By Assunta Ng
What do Lloyd Hara, Sharon T. Santos, Christine Gregoire, Gary Locke, Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray, and Jay Inslee all have in common? They are all Democrats who received donations and early support from June Chen. June unexpectedly died of a heart attack at the age of 78 on May 21.
She was also a long-time supporter and subscriber of the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post.
How did we meet?
June and I met more than 25 years ago. Curious about who published the newspapers, June found out about me from a mutual friend, Vi Mar, who was then a travel agent. She walked into our office one day and introduced herself. That was the beginning of a long, endearing friendship, as well as the beginning of many exciting adventures.
“Partners in crime”
Our first adventure together was organizing a community dinner to celebrate Mayor Norm Rice’s victory as the first ethnic mayor of Seattle in 1989 at the Four Seas Restaurant.
That was one of the beautiful things about June. Everything I suggested, she would be for. She never thought about the ‘what ifs’ or the ‘buts.’ She believed in everything I did, and she supported my ideas with her own time and money.
June mobilized the Asian community to come to Mayor Rice’s dinner. This was even more difficult because, in those days, there were no cell phones or e-mail. No one else had organized the community with such speed and effectiveness.
The intent of the dinner was to ask Rice to appoint Asian Americans in his administration, and he listened.
The dinner, which was organized in only three weeks and was attended by 300 people, gave me the confidence to drive my political agenda for the Asian community.
Chinese vs. Taiwanese community
When I first met June, she was pro-Taiwan independent movement. It quickly became a liability for our papers as many pro-China and anti-Taiwan independence community members ostracized people like her.
Unlike many Vietnamese newspapers that are anti-communist, the Seattle Chinese Post and Northwest Asian Weekly are politically neutral toward China and Taiwan. As we see ourselves as American newspapers, our interest is focusing on news.
My relationship with June had been tricky. Some Asian community members thought that if we covered their enemies’ events, we were supporting their enemies. What they wanted was to completely shut the opposing party out. They thought incorrectly that if we were not on their side, we were against them.
When Taiwan politicians visit Seattle, we have to report the event. The Chinese and Taiwanese communities don’t understand that our newspapers are meant to reflect what’s going on in the community. When we report on something, it doesn’t mean that we agree with it. Where and how we stand is stated clearly in our editorials.
We have an obligation to bring our readers diverse news. We are the only Asian newspaper that enjoys wide readership among Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and other Asian and Pacific American groups from different parts of the world. Of course, the Asian Weekly even reaches American-born Chinese as well.
It took a while for Chen to understand the Chinese Post and Asian Weekly’s position, but she respected us for what we stood for.
Getting both Taiwanese and Chinese officials in one room was and is still a nightmare. But in 1993, I was more ambitious than that.
In 1993, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit was held in Seattle. Trade delegates from Asian Pacific countries held meetings to foster trade, so I thought why not bring China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong trade officials together to do business since we share a common language, cultural values, and ancestors?
In retrospect, it was actually a crazy and stupid idea. What I didn’t realize at the time was that these trade officials were also government officials and were representing their countries.
But instead of rejecting my thinking, Chen said, “What a great idea.”
My clients agreed. When they heard about my APEC Goodwill Dinner, backers who wanted to meet these trade delegates instantly knocked on my door.
Then the firestorm erupted. Chinese officials were upset. I got calls from Chinese community leaders accusing me of playing two Chinas.
“It’s not going to happen?” a Chinese American attorney said with resentment.
Hong Kong delegates told me that they would come if Chinese delegates came. The Taiwanese delegates didn’t respond. Only the Singapore delegates confirmed that they’d be there. I don’t know how many phone calls June and others made, but things changed amazingly.
They all showed up in the end. Two Chinese officials came early before the official introduction, stayed for 15 minutes, and left. Hong Kong and Singapore officials stayed for the whole dinner. Taiwan officials came during the dinner. The trade officials and 300 other guests left with smiling faces, each with a gift bag of Washington state goodies.
June, I couldn’t have pulled it off without you.
The youth in June’s heart
When June helped the Asian Weekly do our first major fundraising project, raising $40,000 for Kin On to take care of the community’s elderly, her heart was actually in it for the youth.
A founding board member, June was instrumental in raising seed money for the Asian Weekly Foundation.
When the Foundation started its Summer Youth Leadership Program (SYLP), June even attended some sessions to give feedback. She brought the kids snacks from time to time, and she remained friends with many of the SYLP alums.
Among her friends’ kids, she was known as the most generous Auntie June. She would do anything for them to help them connect with the right mentors and inspire them to fulfill their dreams.
To honor June, Kathy Chinn, the Asian Weekly’s first intern in 1984, suggested that we set up a “June Chen Memorial Scholarship” for our program this July. We will. Thanks for the idea, Kathy.
America and Taiwan’s politics
At first, June’s passion was Taiwan’s politics first, America’s politics second.
But as years went by, her attitude shifted due to two reasons. The first was that former Taiwan President Chen Shuibin was arrested and jailed for corruption. She became disillusioned and disappointed with Taiwan officials. A few years ago, she said, “I want to be an American, not Taiwanese.”
Since the 1990s, June had given generous donations, especially to female Democrat candidates. Former Governor Gregoire and Senators Murray and Cantwell all got donations for their campaigns. June admired all of them and attended their expensive fundraising events (they cost as much as $1,000 per person, especially when powerful women like Hillary Clinton are invited to speak).
We were both Clinton fans, but little did I expect we would not see eye-to-eye in the 2008 presidential election. She supported Clinton, I supported Obama. Though we didn’t always agree in politics, we learned that good friends could disagree. I never tried to convince her to switch to Obama, nor did she try to convince me.
Governor Jay Inslee’s victory meant a lot to June. She had supported Inslee for a long time even though his opponent, Rob McKenna, lived in her district, Bellevue.
She never asked us to endorse Inslee even though she considered me her best friend. But she would rally many Inslee supporters to advertise in the Asian Weekly to openly show their support — killing two birds with one stone.
Thank you June for all you had done for us. May you rest in peace. (end)
To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit www.seattlechinesepost.com.