Growing up as the only girl in the family, my mother had high expectations for me. As a woman who survived the Vietnam War, was separated from family and relocated in a strange new land (Oklahoma), my mom pinned her hopes on a new future worth her sacrifices on a young girl who talked too much, played with worms and demanded bacon for dinner.
My mother had a plan. I’d win the title to Miss Vietnam, perform in world-class tournaments as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, become a plastic surgeon, and marry a clean-cut Vietnamese Buddhist doctor. I was five years old. I think at the time she told me these plans, I was trying to get gum out of my hair. Ultimately, I was too awkward and sarcastic to ever be in a pageant, only reached a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do, didn’t have the aptitude or the interest for plastic surgery and married a bearded, Christian real estate broker.
I was always getting into trouble as a teen. I learned to rebel early — disliking most forms of authority. I didn’t accept the way things were always done and never shied away from sharing it. I also inherited a strong personality from my mom: bossy, assertive, critical and a keen judge of others. My folks must have thought I was going down a path of no return. Life and a career at the International Examiner would ultimately take advantage of the traits I was once punished for — and refine them. I also learned how high expectations for myself were a key to success; as long as they were my own.
I had early intentions to improve the newspaper when I started nearly five years ago: its layout, content — heck, the whole IE from the ground up. Most people expressed support. I would later hear that some thought I was in over my head. And maybe I was those first months.
In following years, many incidents would test my resolve and character: indignant people threatening lawsuits, community leaders demanding I apologize to tens of thousands of its members over an unflattering article about marijuana growing, and sketchy business proposals. Since then, I’ve learned how to handle myself, primarily because I had more than myself to look out for. A bossy, critical perspective wouldn’t fly here. But neither would a meek character.
In retrospect, those incidents prepared me to be strong, understand and empathize with another point of view, take no shortcuts, make conscientious decisions every day, and remember I was entitled to nothing and had to earn everything.
My vision for the IE to be a regional, multi-media organization that drives new conversations within and about Asian Pacific American communities was launched early on. The way I see it, a journalist looks for stories. They see what things are and what more they could be. An editor in chief or leader looks at what more something can be and goes even further.
I’m proud of the achievements the team and I accomplished. I leave an organization that is a regional voice for APAs. Today, it’s truly a multi-media organization, with half of its readers online. We successfully re-branded the IE name and revitalized its cause as a voice for the community. We developed partnerships with community organizations, individuals, researchers, artists, businesses and youth to expand our reach and network. We knew that in order to be successful, we couldn’t operate in a bubble. We adapted to the new economic climate and diversified how we raise revenue, while our nonprofit media model — one of the first of its kind — inspired other publications. And, we’ve developed a great IE team to oil the machine. We accomplished all of this while similar publications across the country were forced to close their doors. And we did it the right way: working with integrity, combining tried-and-true strategies with innovative ideas, working with a spirit of collaboration and support, and producing a valued product that earned respect.
So why leave the IE if it’s so awesome? I accomplished my goals, and it’s time for a new journey. Plus, it’s time to listen to my own advice and pass the torch on to another person with a new perspective, fresh energy and goals to achieve. The new editor will build on what I’ve done, just as I did with my predecessors. The IE will continue on, as it has the last 40 years. It will outlast any one person because its cause resonates.
What makes my heart heavy is leaving the people. While working with people was undoubtedly one of the most challenging parts of this job, it was also the most rewarding. I’ll never forget my co-workers and community pals turned lifelong friends who made me laugh while I was weary, slipped me a dish of Thai food under frustrated tears, and walked beside me while we moved mountains.
Thank you, everyone, for your generosity of spirit and support these many years. This experience is one of the greatest gifts of my life and taught me to never believe there’s nothing to believe in. `