A History of Asian Community Media

Mayumi Tsutakawa June 15, 1983 0

The International Examiner, like many other alternative and homespun community media (our comrades of paste-up tables), have thanklessly persisted. While some have gone under (temporarily ceased publication), others have weathered the storms, even matured and improved. Some have transformed themselves from print to electronic media or vice versa.

Gone are the Filipino Forum, Bayanihan Tribune and Northwest Indian News. New are Seattle Chinese Post and Kingstreet Mediaworks. And still chugging along with us are the Asian Family Affair, Filipino Herald and North American Post.

Community media has been with us since the early immigrants arrived at these golden shores. The foreign language press quickly followed the path of immigrant settlements. Not only the Swedish, Russian and German communities, but virtually every ethnic group had its press, working tirelessly to cover events and meet the expectation of their readers. The early Afro-American communities also had what whites termed “the race press,” offering literature and news written by Black America’s greatest writers.

The ethnic press usually printed practical information for immigrants. But sentimental vignettes, community social and sports news, as well as news of the old country always made their way into its pages.

At the turn of the century, the Japanese community in the Northwest supported, at times, five Japanese language dailies. In fact, all the Asian American communities here featured active presses, reflecting the high level of literacy among immigrants. In the early Japanese community, besides newspapers, publications of every type flourished. Leftist political diatribes, literary journals and women’s/home magazines were written and printed with fervor.

James Sakamoto’s Japanese American Courier, the first English language paper published in the Northwest, helped to develop the fledgling Japanese American Citizens League and aided in the Americanization process for the second generation Nisei.

Here is a review of the current community media:

The North American Post, our surviving Japanese language newspaper, began after the war’s end as a weekly and later became a daily. The current editor, Takami Hibiya, has been with it under several publishers, having joined the staff in 1956. Now published three times a week, the paper is making the transition from hand-picked type and letter press printing (both very slow and painstaking operations) to photographically typeset and offset printed methods. H.T. Kubota is now the publisher.

The Filipino community has had a proud heritage of newspaper publication, drawing upon the democratic desires and fight for independence the country underwent. In the 70s at least three Filipino newspapers vied for attention in Seattle. Martin and Dolores Sibonga published the Filipino Forum from 1977 to 1978. A monthly paper, it urged others to take part in “united minority action” and the often militant, civil rights movement of the time.

The Bayanihan Tribune, edited by Dione Corsilles from about 1974 to 1979, was a bi-weekly newspaper which many of the young activist of the early Asian American movement called the most progressive newspaper. It offered opinions often running counter to the Marcos regime which was beginning to strangle civil rights in the Philippines. Publisher was Ely U. Orias.

Emilano “Frank” Francisco’s Filipino American Herald has been the longest lasting of these newspapers and has been published monthly since 1968. His has been called the most conservative Filipino community newspaper, often featuring pro-American and pro-Philippine government news prominently in the newspaper, although the publication had its roots in the early Cannery Workers Union, founded in 1934.

In the 1970s, in the early days of the Asian American movement, Nemesio Domingo and Sabino Cabildo published Kapisanan. After about a year, the newspaper was changed to Asian Family Affair (AFA), a monthly which still continues to publish. The founders of AFA were Diane Wong, Norman Mar, Al Sugiyama and Frankie Irigon, the latter two still involved with the newspaper. The paper continues to present news of the Asian community and the paper is distributed free and is supported by ads, subscriptions and donations.

As outlined in another article in this issue, the International Examiner was founded in 1974 to publish monthly news of the International District. Since then, however, under editor Ron Chew’s steady editing pen, the newspaper has become a biweekly, and covers wider issues of importance to Asian Americans in the entire region.

Dat Moi (New Land) Newspaper, in Vietnamese language, has been published since 1975. A biweekly publication, now under the leadership of Giang Van Nguyen, it is sold for $1.25 a copy and sponsored by a nonprofit corporation. According to Nguyen, there are other publications in the growing Southeast Asian community here, but none which have established regular publication schedules.

The Kingstreet Mediaworks is mentioned here not because it is a regular publication or program, but, as an organization, it has provided training and backup media work for many community agencies. Begun in 1978 by Dean Wong, John Harada, Jeff Hanada and Mark Mano, the group has provided workshops in photography and video. Through a benefit presentation of the film, “Hito Hata” by Visual Communications in Los Angeles, the group raised enough money to buy video equipment with which the current group is producing video programs for the community.

