Chat Room: Asian-American Journalists on Media
CHERYL CORLEY, host:
The Asian American Journalists Association holds its national convention in Miami this week. And so today, in our regular Chat Room conversation with journalists and opinion makers, we focus on coverage of the Asian-American community.
Joining us is Jeff Yang. He's a media consultant and writes the Asian pop column for the San Francisco Chronicle. He's in NPR's New York bureau. Also with us is Emil Guillermo. He writes for Asian Week Magazine and joins us from his home in Northern California. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JEFF YANG (Media Consultant; Writer, San Francisco Chronicle): Thank you, Cheryl.
Mr. EMIL GUILLERMO (Writer, Asian Week Magazine): A pleasure to be here.
CORLEY: Well, let's start with you, Emil. When we talk about the Asian-American community, who are we talking about?
Mr. GUILLERMO: Well, we're talking about the Chinese, the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Koreans, there's so many subsets. And sometimes it is hard to get a handle on exactly, you know, what we're talking about. But when I -because a lot of people just still think Asian-American is Chinese. And Jeff Yang would admit that that's wrong.
Mr. YANG: Absolutely. In fact, actually, I'd take that one step farther and say that, you know, to the extent that we speak to the term Asian-American, it's really a term that as much as anything, speaks to identification. I mean, people are Asian-American if they embrace that term, if they choose to be part of that term. You know, certainly when one writes from an Asian-American perspective, one, to a certain extent, is implying a kind of Pan-Asianism, a cross-culture identity that a lot of people don't necessarily even subscribe to.
CORLEY: So a lot of people that think they're Japanese-American or Filipino or whatever, but not Asian-American you're saying?
YANG: I think it's a contextual thing, and I think it's certainly shifting. I think that younger individuals tend to be much more driven by context, as in, you know, I'm Japanese-American when amongst my Japanese-American friends. I'm Asian-American when it's politically or socially or culturally appropriate to be so, and sometimes I just am me.
Mr. GUILLERMO: Well, and that kind of flexibility bothers me, because it basically comes down to, as you said, self-identification. But take this idea, and that's what I call the Tiger Woods example. Is Tiger Woods Asian? No, he's seen as black. And this is one of the problems with Asian-American courage. We still don't count. It's still a black and white world when it comes to race issues. And when it comes to Tiger Woods, and he's in the story, he's still considered black and not Asian, and is he...
CORLEY: You're saying that that's a broader media who...
Mr. GUILLERMO: Well, there's the broader media. I mean, Asian-Americans, we embrace them because of his excellence and because, in fact, his mother is Asian. And yet the mainstream media - I remember when he first won the U.S. Open, the commentators, they didn't know how to describe him. And this is where Tiger had to come up with the phrase Cablinasian.
And so, you know, one of the things is, there is a confusion about what's Asian and what's Asian-American when you look at the sports stars, the Ichiros and the Yao Mings. Are they Asian? Are they Asian-American? Well, Yao lives in Houston, but is he Asian-American? And, you know, I'm sure you ask Beijing if he's Asian-American, and they'll say, resoundingly, no.
CORLEY: Hm. Mm-hmm. Well, so, is that - that's one of the common quandaries, I guess, you think the broader media makes in covering the Asian-American community. Are there others?
YANG: I think that the context in which Asian-Americans are shown, are depicted, tends to be stories in which horrible acts have occurred, in which massacres or scandals or controversies have arrived. It's sort of a if it bleeds, it leads thing.
Mr. GUILLERMO: The over-reported Asian-American stories involved either sex or tragic sex. So when we have the case of Mahalia Xiong, whose body was found in a river in Wisconsin, you know, the idea that, oh, well, you know, now we have an Asian -American, who is up there with Natalie Holloway and Lacey Peterson, and I guess we should see that aspiring because we show up on the Fox News radar.
CORLEY: But isn't that true for everybody?
Mr. GUILLERMO: Well, the fact is like what Jeff is saying. If it bleeds, it leads. So, I think that this is just one of the problems of mainstream news in the selectors of, you know, what's news.
