By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
“I just advise that your son marry a Chinese girl,” my friend said. “I am doing you a favor.”
That happened a few years ago. I wanted to shout, “How dare you!” But I swallowed the words in my throat because I didn’t want to regret them later.
“I really don’t mind my kids marrying non-Chinese,” I responded. “I don’t care if they marry Black or white, as long as they are happy and he loves the girl.”
My response surprised my friend. She shocked me, too. She was born and raised in this country, had a good education, yet I, an Asian immigrant, was more keen on embracing other cultures wholeheartedly.
When I reflect, my old self (the one from three decades ago) would have mirrored my friend’s racist, narrow-sighted, and irrational fears. What really changed me was being in the newspaper business. It has provided me with numerous opportunities to interact, collaborate, and even get closer with diverse ethnic groups, to get things done for the common good.
The complex Asian community
This is not a pleasant thing for me to put in ink. Some decades ago, and to some degree now, Asian Americans disowned their daughters for marrying Blacks. Some prominent Asian Americans have heartbreaking stories from years ago, although now they had accepted and forgiven each other.
There are some Vietnamese immigrants who have told me that they are mad at anything that have to do with the Chinese because the Vietnamese and Chinese fought against each other a thousand years ago.
I have also seen how Chinese and Korean immigrants often carry distrust against Japanese Americans, just because of their ancestry. The earlier generation had suffered during Sino-Japanese War in World War II. But the truth is, many Japanese Americans are more American than Japanese. If you were in Japan, you’d also realize that the current generation is made up of very different people than the previous generations. It’s very silly to hate people who no longer exist.
A sad chapter of U. S. history shows Japanese Americans interned during World War II just because they had ties with their native lands. Yet, so many of them had volunteered to fight for America bravely as part of the 442nd Regiment, while their loved ones were being locked up in camps.
The consequence of insisting one’s way will destroy humanity, understanding, and relationships.
Why are we victims of parental biases and hostilities? Can’t we free ourselves of heavy baggage and see other people as human beings?
I don’t know if I could have let go of these prejudices had I not been in the media business. It’s a gift for me to become friends with people in diverse groups.
Secretary of State Sam Reed once said about politics, “Compromise is not a dirty word. It is genius in American politics.” We don’t need to insist that we are right all the time. Sometimes, it is better to be kind than to be right. The consequence of insisting our way will destroy many valuable relationships, which we may have built up over the years.
The road to politics
I first learned of the word diversity from former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice in 1989, when he won the election. Our papers had covered his mayoral campaign because we saw him as potentially the first non-white Seattle mayor. However, some readers were not supportive of our coverage. They thought an Asian paper shouldn’t have anything to do with the Black community. I even received some threats.
We had to report them to the police.
But it didn’t deter us from doing what we thought we should be doing.
Diversity inspires me to get involved in politics. I wasn’t trying to be political at the time. One staff member was against the newspaper’s new political direction. He said it was boring to immigrants. The more we wrote about politics, the more toxins we seemed to put in the paper. However, many American-born Asian Americans were excited that Rice won.
As usual, life has a way of shaping my destiny, to play in politics for the good of the Asian community.
“We have to do something,” I told my friends.
Two other women, Aileen Oki and June Chen, decided to organize a victory dinner for Rice at the Four Seas Restaurant before his inauguration. I didn’t think the Black community had organized similar events.
What should I say at the dinner? Remember, I was a newcomer to politics. And I didn’t remember who suggested that I should ask Rice to appoint Asian Americans in his administration.
That was the theme at the dinner. It was the first time I used my political voice in the public. People were surprised, some raised eyebrows. But the result was astounding. Rice appointed five Asian Americans as department heads.
What I learned is that, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!
Later, former Seattle first lady Constance Rice invited me to join her kitchen cabinet to advise her on community affairs. That’s the beginning for me in opening my mind and my heart and in relating to people who don’t look like me. I’ve been committed to diversity ever since.
It’s why I started the Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship, to ensure we inspire young people to care about diversity when they are young, not when they are old. Some years ago, some counselors called our office and asked if our scholarship was only awarded to Asian students. We said no. In fact, there have been many years when we didn’t award scholarships to Asians at all. Now, counselors know that we are very sincere. (end)
Part 5 of this series will continue in April.
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.