Our newest neighbor, The Seattle Chinese Post, is a Chinese language weekly, the first in that language since before the war. Prior to the Post’s founding by publisher Assunta Ng a year and a half ago, the Chinese community was served by radio programs, principally on KRAB-FM. The Chinese programs, produced by two different groups, are still presented on alternate weeks. Vietnamese and Filipino programs, however, have suffered a worse fate and have been cut off the air of that community access station. There seems to have been a lack of support and perhaps understanding of the programs by the station’s board and staff.

Why does the community press continue to play an important role while community members, individually and collectively, are making steady and sure inroads to representation, jobs and political clout in established government, education and business circles? I think four factors can be pointed out:

• Self-Determination—We can make it on our own.

• Truth and Accuracy—We know best what happens and how it happens in our community.

• Realistic Outlook—We present a picture of ourselves that is neither all crime and violence, nor all sugar-coated kimono-clad dolls.

• Communication Network—Community cohesion and a sense of pride, is boosted by the community media.

It is unfortunate that the majority of community members seem to take advantage of the community media by using them, but not actively supporting them. Too many Asians, like the general population, have been lured into the mindset that the major media have the market on glamour and excitement. Just seeing the ripple of excitement that passes through a community meeting when television cameras are present or an Asian television news person agree to participate in some community event is an example of this unfortunate thinking.

The community media representatives need to be included when sending out press releases, announcing press conferences and handling out complimentary tickets; and their presence should be thankfully acknowledged, for the community media people are the most hardworking and loyal supporters of the community.

Moreover, the community needs to see its community media workers as professional journalist, as people who need to work for a living and who are not just volunteering their time for the community. We don’t ask dentists to work for free, yet this often happens with photographers, designers and writers in the community.

At the same time, journalists need to ascribe to the accepted canons of journalism as much as anyone. Accuracy is paramount. Timeliness is nice, as is interesting presentation of the news. But fairness and ethical reporting are two factors by which we are ultimately judged. We need to write stories about more than just our friends and business associates. It’s usually faster and easier to write about someone we know, but does it serve the reader? We don’t need to be completely unbiased to the point that there is no advocacy, after all. We are alternatives to the establishment media. However, if in the course of covering a community issue we find there is more than one point of view within the community, don’t we have the responsibility and obligation to seek out representative of all sides of the argument?

For that matter, single-source stories (only interviewing one person on a particular topic) are never as interesting or compelling to a reader as multi-source stories. Sure, the interview with a single, fascinating individual is something you can’t pass up, but when a general topic such as dance or social services or business crops up, it’s worth it to the reader to see more than one expert’s opinion.

In my opinion, Asian community newspapers have always had the corner on high quality design and production. Perhaps the Asian graphic and technical penchant shows up here. But these characteristics should never take the place of dynamic and well edited writing on the week’s important subjects.

In the editorial department, I notice some Asian community papers are hesitant to take advantage of the editor’s privilege of spouting off on various topics in editorials. But by the same token we don’t see many letters to the editor from readers. Are we still too shy to air our opinions? Many in the community welcome a biased interpretation of a complicated issue or recommendations on who to vote for.

The community media movement (thank goodness) has taken on new dimensions. There was once the feeling that community journalist were not bonafide writers, as defined by the Asian American literary crowd. Now I’m happy to see such outstanding writers as Lonny Kaneko and Alan Chong Lau contributing stories (usually art related) to our pages. And local and national Asian community media are including much more cultural and literary material in their pages, as in East Wind or Bridge Magazine.

Some forms of community media have seed as effective training grounds for those who have found good positions in the major radio and television and newspapers in this region or have formed successful graphic arts businesses. Some have gone onto legal or political work. Mark Mano is in production at KING-TV, Terri Nakamura and Victor Kubo are successful graphic artists, Dione Corsilles has a printing company and, of course, Dolores Sibonga is a City Councilmember.

As we community members become more sophisticated in political lobbying, grantwriting, social service delivery and publishing, let our community media continue to improve and to help improve the community, but let’s not outgrow our need for each other.

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