The Seattle branch of the Asian American Journalists Association marked its 30th birthday at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on January 30, ushering in the Chinese Year of the Monkey.
The New Years celebration is an annual tradition for AAJA Seattle, but at the 30th anniversary of its founding, members took the opportunity to reflect on the history of the organization, its mission and what it’s done to help Asian Americans and other journalists of color in Seattle.
The event kicked off with a Lunar New Year performance. Attendees munched on food from the Green Leaf Vietnamese restaurant, and stopped to check out the Wing Luke Museum’s latest exhibit on the life of Bruce Lee.
AAJA president Venice Buhain, news editor at the Seattle Globalist and emcee of the evening, showed video interviews with the three founders of the AAJA: Lori Matsukawa, Frank Abe and Ron Chew.
Matsukawa, who works as an anchor with KING 5 News and was also attending the event in person, recalled the beginnings of the organization in the video interview recorded for the occasion.
“The whole idea was that people here were saying ‘We would love to hire Asian American journalists but we don’t know where they are. So our job was to prime the pump, was to get young aspiring journalists into the pipeline.”
The Seattle chapter of AAJA was the first to offer support to other journalists of color as well. It still offers several scholarships designed to help journalists of color (though applicants can be of any ethnic background).
Abe, who is now Director of Communications for King County, spoke about how Asian American journalists often have shared experiences with exclusion and racism.
Chew, former editor of the International Examiner and former director of the Wing Luke Museum, talked about the support AAJA offered to journalists in the early days.
“AAJA, I think, brought together both Asian Americans in the mainstream, who were isolated because they were non-white and didn’t have the kind of support that they needed in that era — at the same time AAJA supported some folks like myself who were actively involved in community journalism at the grassroots level.”
Chew also touched on the growth of the organization. In the beginning, members were predominantly Chinese, Japanese and Filipino, but the organization has seen an increasing number of South Asian and Southeast Asian members.
“Diversity is always an asset — there’s no way it can not be an asset,” Chew said. “You have more perspectives, sensitivity, awareness of how issues affect a whole range of folks, and so AAJA is a great forum for embracing the diversity of the society that we are.”
Several former AAJA officers, members and local journalists shared their congratulations from afar via video message, including Elisa Hahn and Robert Mak of KING 5 News, Seattle Times columnist Ron Judd, executive director of AAJA national Kathy Chow, Seattle Channel producer Susan Han, Monique Ming Laven of KIRO 7, and political figures Dow Constantine (King County Executive Director) and even Seattle mayor Ed Murray.
Before the evening wrapped with cake and the results of the silent auction, Buhain took a moment to look toward the future. She ran through some statistics on minority representation in journalism: though minorities make up 37 percent of the U.S. population, they’re only 13 percent of newsrooms, and only 10 percent of newsroom management.
“So it’s way better than 1985 but there’s still a lot of progress that has to be made,” she said.