Asian Americans are considered one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the country.
With this continual increase, it’s inevitable that Asian Americans will be observed in many facets of American life. One influence is in the news media. Nowadays, an Asian American reporter and news anchor—ususally female—is just a remote control click away.
Connie So, a University of Washington senior lecturer of Asian American and Pacific Islander American Studies, attributes this to social change and demand.
“There was a demand for more female equal rights,” she said. “In the late 70s, early 80s people wanted to see greater diversity. It was part of the civil rights movement.”
At this time, the nation saw some of the early Asian American pioneers of the industry step into the light.
Connie Chung, who began her journalism career in 1969, worked her way up to co-anchor the “CBS Evening News” in 1993. This position was traditionally seen as the pinnacle of broadcast journalism and with Chung coveting the spot; the nation had its very first female Asian American news anchor at a major network. From there a new trail was blazed.
“It’s my honor to go through the doors opened by […] pioneers like Tritia Toyota, Connie Chung and Ann Curry,” said Lori Matsukawa, who’s one of the most prominent Asian American news anchors in the Northwest today. “Having Asian American women in the news media brings an important point of view and perspective to newsgathering. Our audience will see stories they may not have otherwise experienced.”
Matsukawa credited organizations that helped nurture and cultivate API female professionals.
“Part of the increase in Asian Pacific Islander newscasters is due to the serious mentoring and professional development offered through groups like the Asian American Journalists Association,” said Matsukawa. “For more than 20 years, AAJA has worked to put young, aspiring Asian Pacific Islander journalists into the industry ‘pipeline.’ These journalists have diligently networked with media powerbrokers so that the entire group can move forward and upward.”
But the presence of stereotypes may have functioned in this advancement in some form as well.
“During the movement, Asian American women were supposedly seen as less loud and abrasive than other minority groups,” said So. “Some argue that being seen as more passive made it easier. Even the inaccurate stereotypes of geisha girls and dragon ladies were seen as more socially acceptable and more attractive than [the stereotypes of Asian American] men.”
Sharon Pian Chan, a journalist for the Seattle Times and National President of the AAJA, said, “Stereotypes can work in your benefit but are ultimately harmful. […] Cultural values both help and hinder your success in the working world and in a newsroom.”
To Chan, having female Asian American anchors “almost feels formulaic because it’s a pattern that’s worked in other markets. But it’s something we could break away from. We should have an Asian American male anchor a news show. […] We need stations to take a chance on that, see that it works and make that popular too.”
Nevertheless, the benefits of having representation at all is unquestionably significant.
“It’s important to provide strong role models, both men and women to inspire,” added Chan. “In these positions we have a seat at the table to advocate stories and ensure accurate and fair coverage of Asian Americans.”
Chan continued, “We ultimately want to see [Asian Americans] represented in all walks of life and in other industries. We need to get to a point where what we see in the arts, the news and the world reflects the Asian Americans in population.”
According to the 2007 U.S. Census, an estimated 15.2 million Asian Americans reside in the U.S. Just as this population is expected to grow, the reflection of this diversity will continue to be in demand. So while the mechanism that propelled these APIs into the spotlight is still up for debate, their influence is not. Thankfully, each person past and present, who has symbolized this segment of the community in the newsroom has taken us a step forward, as role models, as leaders and as an inspiration for the next generation.