My sources of inspiration still exist
By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Is there anything special you remember about the year 1982? Were you even born then?
In 1982, Gary Locke was running for a seat in the state legislature. KIRO 7 anchor Steve Raible began his broadcasting career at the station. The first USA Today was published. Time Magazine named the Computer as the Man of the Year. The first CD player was sold in Japan. It was also the Year of the Dog, according to the Chinese Zodiac.
If you were born in 1982, you would be celebrating your 35th birthday this year. So is the Northwest Asian Weekly/Seattle Chinese Post. Last Saturday, my colleague Jenny Cho pointed out that her son, David, who is the AAT Television president, is 35 years old.
We have been interacting with more than two generations of colleagues, readers, customers, employees, and people from all walks of life over the decades. They have shaped the dreams and life of the Northwest Asian Weekly — creating many of our significant milestones.
The most frequent question people ask is, “What inspired you to start the Chinese Post and Asian Weekly?”
Believe it or not, many of my sources of inspiration still exist today. Imagine yourself now standing in the International District as I did in 1982, embarking on a remarkable journey in journalism, entrepreneurship, and community empowerment.
The Chinatown community bulletin board
Why did I want to start the first Chinese newspaper in the Pacific Northwest since 1927? Look no further than the Chinatown community bulletin board hanging on 7th Avenue South and South King Street since the late 1800s. Nobody knew exactly when the board was placed there.
Don’t underestimate this old piece of wood. It contains layers and layers of community history. For decades, this board was the only source of information for Chinese immigrants to find out what was going on in the community.
Job openings, protest posters, and events were posted on this piece of broken wood, nailed together for convenience without thought to paint colors or design. When I first arrived in Seattle in the 1970s, I noticed the piece of junk immediately. It showed the community didn’t have any means of obtaining accurate information and news.
The board now appears to be more attractive with new tiles, thanks to funding from the Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Tai Tung, Uwajimaya
In December 1981, I began to sell advertisements in the International District for the inaugural issue of the Seattle Chinese Post. Bear in mind, I didn’t have much selling experience, except for a brief stint when I sold women’s clothing.
Soliciting newspaper advertisements is as tough as finding gold in Washington state mines, because it’s intangible and you can’t see the real benefits instantly.
In those days, plotting strategies were beyond my capability. My assumptions were irrational and unworkable. Basically, a successful business could afford to advertise more than a mom-and-pop one, I thought. When I found out that Tai Tung was the oldest Chinese restaurant, I assumed it would be an easy sell. But not to owner Tommy Quan. You couldn’t sell him anything. He had heard it all. Tai Tung had not advertised for 30 years at the time I approached Quan, and it was still doing great. What would be the incentive for him to do anything differently?
Honestly, it was hard to believe that he changed his mind in the end. My selling skills were terrible. He gave me a half -page advertisement and instantly paid for it. Why did he say yes? It could be that he saw an opportunity to support the community. Or he felt sorry for a naive woman dressed in tennis shoes and slacks going around the International District, begging for money. Or maybe he said yes to get rid of me. What most people don’t realize is, Quan talks tough, but he has a big heart.
I am inclined to believe all of the above. A community newspaper is a vital part of the community. But what Quan gave me was more than a plain congratulatory advertisement — it spiked my confidence and credibility to go to the next potential buyer. “Tommy Quan bought an ad, you should do it, too.”
Uwajimaya was next. I didn’t even make an appointment. CEO Tomio Moriguchi was in the store. Yes, the oldest grocery store in the International District should be a good prospect! Although it was the first time I met Moriguchi, he was kind. He didn’t challenge me like Quan, and gave me an ad in less than five minutes. The rest was history. Uwajimaya has been advertising with us for 35 years, every single week. That support and commitment towards the community is hard to come by, especially in this age, where print media has been enduring declining ad revenue and subscriptions.
Quan no longer runs Tai Tung. His brother Harry Chan is in charge now, and he is also supportive of the community. Moriguchi has retired from Uwajimaya’s board and is still active in the community. Thank you Tai Tung and Uwajimaya for your gracious support all these years.
In 1972, two of my classmates, Liana Fong and John Lo, founded the Chinese Information & Service Center (CISC) inside the old Wing Luke Museum, to help immigrants. We were recruited to help translate.
It was there that I learned first-hand how immigrants struggled and needed help badly, not just in translation services, but social services, such as familial relations, parenting, job issues, and adjustment challenges. Both new and long-time immigrants didn’t know much about what was going on in the outside world except trying to survive and make a living.
A year later, Fong approached me to start a youth outreach program for high school students. I visited southend high schools and invited them to join CISC. Today, CISC, headquartered in Chinatown, has grown to be a vibrant social service agency, serving not only Chinese immigrants, but other immigrants of all ethnic backgrounds.
Chinese radio program
Simultaneously, another group of classmates who had a desire to make a difference in the community launched a Chinese radio program through KRAB to provide news and information to Chinese immigrants. I volunteered to provide entertainment programs by writing plays and being one of the characters in the play, during its first phase.
The biggest lack of information for immigrants was during the Watergate scandal. How the hell could they comprehend that the United States could impeach a president? I remember how immigrants lined up outside a Chinatown store to buy Chinese newspapers from San Francisco to read news about Watergate.
The volunteering experience at CISC and the radio program left a lasting impression on me — Chinese immigrants needed a lot of help. There must be something I could do! What would that be?
What do you want to be when you grow up? Our 4th grade teacher asked us to write an essay on the topic.
Most people were not aware that I was the first Chinese female reporter for the University of Washington (UW) Daily newspaper when I was in my junior and senior years. I took many journalism classes, although it was not my major. My experience with UW Daily made me proud. I remember I was the only one getting paid as a Daily reporter, while many of my UW friends found work in restaurants.
What inspired me to take journalism classes was I thought about being a reporter and writer when I was a kid. I didn’t know much about the field then. I knew that if I wrote about being a teacher, nurse, and secretary, like the most of my classmates, I would get an average grade. However, if I wrote about some unconventional career, she would give me a higher grade. I was shocked when I and a few others were chosen to read our essay aloud in class.
It’s funny how everything I had done in my life actually prepared me to start a newspaper. But the answer didn’t come easily. I gave a lot of thought to what I should do to make a difference in the community. After four years of teaching Asian immigrants in social studies at the Seattle Public School, I finally realized that a Chinese newspaper would be the solution.
The International Examiner was the first to break the news — about the birth of the Seattle Chinese Post, the first Chinese newspaper in the Pacific Northwest since 1927. The Seattle Times and P-I quickly followed. On our grand opening day, Jan. 20, 1982, three television stations were present at the basement of the Bush Hotel, where our first office was. The support of my fellow journalists amazed me.
The Associated Press picked up the story and the news was spread to many lands, including Japan and Hong Kong. You have inspired us to keep fighting. Thank you for your stories, marking the occasion of our grand opening, and keeping my memories alive. ■
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.