By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The crises at the Northwest Asian Weekly never ends. One hit us as recently as last week — on Oct. 5, a day before the 35th anniversary gala of our sister paper, the Seattle Chinese Post, for more than 300 people.
The Asian Weekly was already delivered to the office. But where was the Chinese Post?
A voicemail was left in our office from a family member of our newspaper distributor. “Mr. To (distributor) is in the hospital, he couldn’t work today,” his daughter said.
To is in charge of picking up the Seattle Chinese Post from the printer. He also distributes both papers in the International District (ID) and Renton. (Good thing the Asian Weekly is printed at another printer.) His absence set up a chain of emergency responses in our office. Picking up the papers was not the hard part. But who would distribute the two papers in the ID when everyone in the office was so involved with the gala the next day?
We made some quick decisions. My husband and I, along with a staff member, distributed to a few areas, including Uwajimaya and all our news boxes. Some people saw me and was surprised that I, the publisher, was delivering the papers. Later, To called to say that he’s okay and could work on the following day. We apologize to readers who were anxiously waiting for the papers last Thursday.
Despite the crisis, I was actually thankful that we didn’t get the message until the morning, so we got a good night’s sleep.
A collection letter arrived late in the summer of 2016. For the first time in 35 years of business, we were being sued.
A man accused us of discrimination. He claimed that our rejection of his classified advertisement in the Chinese Post resulted in a $25,000 loss of income. I didn’t know how he arrived at that number. It was signed by a collection agency’s attorney. His intent was clearly revealed — extortion. But the document was real.
We rejected his advertisement because his customer complained to us that he didn’t refund the rent deposit when they decided not to go ahead with the deal. We told him if the deposit was returned and there were no more complaints, we would be glad to accept his advertisement. After months and months of waiting, we never heard back.
A while later, he approached our receptionist in our office to place the advertisement. She took it without suspecting that he was the guy we had warned her about. But another staff member, who’s in charge of classifieds, recognized the name and photo. We rejected his ad again.
Two years later, he sued us. We hired a media attorney to represent us. To make a long story short, the judge dismissed the case and ruled against him. But we had to spend over $8,000 in legal fees. The plaintiff paid us back $4,500 to settle, even though we asked for more to cover the attorney’s fee. It’s not just the money wasted, it consumed everyone’s time and energy. He did send a letter of apology afterwards, and wanted to advertise. He should know better!
In 2004, our editorial sparked a protest. About two dozen Vietnamese Americans held a demonstration across the street from our front door. Former Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Cao Ky decided to end his opposition to the Vietnamese Communist government, and was the first South Vietnamese leader to return to his native land after the war, since his exile in America.
Our editorial stated that it was also time for the Vietnamese community to move on and reconcile with the government. A veteran, who was married to a Vietnamese, organized the protest after a Vietnamese newspaper wrote about our editorial. One of the Chinese community leaders, the late Ted Choi, sided with them.
The protest traumatized our former editor, who happens to be Vietnamese. She couldn’t believe her own people protested against the paper and her writing. When the protestors learned about the editor’s reaction, they told her it’s not about her, “It’s that Chinese woman (meaning me).”
Historically, the Vietnamese had been fighting the Chinese for over a thousand years. That’s the problem with the Asian community. The hostility among China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries have been dragged over to many generations. Why do we have to burden ourselves with our parents’ baggage all the way from our homeland to America? Why can’t we, as immigrants of America, have fresh ideas that are free of bias? We have to do better than our parents and ancestors! What’s ironic is, I am not pure Chinese. Born in Vietnam, my grandfather was half Vietnamese.
It was interesting to see how divided the Vietnamese community was on the issue. The young generation told us privately that they agreed with us. Some Vietnamese friends even shared with me that some of these protestors had returned to Vietnam early. That’s hypocritical!
The older generation was still upset with the Communist government after 30 years for their loss of their homeland, property, and lives of loved ones. Somehow, they didn’t grasp they were in America, and the practice of freedom of speech was the media’s right. They expected everyone in the Asian community to side with them for what they had been going through.
Hatred and the past only consumes the community. It’s important to work towards the future. A month later, my rage melted. Out of compassion, I invited the protesters to met with us in our office. But our goodwill was misunderstood as timidity and regret, and not as a gesture to foster dialogue and build bridges. The elder folks came with the expectation of getting an apology from us. They brought a written agreement for me to
sign that said we would agree to publish an apology. Of course, they left empty-handed. It was a constructive and friendly discussion though.
Presently, the Vietnamese media and the Asian Weekly have a good relationship — we support one another and even collaborate together from time to time.
What do you do when both Chinese and Taiwan’s diplomats show up at your event?
Instantly, it can create a diplomatic crisis.
In 2009, forgetting the implications of inviting diplomats from China and Taiwan in the same room, I sent out invitation letters to four diplomatic representatives: China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
No one suspected the drama and tension behind the event. As the organizer, I wanted the event to be a full house. Those Asian countries shared the pride of having an Asian American appointed to such a high position.
All four officials indicated they would like to come.
The issue was who would sit with Locke at the head table. Both the Chinese and Taiwan officials asked if they could sit at Locke’s table. We knew we couldn’t accommodate both requests. We also didn’t know that neither could sit at that table — we had no clue about protocol. The Taiwan official threatened that if we didn’t let him sit at the head table, he would accuse me of being divisive between the two communities.
I had no choice but to report to Locke’s office, who consulted with the State Department for guidance.
The State Department said that no China or Taiwan officials could sit at the head table because they were not the same rank as a cabinet member. When the State Department spoke, no one would argue.
It’s interesting that neither Japan or South Korea’s diplomat demanded to be at the head table. The challenge now was the seating plan. Our solution was to make sure that no one lost face. Everyone was seated with prominent community leaders as table hosts. The head table was set in the middle of the room. The Taiwan official’s table was in front; the Chinese official’s table was next to the head table. The Korean and Japanese officials were right behind the head table to the left and right. All the chaos was settled before the dinner. At the event, we introduced the Taiwan and Chinese officials to each other, and they posed for photos together. Everything ran smoothly that evening.
Yes, they both showed up on the 10th anniversary celebration of the Seattle Chinese Post. Sometimes, many interpret a mailed invitation as an important piece of courtesy. On our 10th anniversary, we mailed out the invitations to all subscribers with a computer label. We didn’t even think about it when we sent it out. But the Chinese consul general in San Francisco and the local Taiwan director general both accepted the invitation. It was not a pretty scene for me as the host that night. Both walked out in protest when they found out the other was at the same event.
For the past two weeks, my blogs have focused on crises at the Northwest Asian Weekly. When my editor learned that I will write about more crises this week, she said, “You have more?”
Definitely, there’s more. But…I’d like to stop here as many are not printable, and it could impact the community. What I am most thankful for is that these crises might have hurt us, but they didn’t kill us. We still publish week after week for our readers. That’s what matters.
What exactly are my weapons for dealing with crises? You will find out next week.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.