By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Since the Chinatown-International District (CID) narrowly escaped catastrophe this year, it reminds me to be grateful for the good in our community.
Two major government projects were paused after community resistance. First, King County backed down from building the mega SODO homeless shelter on the CID border. Secondly, Sound Transit is beginning to grasp the impact of a second light rail station in the CID, pushing 5th Avenue South to be a viable location to connect West Seattle and Ballard.
These wins are rare for us after years of racism, exploitation, and neglect in the neighborhood. What is most phenomenal is how the community banded together to combat these encroachments through protests, meetings, and lobbying officials behind the scenes, while openly expressing their oppositions through the Northwest Asian Weekly.
In our 40 years of publishing, I have never seen the community being so fed up that the CID has always been the chosen location to endure harmful projects. Yet, there is beauty drifting out of the struggle: the united front of our community. That would not be possible decades ago under the rivalry of old guards in a factionized community.
Historically, there was often bickering between the Chinese and Filipinos, Chinese and Japanese, and Filipinos and Japanese. Conflicts grew not just among different Asian segments, but within the Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese communities themselves. Issues such as identity between immigrants and American-born, generational frictions, fighting for territory and competing for funding, attention and favors from public officials, and how Chinatown should be named. These issues consumed the older generation instead of finding common ground. Decades of old wounds and grudges from the older leaders, who believed in historical stereotypes and assumptions of other ethnic groups, are also major factors in contributing to a dysfunctional and divisive community. So what has changed that enables us to stick together?
Hierarchy is out
Why it has worked so far is because the organizers share the belief, “We are all in this together. There is no No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 in the group.” Aside from not having titles, there is no particular organization named to head the movement.
I have witnessed nothing but respect and grace exhibited among these community members and leaders towards one another. Their goal is to share information and recognize each other’s expertise to proceed in fighting outside forces. Their actions signal the right attitude. Titles are unimportant, but results are. For that, I am proud of our community. How far we have come! There are so many heroes among the group that it would be hard for me to name them all. I don’t want to risk leaving someone out.
Credit is secondary
During the fight, no one individual or organization claimed any credit. When no one is interested in getting credit, our community can overcome monumental obstacles. And that’s exactly what happened during the last few months.
In the old days, some leaders were notorious for seeking recognition and credit not only for themselves but the group they represented. And they became obstacles for the community to move forward when confronting challenges and even pursuing meaningful endeavors. That’s why it took the Chinese community more than 40 years to build the Chinatown historic gate on South King Street.
Show up and do the work
Our community organizers deserve praise for showing up and doing the work. Fighting bureaucracy is nothing glamorous, but time-consuming and tedious. There are many big and small hearings with elected officials. Showing up in numbers projects the community’s strength.
The community can work together because new blood has been infused in the group without the old baggage. Under the leadership of several organizers, the community had a consistently strong turnout in the Sound Transit and City and County Council hearings.
Size and diversity matter, too. Diversity means visibility in terms of the difference in age groups and gender. The officials can’t tell if you are Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Filipino. But the Asian presence and confidence were deeply felt. With the protest signs they held and the testimony they gave, even in their native tongue, the Asian audience became dynamic.
Organizers had also done their homework before and after. They studied how the system worked and recruited volunteers to share the load in organizing. Division of labor was critical. Those who know how to connect with the media, contacted them.
This is essential in amplifying messages of injustice. Those who can spread the word, distribute flyers, put up posters and posts on WeChat to encourage participation, and organize other logistics make the protests go smoothly. After the meeting, some wrote briefs to inform other members who were unable to attend. They also worked on their next steps to manage the meetings with the elected officials. The CID’s organizing machine is incredibly powerful.
A clean and resilient CID
If you notice that trash has been decreasing in CID for the past two months, it is because the City has hired custodians to clean much more often than past administrations. I have seen them clean the streets as early as 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Sometimes, they clean the alleys twice a day. Weekend cleaning was unheard of in the past. Thank you, Mayor Bruce Harrell, for your commitment to improve the CID.
Cleaner streets might have attracted more people to visit CID on weekends during the day. Like downtown, CID has been affected by the homeless and crime issues, and labor shortages, too. But CID restaurants are recovering far better than downtown restaurants.
Most CID restaurants are mom-and-pop businesses. They have less labor shortage problems as much of their labor force comes from family members and they didn’t lay-off relatives during the pandemic, no matter how lousy business was. Some CID restaurants even applied for several relatives from China to work for them before Covid.
