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Tomie Arai and Legan Wong Papers

Call Number



1937-2010, inclusive
; 1970-1999, bulk


Arai, Tomie, 1949-
Wong, Legan
Arai, Tomie, 1949- (Role: Donor)


35 Linear Feet in 39 manuscript boxes, 1 tall manuscript box, 1 record carton, 1 flat box, 6 oversize flat boxes, and 4 flat-file folders
5 sound discs (vinyl)
1 sound discs (lacquer)
1 videocassettes (vhs)

Language of Materials

A majority of the materials are in English, with some publications and ephemera in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. A small amount of publications and posters are bilingual.


Artist and community activist Tomie Arai (1949- ) has been working as an artist in the New York City area since the 1960s, and together with Legan Wong (1951- ) has also been involved with the New York-based Asian American cultural movement since the 1970s. The Tomie Arai and Legan Wong Papers document arts and cultural organizations in New York specifically focused on the Asian American experience including Cityarts Workshop, Basement Workshop, and Godzilla Asian American Arts Network. Some of the publications and posters in the collection are bilingual in English and either Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. This collection also contains exhibition catalogues and ephemera accumulated by Arai and Wong which primarily focused on New York-based Asian American artists active during the 1970s to the early 2000s. Arai's work as an artist is documented in this collection through exhibition promotional material, original drawings, printwork created for publications and community organizations, correspondence and project files. This collection also includes materials created and collected by Legan Wong documenting his creation of college courses on the Asian American experience in the 1970s as well as a small amount of material related to his music production work with East West World Records in the 1980s. This collection also contains material related to Wong's participation in the Asian Tactical Theater, Soh Daiko, and an Asian American Softball League team in New York. Materials from Arai's early life and family include Arai's elementary and high school memorabilia from the 1960s and items accumulated by Arai's parents specifically related to their experience as people of Japanese descent in the United States during and after World War II. These materials include research, publications produced and distributed at individual facilities, and original artwork by Arai's uncle, Unosuke Sasaki, created during his period of incarceration at the Topaz Relocation Center, a concentration camp in Utah, in the early 1940s.

Biographical Note

Tomie Arai (1949- ) was born in New York City and is a third generation Japanese American. She has been creating and exhibiting her artwork since the 1960s. In the 1970s she worked at the Basement Workshop on various projects and the Cityarts Workshop, where she worked as a resource center coordinator and mural director. Arai then worked as a freelance graphic artist for Alan Okada of Citibank, creating posters, brochures and promotional materials for community groups as part of Citibank's Graphic Support program. Arai has been involved in many community-based art projects, creating site-specific public works of art commissioned by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs' Percent for Art Program, the General Services Administration of the Federal Government, and the NYC MTA Arts for Transit Program.

As an Asian American activist she has participated in the political movements since the 1960s and continues her involvement through organizations including the Museum of Chinese in the Americas. She also served as NYU Asian/Pacific/American Institute's first Artist-in-Residence in 1997-1998 and in 2005.

Biographical Note

Legan Wong (1951- ) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Chinese immigrant parents. Wong was active in the New York Asian American Movement during the 1970s and 1980s. From 1971 to 1973, he served as a coordinator for the Basement Workshop and was also active in the Asian American Resource Center.

While Wong was an undergraduate at Queens College and later as an adjunct lecturer at Hunter College, he worked to promote the development and expansion of Asian American Studies. Wong was eventually hired at Hunter College to teach a course called The Asian American Experience, a historical and contemporary examination of the experiences of Asians in America. Wong was a member of Asians in the Spirit of the Indo-Chinese (ASI) and Asian Americans for Equal Employment (AAFEE), which focused on workers' rights, racism, and police brutality. Wong also worked as a researcher and freelance writer for the Council on Interracial Books for Children. Between 1982 and 1985, Wong worked as one of the executive producers of East West World Records. The record company produced the album Back to Back and Visions and Dreams.

Wong was involved in a number of local community groups, including the Asian Tactical Theatre, a collective of Asian American activists involved in helping to develop the Asian American cultural front of the larger Asian American Movement. Wong was also a member of Soh Daiko, a taiko drum performance group based at the New York Buddhist Church, and a member of a team in the Asian American Softball League in New York.


The papers are arranged in four series, which have been arranged in chronological order within each series. Files with the same title are grouped together and arranged chronologically within that group.

