Learning the Language of Protest
By Julia Kumari Drapkin and Mariana Martínez Esténs

It has been a year of amazing change for Eva Zhwo, 21.

She immigrated to New York from the Fugu province of China a few months ago. She has discovered many new things since arriving in the city — running water and central heating, navigating the subway and American food. Most recently, she has learned about immigrant rights.

Hear Eva Zhwo and Shun Cheung share thoughts on learning English and immigration activism.

At the Chinese Progressive Association, a non-profit organization in Chinatown that offers English classes, Zhwo first heard about the immigrant rights movement.  She was invited to join a citywide rally on April 10 with thousands of other immigrants. It was her first demonstration.

Zhwo made a sign with colored markers and carried it with her. It showed images of immigrants and question marks. The sign addressed issues of democracy and freedom.

“I think is important for hard working people to have a way to become citizens,” said Zhwo.

York Shun Cheung, 64, also marched in the rally. Unlike Zhwo, he is a veteran protestor. He came to America 32 years ago from Hong Kong, and sought a way to support his four children. His first job was working in a restaurant. “It is a very hard job,” he said, “but I had no choice.”

A long time resident of Chinatown, Shun Cheung participated in protests in the 1970s against police brutality of immigrants. In the 1980s, he protested the city’s attempt to close the 5th police precinct, the only police station in Chinatown.           

Now an American citizen, Shun Cheung proudly protests alongside newcomers like Zhwo. America has been good to him, he said, but he remembers how hard it was for him decades ago.

“It’s our benefit and our right to speak out,” said Shun Cheung. “Whether you are a new immigrant or an old immigrant, we need to get together to do that.”

“For new immigrants, they have to remember, [protesting] is something that we have the right to do.”


Consecutive translation of the interviews was done by Mae Lee, director of the Chinese Progressive Association where York Shun Cheung and Eva Zhwo participate.


2006 NYC24 is a production of the New Media Workshop at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism