By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The question I get asked the most is “What’s it like working for your mom?” And my answer is always “Alright,” but what people are really asking is, how do you work in the shadow of a woman who had made ripples across the local Asian community and won so many awards that our office lobby can no longer contain them all! I have been “working” at the Northwest Asian Weekly (NWAW) and Seattle Chinese Post (SCP) since I was in elementary school and helped stick subscription labels on the newspapers. There was a picture of me in last week’s Assunta’s Blog: Conquering crises.
After I got my BA in Business at the University of Washington, my aunt who was an employee at the time, emigrated back to Hong Kong. I decided to fill the hole my aunt left and have been doing a little bit of everything ever since. I never imagined I’d be working at NWAW under my parents, Assunta Ng and George Liu, for 14 years! For those reading further, I will be using “my mom” and “Assunta” interchangeably in this article.
The NWAW is like my second home. Back in the 1990s, my parents invited a violin teacher to give me private lessons at the office when it was still located at 414 8th Avenue South, now occupied by Fruit Bliss. Shockingly, we discovered 20 years later that my violin teacher was involved in domestic abuse, and we covered the story in the NWAW. My current colleague, Nancy, had taught me Chinese when I was young. Now I help her with miscellaneous tasks around the office. It’s interesting how my life constantly revolves around the newspaper.
Outside of the newspaper business, I volunteer for the newspaper’s nonprofit arm — the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, which organizes many annual events like Diversity Makes a Difference, Women of Color Empowered Luncheon, Summer Youth Leadership Program, Top Contributors in the Asian Community, Pioneers in the Asian Community, Rainbow Bookfest and Art/Essay Contests, and fundraising for nonprofit organizations in the International District (ID). Each of these events ran continuously for at least 10 years and some, multiple times a year.
I estimate there have been at least 3,000 students and adults who benefitted from the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation. How did my parents, staff, and volunteers organize all this every year? I still have no idea, but I’m glad to have volunteered a few times for each program. Many of the participants are now successful professionals. For example, Jeffrey Lew, a graduate of our Summer Youth Leadership Program, made national headlines after waging war against school lunch shaming by raising money to pay back Seattle School lunch debts. Hearing all these stories has been a truly inspirational experience.
Everytime I walk through the NWAW lobby, I marvel at all the awards and plaques displayed behind the glass. It’s hard to believe that it all started across the street at the Bush Hotel in a one-room office. The newspaper business has changed significantly in the last 35 years due to technological improvements, and that was something I appreciated. Wednesdays is still our press day, and every week we scramble to get the paper out on Thursday. A typical Wednesday in the 1990s was my colleagues printing articles and ads out on paper.
Then they would painstakingly lay out everything by hand and stick everything down with tape. After finishing, we’d pack up the newspaper and drive it over to our printer. It was very time consuming. When I was in elementary school, my parents would finish the newspaper so late that my dad would go home early to buy my brother and me Jack in the Box for dinner. I got to eat a grilled sourdough jack, while watching Unsolved Mysteries on TV. My mom would stay at the office late and put the finishing touches on both papers.
Nowadays, we create a PDF and just transfer the file to the printer. There were many other technology changes in 35 years, including ditching our Chinese typewriter for computers that could type Chinese with a regular keyboard. And then of course, there was the internet.
Back to the original question, “What’s it like to work under my mom?” Through my mom, I learned to adapt to her schedule and get things done as soon as she asks. In fact, most of our staff figured this out too.
Those who couldn’t keep up with the hectic cycle of the newspaper business ended up leaving.
At our editorial meetings, what happens if one of us is unconvinced that a particular plan of action Assunta decided is the wisest?
Assunta collects your f**king head. I’m just kidding. That was from Kill Bill, by the way. My mom would rather we speak out than stay silent. She never wants her photo or name online or in print. Even funny cartoons of her are usually not acceptable, and we’re forced to remove it. Every now and then, we’d sneak in a picture of my mom online for a little victory.
As my mom wrote in her blog last week about crises, “If there’s a problem, we will find solutions to fix it.” And that’s really how the NWAW has survived all these years. We never know what the next week will bring, but every week we put in our best effort and try to focus on one week at a time.
I’d like to thank all the attendees of the SCP and NWAW’s 35th anniversary celebration, staff, writers, volunteers, and other contributors. We could not have survived this long without your support.
John can be reached at email@example.com.