980s when she wrote a weekly column, “Dim Sum: Bits of the Asian American Dream,” for Northwest Asian Weekly. Others may remember her as an urban planner or a member of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
And still, others may remember her as a community activist, friend, and resident of the Mt. Baker neighborhood for more than 50 years.
Along with names like Bob Santos, Tomio Moriguchi, and many others, Vera Ing’s name is one of those from an era and generation that helped build the International District.
“They are going to forget these names in 20 years,” said Ing, who turned 70 this year and shares the same birthday as Confucius (Sept. 28).
Ing is certainly a civil rights activist in her own way.
“My first involvement with the International District was with InterIm [Community Development Association],” said Ing.
“I didn’t feel comfortable waving the flags or doing the protests,” said Ing. “I was more of a schmoozer than a rabble rouser.”
She recalls that she and Moriguchi were “great at cajoling the policy makers.”
“At that time (1960s and 1970s), there was a conflict with the old-time Chinatown leaders,” said Ing, referring to the movement that changed the name Chinatown to Chinatown-International District. “They didn’t think beyond the district.”
Ing, the daughter of Chinese immigrants from the Canton (now Guangzhou) province, believes the name change has enhanced the area and community.
“We’re really unique [in the International District]. We are the only hub that is contiguous,” she said, referring to the fact that Seattle’s major Asian populations live side-by-side.
“We developed this energy” that helps city officials help this district, said Ing.
Ing thinks that, despite having a smaller Asian American population than places like San Francisco, the unity of the International District communities helped elect more Asian Americans as leaders and city officials from very early on.
Earlier this year, Ing published a memoir titled after her old column. “Dim Sum: The Seattle ABC (American Born Chinese) Dream” recalls these events and much of Ing’s younger years in a changing Seattle.
From age 7, at the time of her father’s death, through moving to the esteemed Mt. Baker neighborhood in 1967 with her husband Joey, shortly after housing restrictions ended in Seattle, “Dim Sum” is about the American Dream.
“When I write, I try to write about the common experiences all immigrants have,” said Ing.
Ing had first contemplated writing a book almost 20 years ago, she said. But only after retiring from the Liquor Control Board in 2007 and enlisting the help of her “good buddy” Ron Chew, former director of the Wing Luke Museum, did the idea materialize.
Ing remembers Chew telling her to “find your own voice.” Three months later, she had completed the first draft of her manuscript.
Chew, a long-time friend of Ing, edited the draft and wrote the introduction to the book.
According to Ing’s calculations, she needs to sell 850 books to break even. She’s already given away nearly 300.
“Really, I wrote it for people to remember what happened,” she said.
Ing, who is excited about the future of the International District, believes it is in good hands.
“The International District is a legacy,” said Ing. “It is the fruit of having worked together.” ♦
Irfan Shariff can be reached at email@example.com.