However, some downtown restaurants laid off everybody except a few chefs to cook for take-out meals during the lockdown. Now, they are desperate for employees to return, and few have.
I have to confess the SODO homeless project and Sound Transit’s abrupt decision to push the 4th and 5th Avenue South stations in CID have impacted the Asian Weekly, too. Those crises gave us opportunities to do good work.
“You have the best coverage,” community members have been telling us. Some even forwarded our stories to elected officials and friends. It meant so much as I passed the feedback to our team. We savor those moments.
And we have been energized and inspired by our community’s response to those fiascos created by our officials.
One such person who has touched me deeply is community leader Bettie Luke. A month ago, she wanted three different issues which contained those stories. She requested 30 to 40 copies of those issues to give to the Sound Transit board, and City and County Council officials, with her own written notes attached to each of them. Those stories not only educated the officials, but highlighted the Asian Weekly’s reporting. Luke is an original. Her actions are consequential. We are so grateful that she knows how to use the Asian Weekly well.
A rare journey
Some have noticed that the Asian Weekly has not produced big events for the past three years. So the question is, “How does it affect us financially?” Prior to the pandemic, we used to organize as many as six events during the year.
2022 has been a good year for us. For the first time in my career, I have reversed how I spend my work time. 90% of my time focuses on journalism, and little on the business side. This switch is made possible because of our changing fortune.
Advertising agencies have knocked on our door and given us unsolicited business. Strangers approached us, telling us to apply for grants. It reinvigorates us to know that there are people who are aware of us and value our work. Unsolicited businesses are like presenting us deals on a silver platter. It saves us time, energy, manpower, and stress.
This year, we received a Washington State Health Department grant for the third time. (The first two grants were given to us in 2021.) In addition, we received a Washington State Secretary of State grant through a public relations agency, to do stories on elections. We are so proud that we have exceeded the number of stories and projects required for the proposal. Also, Google has informed us that we are one of the 450 winners of its global News Equity Fund. Bless a fellow publisher’s heart from out-of-state, whom I have never met or heard of, who urged us to apply.
We believe in sharing our good fortune. Our writers have been with us through thick and thin. The worst time for us was the 2020 pandemic. We almost couldn’t pay them, but we did. It was way below what they deserved with their quality writing and skills. They deserve to get a raise.
But one writer thought we made a mistake in her check.
“I picked up my goodie bag today and was astonished to find a check inside with what I thought to be a spelling error,” she emailed me. It was a joy for me to be able to quadruple all writers’ fees and give those who won the Washington Newspaper Publisher Association’s Journalism awards a goodie bag with their monthly check and bonus, chocolate, and jasmine tea. But the rate is still not at par with mainstream media.
This Thanksgiving has been unexpectedly wonderful for the Asian Weekly! Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Some say we are “partners in crime.” We are simply letting our community’s voice be heard. We are the mirror of our community. We serve as a bridge between the officials and the community. And we hold our officials accountable.
In our 40 years of publishing, I have never seen the community work in sync with each other like 2022. Old grudges and power struggles which destroyed our community, have no place in building a healthier and vibrant Asian community and for developing our younger generation to take over. We are a family, period.
I don’t know what you called this cycle. It wouldn’t be appropriate to call it the end of the pandemic as different variants are still attacking us. The only defense is booster shot although some are still refusing to get vaccines. If you don’t want to go anywhere is fine, but for me that I have to go out often, it’s part of my job, I have a piece of mind when I got it.
This year’s Thanksgiving is early.
Thanksgiving is the best time to reflect why we are so blessed, and not messed up!
A big shoutout to everyone who has helped the Northwest Asian Weekly covering the community first-hand by sending us stories, commentaries, tips, updates and photos, and inspiring us along the way.
As the year comes to an end, we realize how privileged we have been to cover issues this year such as public safety and crime in the CID, Sound Transit’s CID station, the Sodo homeless shelter, Asian American candidates running for office, which affect the community, and how several community members help us to get those coverage by.
What the pandemic has taught me, is to go with the flow and not overthink about the future.
Despite newspapers having been categorized as the “sunset” industry, we thrive through our coverage of the Asian community as well as business. People have noticed and thanked us for our coverage in We have been invigorated through the pandemic.
When 2022 began, it was difficult to predict how the year would lead us. What we don’t know doesn’t matter.
What we do know is that the Northwest Asian Weekly works tirelessly to tell the stories of the community.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.