By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
When I was editor of the Northwest Asian Weekly, it used to bother me when people acted as if Assunta single-handedly put out the newspaper because, behind each issue, there is a crew of very dedicated reporters and proofreaders who go above and beyond. They care about the newspaper, our community, and journalism. There is Han, the layout editor who often foregoes sleep to make deadlines. And there is George, who never stops fixing computers and asking you if you want some Vitamin C because he’s scared you’re getting sick.
I was tasked with writing a piece reflecting on my time at the Northwest Asian Weekly. I thought it’d be easy to write about the paper, but I actually can’t help but write about Assunta. I guess, like everyone else, I have a hard time separating her from the paper.
I used to dream about the newspaper. In my dreams, I’d be furiously typing at a computer, trying to force out a story that wasn’t coming. The phones would ring nonstop. Everything that I needed for the issue would fall off a cliff. And while Assunta never manifested into a physical form in my dreams, my subconscious was obsessed with her. I was scared of dropping the issue because I was sure the hand of God/Assunta would come down hard across my face.
It’s really demoralizing to spend hours working on the newspaper in a dream only to wake up and realize that it was a lousy trick and you had to go off and do the work for real.
My first contact with Assunta was over the phone. I was a 22-year-old kid who freelanced for the Northwest Asian Weekly. I had to interview her for a story and the whole experience was traumatizing because she was so businesslike and made me feel like my questions sucked.
Half a year later, I was sitting in her office as she interviewed me for the editor job. My stomach was being weird as she asked me if I’d cry if someone really hated something I wrote and aggressively confronted me about it. In that interview, she talked more than I did, breaking down what she wanted, laying out her ambitions and goals on the table.
I was sweating, just wholly preoccupied by how intimidating she was.
She bluntly told me that while there were things about me she liked, I was young and lacked experience.
I told her that I really wanted the job. Like, really. Like, seriously. Like, smother-a-puppy wanted it.
I wanted very badly to work for her because I just knew she was the biggest badass there ever was or ever will be.
She hired me. I worked there for nearly four years. People would ask if it was hard working for her. I’d always try to say, “Nah,” though the real answer was, “Duh.” I didn’t want to admit the truth because people don’t understand. They don’t understand that you suffer under her and then emerge a much better writer, journalist, editor, and communicator — and it’s completely worth it.
Wednesdays are our press days, when we proof and prepare the paper to be printed and put out on stands. Sometimes, Wednesdays are days when the editor constantly fights the urge to shove down cubicle walls and burn computers.
I have memories of bad Wednesdays, ones in which my definition of perfection and Assunta’s didn’t match up and she made my brain go insane. I’d stew for a while, debating whether it was a good idea to get into an argument with her because she throws down like no other.
I always went for it. And she always proved to be this near-immovable beast. Oftentimes, she’d crush me. I would feel exhausted.
Then the newspaper won 21 awards in two consecutive years for its editorial content, just demolishing the previous record. It put the difficulties into perspective.
I’m not saying that awards are important. I’m saying that pushing out the very best version of the Northwest Asian Weekly is important. Reporting unconventional stories with depth and self-awareness is important. Being a voice for a community that has historically been cast aside is important.
Throughout its 30 years, the paper has had a clear mission: to empower the Asian Pacific American community. It’s a goal that’s neither simple nor easy, and it’s one that Assunta doesn’t take lightly. She pushes people hard because she believes they can achieve far more than what they think they are capable of. She demands the best because she believes that’s what this community has a right to. She is one of the best teachers and one of the best people I know.
As long as she is at the helm, the Northwest Asian Weekly will be OK. (end)
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.