Monday, May 05, 2008

Writing, Then Reading

During the past week, I've been spring cleaning my huge storehouse of published writing. Tossing out multiple drafts of some stories while organizing voluminous clips, I was surprised to discover that I had penned so many articles in my 11 years as a freelance journalist. Although I started out writing nightclub reviews in 1997 for a Los Angeles publication called No Cover Magazine, I've ended up focused on issues of concern to communities of color and other underrepresented sectors of society.

Of course, while working, I was compelled to read through most of my old articles. Heh, heh. After comparing some of the drafts to the finished pieces, I realized what was published didn't always turn out well due to heavy-handed editors. Still, other pieces benefitted from intuitive editors that offered helpful suggestions without allowing their opinions to overwhelm my flavor.

Besides the countless film reviews, interviews with celebrities and filmmakers, and film festival coverage I'd written, I'd also contributed hundreds of Astrology columns--both the Asian animal and so-called Western style. But in 1999, I began writing features for Northwest Asian Weekly newspaper in Seattle. Soon after, I interviewed several AfroAsians for Mavin
magazine--a publication for the mixed-race community. My article titled Chopsticks and Chitlins was a turning point that led me to seek more "serious" assignments, heavy on interviews. So it was very timely to be invited onboard Asian American Village at as a contributing editor right around that same time.

Writing for all three publications led me straight to the door of the Asian Pacific American community--a group that I'd previously had little contact with. Because my mother and I are technically issei (first generation Japanese), and because she married an American soldier, we didn't grow up in a neighborhood with Asians who'd been in America for several generations. My first in-depth experiences with APA's as a group happened after I began writing for publications with a heavy Asian readership. Learning first-hand about their experiences was enlightening, and probably more educational than taking Asian Studies.

For instance, some of the subjects I wrote about concerned: a hate-crime against two Vietnamese American brothers that resulted in murder; where in America Asians felt the safest living; the cause of rampant AIDS in Cambodia; author Iris Chang's suicide; and, the rapidly aging former detainees of Angel Island portrayed in a photo exhibit.

Those experiences helped me when I later wrote for like: Southesast Asian gangs; interracial relationships; why Asian kids feel the need to achieve; Asians and the political process; why so few teachers of yoga, an Asian discipline, are of Asian descent; and, what constitutes beauty in America (being non-Asian, of course).

Although I've been nominated several times for journalism awards, I've never actually won any. However, one article I wrote about white actors portraying Asian characters, titled Yellowface, is cited on Wikipedia.

During that period of intense writing, I also tried to connect with African American publications--constantly pitching to magazines like Essence and Ebony. But only two Los Angeles based-magazines with a black focus ever asked me to contribute anything.

Otherwise, the bulk of my work has been read in Asian publications and, no surprise here, more mainstream (read: white) periodicals. Naturally, there's far more of them. Besides, I write a lot about the film industry and there's seldom color involved. Still, I've had my share of covering controversial topics for mainstream newspapers like the now-defunct Seattle Press. In a single year, I wrote about: the difficulty of renting in Seattle; racial profiling in that city; political volunteers during the Nader-Gore-Bush elections, a highway overpass littered with used hypodermic needles; several homeless people including a 19-year old girl; a Nepalese sherpa restaurant owner; and, an older white couple who adopted a black crack baby.

Lest you think that only Seattle fields serious problems, I also wrote some pretty heady stuff for Malibu Times newspaper and magazine. Consider: a mother, because her son died suddenly, starting a non-profit to help poor families with funerals who lost children unexpectedly; a Malibu couple visiting Jamaica who helped rescue Haitian refugees when their boat sank; and, an art teacher who hosted a safehouse for indigenous children of the Northern Territories because of their high suicide rate. That's right, Malibu. That beach-y place with all those surfer dudes, dude.

Now that I'm moving in another direction career-wise, I can look back at my body of work without emotional attachment--which was never the case when I was deep into an assignment and fighting to maintain my voice. Nowadays, I write to write.

Question of the Week: How do you feel about Jackie Chan carrying the Olympic Torch? Does he seem to be out of step with some opinions that China is a human rights abuser and, therefore, should be shamed while the rest of the world is watching? Or, do you think that Chan is simply trying to get beyond the politics that's overtaken the Olympics and making it just a sporting event again?

Hit me!

Your Hip Hapa,

P.S. HAPA birthday, Pearl, Jr.!

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