COMMENTARY: Congratulations to the NWAW

Susan L. Cassidy

By Susan L. Cassidy

I believe in freedom of press.  Passionately. I believe that freedom of press is a distinction which separates democracy from tyranny. Freedom of the press is the difference between an informed populace and the ignorance that makes it possible for propaganda to parade around dressed up as truth. The stifling of information allows evil to thrive and gain a foothold.  

Thirty years ago, Assunta Ng saw a population of people living in America without access to information because they could not speak or read English. She saw a need and addressed it. She started a Chinese language newspaper, The Seattle Chinese Post, making it possible for immigrant Americans to exercise their right as Americans to be informed.

That newspaper grew into a second newspaper, the Northwest Asian Weekly, an English-language newspaper, whose job was also to inform. It also had another purpose, which was far more political than practical. The newspaper’s goal would be to create a community out of the disparate mix of minority populations. It would take groups of peoples, related by a shared characteristic and a status as minority among the majority, and unify them.

This newspaper would not only inform, but it would give voice to the previously unheard. The NWAW would spotlight the achievements of the people in this group and report the events affecting them, thus creating for the group a voice of its own within the larger community.

Unlike most journalism that is touted as being unbiased, community journalism has a clear bias in the sense that it is serving a specific population, and often speaks for that population. At the very least, a community newspaper seeks to provide a specific population with information relevant to that population.

But when Assunta Ng is in charge, such newspapers also hope to advocate.  As Ms. Ng’s newspapers grew, so too grew her awareness of the power of the press, specifically the power of the community press. This wasn’t a personal power, but rather, it was the power to illuminate the members of the minority group she represents. Such illumination enriches both the minority community and the greater population at large.  To see the United States clearly, to give voice to all of its people, is to understand and witness its strength.

When a group has a purpose, and is then given a voice, and when that voice is heard … the group now has strength. In the case of the Asian American population of Seattle and Washington state, that strength has become formidable. And organized. But such strength of purpose cannot be taken for granted. Minority populations will always have to work to be heard, to be visible, and to have a say in their governance.

Diversity is key to what makes the United States great. Advocacy is what has helped to make the Seattle Chinese Post and Northwest Asian Weekly great. Ms. Ng took a great idea based on a simple premise to provide information to a population of people who couldn’t get it. Then she layered on top of that an effort to create a community.  She followed this up with advocacy for that community. And she’s done it for 30 years. That is a tremendous achievement.

I had the great fortune to be a small part of that effort for five years. I count it among the greatest experiences of my adult life. It was certainly the best professional experience I’ve had. Circumstances prompted me to end my tenure as editor of the Northwest Asian Weekly, but in a very real sense, I’ve never left the paper. Though I now live in Chapel Hill, N.C., whenever I return to Seattle, I visit with the community I was proud to be welcomed into. Working with Assunta Ng, and the entire Chinese Post gang, awakened my desire to advocate and my calling as an activist. That is a gift that keeps on giving.  I have found other groups for which to advocate, and will continue to do so as long as I have work in me.

Along the way, I will continue to advocate for the Asian American population of the United States.

Congratulations to the entire Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post gang!  It’s an amazing thing that you have done! (end)

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