Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Open letter to Asian American journalists

Dear Asian American journalist,

I am glad you succeeded in your dream of being an Asian American journalist. I understand you work long hours, with few resources, and frequently work under very short deadlines.

That said, you are in the business of writing or producing or editing or researching the "truth." Whatever you put out get believed by thousands (or millions, depending on your media market) of people. It gets quoted and recited as the gospel - "Did you hear what they said on Channel 11 about those alligators breaking out of their cages?"

Whether or not it's true, whether or not it's a story, whether or not you or your writers have done all the research, people still believe it. I don't know why, but media still shapes our views. Perhaps because you get access to politicians and decision-makers and business people who we've only ever seen on the front pages of your magazine.

Take, for example, this recent Austin News 8 story on how Asian Americans are the swing vote. Thank you for finally saying that we are the swing vote. It is so much better than when an Asian American AP reporter writes that the "Asian Population Lacks Political Clout" and it gets published everywhere and internationally. And, yes, this was in 2004.

I'm not going to get into all the stats he quoted that drove me crazy, when he could have looked at the numbers in a different way, but he chose to report on us as having the least political agency possible.

So back to the Austin tv story, which is reported on by Heidi Zhou. Although the premise of th story is positive, she doesn't interview any of the Asian American elected officials in Texas (Jennifer Kim is a city councilwoman in Austin) or even the local heads of the OCA, JACL, or other Asian American institutions. She doesn't interview anyone from the college, where I'm sure you could find some ardent pro-Hillary or Barack supporters who are APIA. She doesn't interview someone from suburbia who speaks proper English. No, instead she, like other reporters, interviews someone whose English is less than perfect:

If members of that community vote the same way they did on Super Tuesday when they voted 3-1 for Clinton, Obama could be in trouble.

"I think he probably needs more experience. Because from here jump to here, that needs a lot of work," Chialing, an Austin area resident said.

This doesn't mean that I disavow that Asian American immigrants who speak less than perfect English are not representative of our community. It does mean that I believe that APIA reporters can also do their bit to make sure that the few times that someone who looks like us appears on TV, that we don't reaffirm stereotypes about ourBlogger: Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril - Create Post community being unable to speak English.

Contrast that with this recent Los Angeles Times story on Vietnamese American voters moving left - well researched and written by an Asian American reporter (perhaps the LA Times is trying to make up for their hatchet job on Clinton and Chinese American donors in New York.)
The widening political bandwidth is a sign of change in the Vietnamese American community, where the agenda -- once sharply and nearly exclusively focused on foreign affairs -- now includes domestic issues such as poverty, healthcare and Social Security.

"For so long, there has been a one-party monopoly in the Vietnamese community," said Kim Oanh Nguyen-Lam, who became the first Vietnamese Democrat elected in Orange County in 2004 as a Garden Grove school board member. "We Democrats are coming out of the shadow."

Long Dinh Dang, 67, is an example of the shift. Dang became a Republican after he immigrated to Orange County in 1994 and was worried that Democrats had become too cozy with the Communist regime when former President Bill Clinton lifted the trade embargo with Vietnam.

But now, a man who twice voted for President Bush says he has had a change of heart. He switched to the Democratic ticket last month to vote in the presidential primary. More than communism, he worries about the slumping economy, Medicare and the Iraq war.

"Democrat, Republican, it doesn't matter," he said. Particularly in local elections, "I judge candidates more on their ability to be closely connected with our Vietnamese community," he said.
Granted, a newspaper article is much longer and in depth than a tv piece, but doesn't that just make the one person you interview that much more important, and the single representative? I mean, why not go interview someone in the suburbs as well?

I'm not asking for journalism advocacy, just for all sides and perspectives to be represented.

Sincerely,

Power and Politics

P.S. On a side note, here's a Los Angeles Times opinion on Fred Armisten playing Obama. The author has a different stance than I do and thinks he played a believable Obama. He also ties in the Miss Saigon yellowface controversy. Although I don't agree with his conclusion, I do appreciate that he researched and has included the yellowface travesty as a comparison point.

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