Writing a column reflecting on one’s past is by definition a presumptuous task. It assumes, for example, that one has done something special enough to share with others. And it requires that someone refer to himself as “one,” as if a movie with Laurence Fishburne offering little red pills will be built around his life.
If I push modesty aside for a moment, I suppose there are things that I did while I was editor that deserve some small bit of praise. But the thing is, there is a difference between those who deserve accolades for things that they have done and those who have simply fulfilled the obligations to a role that they were fortunate enough to have been able to inhabit, albeit for a short period of time. If I did anything worth remembering, I did so only because the International Examiner gave me a platform and a base from which such things were possible. And there lies the real story of my time at the Examiner. It’s not about what I did for the paper or the community that it represents, but what the paper did for me and what the community gave to me.
The paper helped me find my voice. It gave me the courage to put pen to paper and share the truth as I saw it to be. But, the paper and the people most intimately connected to the paper gave me the support and guidance I needed to find that particular truth that moved me. More importantly, it gave me a platform to share the stories that others had to tell, stories that often go untold. These were the stories about people facing tremendous odds, yet somehow finding their place in the world. These were the stories about people challenging injustices, confronting wrongs, and changing lives, including their own. These were the stories that helped us find ourselves, and find each other.
Just as importantly, the Examiner helped me find a home, a place where I belonged. Although I grew up in San Francisco, Seattle became my home. I suspect, more than anything else, the Examiner played the single most important role in defining “home” for me. Through the Examiner, I didn’t find a job, I found a community, both real and remembered.
Taking my place at the paper, I joined a long list of others who came before me, people whose talents and dedication helped build a small paper that started in the backroom of an office supply store into the oldest continuously publishing pan-Asian American paper in the country.
True, the Examiner survived because these people, perhaps by sheer will, kept the paper alive. But the paper’s survival is also a testament to the members of the community who saw its worth and value. It is through the memory of this past that I found a place in the present. I joined a community that had already dedicated the better part of their collective lives to community empowerment. And that community welcomed me with open arms. For that, I will always be grateful.
The Examiner is a special paper. The neighborhood that gave birth to it is a special place. And the people who have been a part of the paper’s past have left a unique legacy. My only hope on my first day was to be able to maintain that legacy. The paper, the community it represents, and the community that supports it, were there before me and continue to thrive after me. It is the paper and the community that deserve praise. It is the paper and the community that changes lives, including mine. All I did was hold down the fort.
After serving for three years as editor of the International Examiner, Chong-suk Han received his PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Washington. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College.