BLOG: Ref lecting on our 32nd anniversary…

By Assunta Ng

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Firefighters are very busy when a fire rages. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

“Fire, fire!” said my staff, rushing into the Asian Weekly’s office, on Dec. 24, 2013. The alarm of a fire engine became intolerably loud, and fire engines kept coming into Chinatown until all of South King Street was blocked. I dashed out, standing among the many onlookers, watching the fire destroying the Hudson Hotel’s rooftop across from our office.

“We need to put the story in the papers (Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post), just a photo and something short,” I told my staff.

We were on deadline and had one day less to finish the papers, due to the holiday. We could only do a story provided people talked to us. But we were unable to talk to any of the firemen because they were too busy fighting the fire. The fire chief, who was too busy giving commands, avoided me. None of the Asian papers did what we did. You would think that community members would notice that we were the only one who did it.

When the papers were published on Thursday, we heard nothing but complaints.

“Is that the way you do the (fire) story?” said a Chinese community leader, meaning that the story was too short. Yes, we were the only Asian paper who got flak, because they compared us with not with other minority media, but the big guys, mainstream media, who have three to seven times more manpower and time than we do.

Perhaps, we should have skipped the story after all!

Great Expectations

Sometimes, I wish our community didn’t just single out the Asian Weekly to carry all the tough reporting. Why doesn’t the community demand other Asian media to do this and that? And if we have done things that exceeded their expectations, do they reward us more than the other Asian media? I am afraid not.

Setting high bar for us inspires the Asian Weekly to strive every week. But the community’s unrealistic expectations on a community weekly has also created unnecessary pressures and burdens all these years.

My 2014 wish on our 32nd anniversary, (Jan. 20), is for the community not to take us for granted.

Don’t just criticize us, but tell us both the negative and the positive. Understand our challenges before you cast judgment. Reward us with leads for stories as well as business. Please support and attend our events. It’s a free paper, so we need all your support to keep us going.

Embracing bad news

Perhaps what keeps us going all these years is our ability to embrace not only uncertainties, but bad news as well.

How do we embrace bad news?

We look for the silver lining in each one, dream it if it doesn’t show up instantly, build it if it lacks a foundation, and weave bits of it together until it makes sense.

Last September, we were organizing the mayoral debate and I had just paid for a trip to Venice. Then, the Asian Weekly editor quit and took a job in California. I couldn’t cancel the trip.

The solution was to offer to the API community the opportunity to host the debate instead.

Fortunately, Akemi Matsumoto, Tien Ha, Maria Batayola, Stella Chao, Paul Tashima, and Evelyn Yenson came to the rescue. The forum had nearly 200 people attending. It was a success.

One night I prayed, “God please give me an experienced editor.” Then miracles happened. Two days later, two applied for the position. One served as a substitute editor while I was gone for Venice, and Sue Misao served as the permanent editor.

Take the Chinatown fire for instance. The fire department called Seattle City Light to shut down all the nearby buildings’ electricity after the fire began. Our next-door neighbors didn’t have electricity, including those who lived on the hill on Maynard Ave. S. However, our building was not affected. It’s not that the firemen were aware of us being a newspaper. All I told my staff was, “Hurry, hurry. Let’s be done by 6 p.m. Go home, celebrate Christmas.”

Last year, the Asian Weekly Foundation planned to cancel its all-expense-paid summer youth leadership program even though we had done it for 17 consecutive years. “2012 was the last,” as I told people in 2011. I underestimated the alums. They said, “No. Let us know how we can help.” Their gesture moved me immensely.

The alums and my son John (also an alum) stepped up at the last minute. And we had an incredible year for 38 youth, and 76-year-old Xin Fan, who wrote me a long letter to convince us to let her join the program.

It was also last year that the post office toyed with the idea of shutting down Saturday delivery to prevent its financial loss. But we would not survive if the post office discontinued its Saturday service, because many Chinese Post readers receive their paper on that day. Believe it or not, our savior was Congress. It would not allow post office to take such action.

Every crisis we meet seems to have its own silver lining. How and why I don’t know, but the silver lining is always hidden somewhere. Miracles often hit us in a strange way.

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Murray answered questions from the API community. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Follow our vision

The process of bringing diverse communities together is fun for us. Our goal is to do things different from other media. One of the events we organized was a dialogue with Mayor Ed Murray for the Asian community on Dec. 30 at the New Hong Kong Restaurant. There were about 70 people attending, and over 10 community leaders asked questions. The exchange was courteous, even though there were some radical API members, including former Mayor Mike McGinn’s fans. I was happy to see them.

Much of Murray’s answers sounded like a typical politician. However, several APIs said to me afterwards that the meeting was constructive.

This was the first time McGinn’s and Murray’s supporters were in the same room after the election. McGinn’s camp, which was visible, aggressive, and domineering during the campaign, still felt the hurt over his loss. An API leader commented that the lessons learned from the Murray-McGinn campaign are that the API community is still unsophisticated in politics.

“We have to learn how to pick a winner,” he said. “We have to know how to do research. The API community lacks an organizing machine, which can raise a lot of money for political campaigns.”

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Albert Shen and his supporters were happy on election night. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Defeat is just the beginning

On my way to Seattle City Council candidate Albert Shen’s election party last November, I was trying to figure out what to say to comfort him in his defeat. To my surprise, there was no sadness on his face, his wife didn’t cry. All his supporters were upbeat. He was actually smiling.

Shen knows that his name is out there now. It will be less challenging for him to win in the next campaign.

Besides Shen, there were quite a few APIs running for office who lost in 2013.

Shari Song, who lost her King County Council race, said, “I will not quit. I gained valuable experiences and connections.”

Vandana Slatter, who lost her Bellevue City Council race, said, “I was defeated, but I am not defeated in life. I felt like 10 feet tall the day after the election. I just had my political M.B.A.”

What wonderful attitudes these Asian community leaders share! Toughness and resilience penetrate their characters after a tough campaign. Our candidates get it. In fact, it would be a mistake for them to quit running for office in the future. The Asian community shouldn’t give up on them even though we know they might not make it. The more they run, the more successful they will become in reaching their dreams. What we need to do is to show them encouragement and support so that they will not be afraid to pursue their destiny.

A few years ago, I asked myself, will this be our last year, given the dire conditions for print media? So this year, I‘ll be content with roller-coaster uncertainties and making things interesting and worthwhile for our community. In the work we do, we found humanity, wisdom, joy, and goodwill in empowering people. That’s how we’ve survived all these years. Thank you for 32 amazing years. (end)

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