The series arrangement of the papers is as follows:

Series I. Community Activism
Series II. Tomie Arai Artwork
Series III. Legan Wong Work Files
Series IV. Tomie Arai Early Life and Family

Scope and Contents

The Tomie Arai and Legan Wong Papers document the spouses' work in the arts, Asian American Studies, and the Asian American Movement in New York dating from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Older materials in this collection relate to Arai as a student in New York and documentation accumulated by Arai's parents and other family members regarding the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The collection includes exhibition ephemera, Asian American community publications, drawings and prints, correspondence, photographs, and bilingual event posters and announcements in English and either Chinese, Japanese or Korean.

This collection contains material on Arai and Wong's involvement in large and smaller Asian American activist-driven organizations including the Basement Workshop, Cityarts Workshop, and Godzilla Asian American Arts Network which have historically been under-documented in larger arts and cultural institutions. These organizations files typically contain promotional material, newsclippings, correspondence, and event posters with printwork by Arai. This collection also contains a large amount of material accumulated by Arai and Wong on Asian American artists' exhibitions and performances in the New York City area during the 1970s through 2000s, including posters, fliers, artist prints, and informational brochures.

A large portion of the collection documents Arai's work from the 1970s to the 2000s, including exhibition announcements and catalogues, correspondence, press materials, and work files for the exhibitions Mi Familia Mi Comunidad, and Chinese y Criollo, a collaborative oral history and art project. This collection also contains publications, posters, drawings, prints, and proofs from Arai's work as a graphic artist for Citibank, focusing primarily on promotional material for small New York Asian American community groups.

Legan Wong's files document his development of university classes on the Asian American experience, including source material, lecture plans, correspondence, and conference notes and information. His files also contain information on community groups he was involved with, including the Asian Americans for Equal Employment (AAFEE), Asian in the Spirit of the Indochinese (ASI), and the Asian Tactical Theater. Correspondence and informational material on the American Softball League in New York and the Soh Daiko performance group illustrate his involvement in the Asian American cultural community as well.

A small amount of older material in this collection relates to Arai's junior high school and early adult years in the 1960s and also contains ephemera and print material accumulated by her parents during the 1940s and 1950s, some of which concerns the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Materials include research, publications produced and distributed at individual facilities, and original artwork by Arai's uncle, Unosuke Sasaki, created during his period of incarceration at the Topaz Relocation Center, a concentration camp in Utah, in the early 1940s.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Tomie Arai and Legan Wong Papers; MSS 439; box number; folder number or item identifier; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.

Location of Materials

Some of the materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Tomie Arai, 2015. The accession number associated with this gift is 2015.439.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual material has not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Material not yet digitized will need to have an access copy made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact Fales Library and Special Collections,, 212-998-2596 with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.


Three record cartons of duplicate print material, including exhibition announcements and catalogues and newsclippings, were identified and removed from the collection. The commercially produced record album: Chairman Mao's 4 Minute Physical Fitness Program (1973) was separated from the collection. Approximately 50 collectible buttons were sorted and only those specifically pertaining to the Asian American movement and community were retained. Two mounted items including an illustration: "Unidad de todas" and a reproduction of a photograph of a group with fists in air were removed from the collection. Arai's resource/reference book titles were reviewed and removed if they already existed within the NYU Library's holdings. A list of those removed is available.

Three commercially available record albums owned by Arai's parents (1937 Billie Holiday song, Pat Suzuki Broadway album, and Broadway musical soundtrack, Flower Drum Song album) have been retained in the collection because they were part of Arai's parents' personal collection, two are autographed, and the Broadway show had Asian American performers.

Collection processed by

Stacey Flatt

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:05:47 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

In 2009, a staff person at NYU Asian/Pacific/American Institute surveyed the collection.

In 2017 Conservation Lab staff remounted and rehoused the 15 watercolor artworks and rehoused the posters.

In 2020, narrative description was edited to more accurately describe the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

During the processing of this collection in 2021, all material was refoldered into archival folders and placed in appropriate sized containers. Original titles were transcribed onto the new folders when possible. The material was arranged into four series by the processing archivist.

Publication titles containing harmfully euphemistic language regarding the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II were identified, but have been retained to convey important contextual information regarding time and place in which the documents and titles were created.

Six commercial phonodiscs were identified and processed as artifacts and not audiovisual material.

Revisions to this Guide

December 2020: Edited by Amy C. Vo to change legacy description about the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II


Fales Library and Special Collections
Fales Library and Special Collections
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012