By Charles Lam
I was 22 years old when I saw a Craigslist listing for a newspaper in Seattle looking for an editor.
It was a late night in August, and I was living in Orange County, Calif. I waited until the morning to send in a cover letter and resume because I wanted to make a good impression.
I had never visited the city, but six months out of college and working a job at an advertising agency, I had bought into the idea that a journalist’s first in-industry job should be far from home and in a position where they would have to do a little bit of everything.
Little did I know that — unlike my friends who moved to Oregon, New Mexico, and New York — my time as the editor of the Northwest Asian Weekly would introduce me to my favorite city, to some of my favorite people in the world, and teach things (both personal and professional) that I have carried with me to this day.
Assunta Ng is an inspiration, and I’m forever in her debt for taking a chance on a kid from California.
She taught me so much, both about journalism and about life. As a publisher, she taught me the importance of being present and visible and that journalism — at its core — is a community service.
As a mentor, she taught me the best way to get around downtown and which Chinese pastries are baked barbecue buns and which are baked coconut cream (I admit, I still have some issues figuring that out).
I am especially grateful that she brought me to Seattle at such an exciting time with so many stories to cover, from the legalization of gay marriage, to the 2012 gubernatorial election, to the havoc in the Chinatown-International District during the streetcar construction.
I will always remember celebrating the Asian Weekly’s 30th anniversary just a month after I had arrived. I was sitting in the control booth at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel, watching Assunta mildly roast some attendees (including Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna), when someone mentioned that it was her birthday. In a testament to the kind of person she is, she made sure to remind everyone that it was also my birthday.
Ultimately, one of the greatest gifts that Assunta and the Asian Weekly gave me was the opportunity to grow up.
As Assunta can confirm, when I first made it to Seattle, I was a fresh-faced kid. Well meaning and hard working, maybe, but I barely knew how to cook for myself. I often tell people that I was born in San Jose and became an adult in Orange County. But it wasn’t until Seattle that I came of age. It’s where I learned how to depend on myself, and be strong, and get the job done.
Assunta Ng’s newspapers were inspired by a community bulletin board. And in turn, I know it’s inspired much more through its leadership programs, its scholarships, and its community building.
I know it’s inspired me to work as hard as I can (which is, ultimately, less hard than Assunta has worked). Without the paper, without ever meeting Assunta and the rest of the staff, I know I would be worse off, and I know many people who would say the same.
Here’s to 35 more years of being the voice of the Chinatown-International District.