Remembering Peter Kwong, Scholar of the City and Champion for Justice

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Hunter College

Peter Kwong, 1941-2017

Peter Kwong, a pioneering scholar of Asian-American studies and immigration whose many works of journalism included bylines for City Limits, died Friday.

Kwong, born in Taiwan in 1941, served as distinguished professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College, as well as professor of sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He helped create a 1980 documentary, “Third Avenue: Only the Strong Survive,” that won an Emmy. His work was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and he co-produced a documentary, “China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province,” that was nominated for a 2009 Academy Award.

His books include “Chinese America: The Untold Story of America’s Oldest New Community,” “Chinese Americans: An Immigrant Experience” (which he co-authored with his wife, Chinese historian Dusanka Miscevic) “Forbidden Workers: Chinese Illegal Immigrants and American Labor,” “The New Chinatown,” and “Chinatown, New York: Labor and Politics 1930-1950.” His work appeared in The Nation, the International Herald Tribune, the Globe and Mail, Village Voice and City Limits. Two days before his death he was featured in an NPR story about gentrification in Chinatowns.

“Kwong challenged the notion that Asians are a model minority, revealing in his research widespread class divisions, poverty, exploitation, drug abuse, and organized crime–all of which were exacerbated by decades of discrimination by a majority white society,” Joseph Viteritti, a professor at Hunter and the chair of its Urban Policy and Planning Department wrote in an email to staff.

Last year Kwong appeared on a City Limits-moderated panel at the Brooklyn Historical Society on the growing Brooklyn Chinatown in Bensonhurst.

The Asian Communities in Bensonhurst from Brooklyn Historical Society on Vimeo.

10 thoughts on “Remembering Peter Kwong, Scholar of the City and Champion for Justice

  1. a tragic and unexpected loss. Peter was a determined, ruthlessly honest New York intellectual. His work ranged widely, was always current and open to new ideas. Hard to believe he has left us.

  2. I knew Peter from the mid-1970s, when he taught at SUNY Old Westbury and was a colleague of my late wife, Liz Ewen. When he came to Hunter, our connection continued. In recent times our conversations moved from politics to innovative building techniques. He spoke with me at length of a house he built in the country made of straw bales and stucco. Today is the first I’ve heard of his passing. I will miss him.

    • Both Peter and Liz were excellent professors at Old Westbury. I was lucky to have learned from them during the many semesters I was in their classes or knew them through their departments from 1976 to 1980. Both great, and both gone way too soon.

  3. This past Sunday, I heard about Dr. Kwong (known as Peter) in a community center where he was an active member. I heard beautiful things about him, I wish I had the chance to meet him in person. Great loss. Rest in peace.

  4. I had the pleasure of being in one of Professor Kwong’s classes during my time at Hunter. He was an incredible teacher and a kind human. He will be missed.

  5. Peter–so sorry I never had the chance to see you in recent years. But your keen observations, cynical humor and devotion to justice stay as fresh as the time I met you 48 years ago

  6. Peter Kwong died in NYC, one of the most steadfast and prodigious narrator and documentarian of Asian-America and in particular Chinese-America…. the complex, nuanced, class-income-stratified ethnic cluster(s) which are often broadbrushed and not fully understood by the outside world.

    Out here in California, another Chinese-American historian-scholar, Phil Choy, has also passed on.

    With Him Mark Lai, Lonnie Ding (filmmaker-documentarian of Chinese-America), Peter Kwong, Phil Choy, and others of this Vietnam-war generation all dying away, I wonder who among the young millennials, the new Chuppies (Chinese urban upwardly mobile professionals), the Ivy League preppies and city techies will now take on where these older generation left off.

    The China back in Asia has changed. So has Chinese-America and Asian-America.

    K-Pop, Gangnam, Hipsterism, and urban slickers, LVMH have taken over. Lumpen Chinese are no longer the norm. Everyone wants to emulate Alibaba Jack Ma or Baidu Robin Ma, and others want to become another Wanda-Dalian Wang Jianlin or HKG superman Li Ka-Shing.

    Where are our intellectual “role models?” The great scholars? The great writers and documentarians like Peter Kwong? No mas. No mas. No mas.

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