CORLEY: Well, you are both columnists, and there's a significant Asian-American presence among bloggers. And, Jeff, do you think that the non-traditional media, writers and opinion makers who are not daily journalist have special appeal in the minority community, and especially among Asian-Americans?
YANG: I think definitely among Asian-Americans. I think that - to the extent that we are a community that's kind of demographically optimized in some ways for embracing this next generation of media - access to the Internet, being disproportionately educated, and so forth. There are a lot of people who simply use the digital formats even for traditional media. They go to NYT.com, as opposed to reading the New York Times.
And beyond that, though, I think that this notion of not being present in the mainstream, not being covered comprehensively, you know, means that they're going to other sources, and those sources are, you know, unquestionably more available online.
CORLEY: You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're in our Chat Room, our regular conversation with journalists about what's in the news and what stories should be getting more attention. And with us are writer Jeff Yang and Emil Guillermo.
One of the challenges of covering minority groups is the difficulty of getting people within those communities to trust journalists and not to really offer their thoughts or just give information about stories. In your experience, is that an issue for Asian-Americans?
Mr. GUILLERMO: Oh, it's a major issue. In fact, one of the most under-reported stories was a story recently about a Filipino-American Army corporal, Mark Caguioa, who is from California. He died in Iraq. He was given a mismatched blood transfusion, essentially a death sentence.
I call it a case of friendly fire - friendly medical malpractice. His family was never notified of this procedure, even when he was buried. And to this day, the Army has refused to answer questions about the circumstances under which Caguioa died. And I just think that this story would not see the light of day if it weren't for the ethnic media.
CORLEY: Well, you know, there's always been a source of tension for journalists of color in how you work to improve coverage of the community without becoming pigeonholed. And I was just wondering how you both have handled that. Jeff, why don't we begin with you?
YANG: This notion of pigeonholing is something that only people of color really do have to deal with. There is a sense in which simply being an Asian-American in the newsroom means that you are assigned the, quote, unquote Asian stories, or you are the Asian desk, Asian guy, Asian correspondent. And the counter to that is if I don't do the story, nobody will.
CORLEY: Emil, what do you think?
Mr. GUILLERMO: I'd love to be pigeonholed, because, you know, as Jeff suggests, you know, if you - if an Asian-American doesn't do it, then the story doesn't get done. But what I get upset with this is how a lot of people, careerists, you know, are Johnny-come-latelies to this and they say that, well, I can further my career this way. And that's often a little irritating to those who work in the ethnic media and who see the ethnic media as a blood media where, you know, you're covering these stories for a reason because it matters.
CORLEY: One question I wanted to ask you about the story that is in the news a lot is about immigration, and the coverage is focused largely on the Latino community. And I'm wondering if you've heard different perspectives on the issue from Asian-Americans.
YANG: I think that the immigration story is one that, unfortunately, does tend to get collapsed a lot. We speak of immigration as if it's a single issue, and it really isn't. It's a manifested issue, and it's one that actually impacts not just Latinos or, for that matter, Asian-Americas. A vast number of immigrants in the United States are from Europe and from Caribbean countries. So, when we actually tar immigration as a topic with a single brush, so to speak, it seems to focus us in on a set of contexts around that are a little troubling.
Mr. GUILLERMO: You know, it is true. It's not a one-size-fits-all issue. When the immigration bill, you know, went down, you know, a lot of people were happy, but a lot of people were also sad. And - but I think, in general, the people who, you know, that the unifying thing between all races boils down to one word, and that's family. And in the way that the bill was unfamily friendly in general made people against the bill. And that keyword family should be the word that people focus on when they try to find some kind of unity between all groups, especially unity among Asian-Americans.
CORLEY: Well, with that, we're going to have to bring our conversation to a close. Emil Guillermo writes for Asian Week magazine. He is with us from his home in northern California. And Jeff Yang is a media consultant and a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He joined us from NPR's bureau in New York. Thank you both.
Mr. GUILLERMO: Thank you.
Mr. YANG: Thank you.
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