By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It takes a village to raise two newspapers. The village of Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post consists of amazing leaders and remarkable people. And we lost many of them during the past 35 years of publishing.
Since 2015, we lost four giants (Ruth Woo, Donnie Chin, Bob Santos, and Al Sugiyama), who have made a difference in the community. Their phenomenal contributions touched the lives of many, including ours. We are merely just one of hundreds of beneficiaries.
And there were others we wished were still alive. To show our gratitude, I’d like to pay tributes to them here.
Our leaders’ passion for the community propelled them to view ethnic media as a community asset. A strong community needs a strong voice and presence — their own media. The welfare of the community and its media are interlinked — they rely on one another. A community wouldn’t function effectively without its powerful voice.
It was heartbreaking to see our leaders pass away in our three decades of publishing. However, it is gratifying to see that their work has remained influential and consequential to this day.
A Boeing engineer, Ted Yamamura had experienced the challenge of breaking the glass ceiling himself. And he had seen it happen with many fellow Asian Americans in white corporations.
Just because he wasn’t able to get into upper management didn’t mean he would give up. Instead, he set his sights on the next generation of leaders by founding the Executive Development Institute (EDI). It would train and prepare young Asian Americans to be leaders and managers in the corporate world. And he made Boeing pay for his Asian employees to go through the program. Today, EDI has witnessed success among its alumni, with many moving to management.
“Change the name,” Yamamura advised us, to reflect the reality of the Seattle Chinese Post’s English edition. We had been covering the Asian community for years, but it gave the impression we weren’t because of our masthead.
On our 10th anniversary celebration, we changed our name to Northwest Asian Weekly through a name contest.
Changing our name was both evolutionary and strategic for survival. The Chinese market was simply too small to support an English edition.
Yamamura and many supporters helped us to navigate that name change. After 9/11, we quickly expanded our coverage to include other Asian ethnic groups, such as Indians, Pakistanis, and Arabs in our content.
Known as the Asian community’s political guru, Ruth Woo had always advised Asian and non-Asian candidates running for office. Political empowerment was her goal. She also encouraged them to advertise in the Asian Weekly. Sometimes, if the candidates couldn’t raise enough funds, Woo would find donors to pay for the ad. I suspected she paid for many of those ads herself.
When the Asian Weekly organized dinners and events, Woo was often one of the first to call me and say, “Put me down for a table.” She was generous to a fault. She was the only one who bought tables at multiple community events in a year. When she called — the voice of affirmation was like an adrenalin shot, and motivated me to keep going. It’s challenging to sell tables, especially when we were honoring unsung heroes who were unknown to many.
She would invite candidates and elected officials to be her guests. When Gary Locke was in the state legislature, she asked me to put down Locke’s name for her table to increase his visibility, even though she paid for it.
As she aged, she still bought tables, inviting many politicians and candidates, but she herself never showed at those events.
King County Council Chair Joe McDermott said whenever he was invited to Ruth Woo’s table, he hoped to spend time with her, only to learn that she wouldn’t be present.
Woo would often suggest we feature upcoming Asian Americans in the Asian Weekly. Her input enabled us to profile many promising leaders, especially politicians’ aides, whom we might have missed.
As a Vietnamese Chinese refugee, Tich-Qiu Hua fought hard on behalf of ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to be included in many traditional Chinatown organizations.
Many had a history of accepting only members from their own native villages or who shared the same last names. It’s sad that the Chinese had forgotten being on the receiving end of discrimination when they first arrived in this country. When they made it, they discriminated against their own kin.
Hua was the workhorse for all the community causes, including raising money for Kin On Health Services and the late Donnie Chin’s International District Emergency Center (IDEC). He took on the most thankless tasks, and seemed to enjoy it.
In any fundraising efforts for disasters, such as earthquake, floods, and hurricanes, Hua was always the first to act and he inspired others to give. He understood money was essential for great causes. Despising empty talk and promises, he held community leaders accountable. From good news (businesses’ grand openings) to bad news, he would find sponsors to buy a full page advertisement in the Chinese Post. He would list all the donors, even those who contributed small amounts of $10 and $20. Getting the whole community involved was his goal.
Then came the hard part — collecting the money. Yes, he was the lone collector going after the donors, especially at events. He would carry a copy of the printed ad in his hand, crossing out names of those who had paid.
He’s a one-of-a-kind leader who got things done, and inspired even the stingy ones to give. He contributed to our survival immensely.
People called him Uncle Bob. Daringly great, funny, and above all, he was wise.
Bob’s contributions to the Asian Weekly were his words and music. If we needed a quote on any story, he never once said, “Let me get back to you,” or “I have to think about it,” or “Off the record.”
His sharp wit and being a straight shooter only made our stories better. A talented storyteller, Bob charmed the audience at our events. His courage was vast like an ocean. He knew that he didn’t need permission for doing or saying the right thing.
Once in a while, he would give us a surprise — a thoughtful commentary. “This is just for you,” meaning it was exclusively for the Asian Weekly.
A passionate leader, Al Sugiyama had served as the eyes and ears for the Asian Weekly for years. Before he was sick, he would email and even call me about so-and-so, a local boy doing great things, and getting leadership positions. Or this and that happened. Sometimes, he proposed young Asian Americans to be emcees or honorees at our events. Constantly, he was plugging friends and people he mentored — to make sure they got the experience and exposure to be better prepared as future leaders. Stories from his valuable news tips often graced our front pages.
Sugiyama would tell me things about the community which no one else would know, and even the connections among families and people. Sometimes, he would tell me about new Asian restaurants opening in the neighborhood and even who made the best cupcakes.
It’s fascinating to see the number of networks he had plugged into. Losing him not only meant we lost a great ally, but his essential resources and connections.
She was the beloved Auntie June to many and a champion of the Asian Weekly. June would do anything for the Asian Weekly from the time she entered our office door in 1983, introducing herself saying she wanted us to be her friend. She turned out to be more than just a friend.
She was the only reader who would renew her subscription 10 years before the due date, and she volunteered to sell subscriptions for the newspapers. She helped us found the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation and believed that our work should focus on youth.
Both Chen and Woo had one thing in common — they would do anything for our former governor Gary Locke. Together, they organized fundraising events for Locke when he ran for King County Executive and governor.
Whenever we had an emergency, who did we call? Donnie was the first name that came to mind. He was unique because he knew the good, bad, and ugly in the International District (ID). Yes, the crooks, he told me all about them.
As founder of the IDEC, Donnie was the unofficial and volunteer patrol of the ID.
Twice, he saved my life when I swallowed a big piece of meat while dining. I guess my throat is too small and narrow! Or I was too hungry and swallowed too quickly, without paying attention.
One time, our storefront and our neighboring businesses’ storefront glasses were shattered. We called Donnie because he knew about mischievous deeds
The first thing he asked was, “Did you piss off someone?” Funny the way he accused me!
Later, Donnie found out who did it. A kid was playing with a slingshot. Donnie often knew about things before the police did, and he knew much more.
Donnie not only made the ID safe, he made us feel safe.
I miss Donnie and all the wonderful men and women I mentioned in this blog.
Thank you pals, may you rest in peace.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
don watanabe says
thanks for your memorable tribute to those persons whom you identified in your piece. i share your sentiments wholeheartedly.
good luck and in memory/tribute of my old runnin’ buddy, Uncle Bob, i repeat the title of his first book “Humbows not hotdogs”!