Michael Yee

I don’t consider myself a writer. I doubt anybody has ever described me as articulate. How is it that I find myself writing my first ever published column? Do I have anything to say that readers will be compelled to actually read? Apparently, Diem Ly, the young and thoughtful editor of the International Examiner, thinks I do.

Diem and I have only had a few interactions over the last two years, so we really don’t know each other. She knows I am passionate about the preservation and revitalization of International District. She knows of my reputation in the International District neighborhood as a critic and antagonist. On a good day, people love me and loathe me in the community. On a bad day, people just despise me. I confess I have lot of bad days. I’ll be sure to write about some of those.

It is very hard for people who don’t know me very well to take a leap of faith with me. Uncle Bob Santos took a leap of faith with me in 1991 when he hired me at the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda). At the time, SCIDpda was a small non-profit community development corporation primarily focused on low-income housing and developing neighborhood facilities. It was one of the most important events in my life. Bob is “Uncle” to most of you. I seldom use “Uncle” for Bob because he has always been more of a father to me.

So almost 20 years later, Diem is taking a leap of faith on me that I can write thoughtful and relevant pieces for IE readers. I have been frustrated by people in my generation not taking leaps of faith with well-deserving individuals. If the International District is to move forward, people will have to take more leaps of faith. That’s a story for another issue.

Diem and I both felt there is a timeliness to us collaborating; me writing a regular column about community issues and her editing my writing. I think I got the easier task.

My road to the International District and passionate dedication to the community started as a kid growing up in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland Chinatowns. Many summers were also spent in the Honolulu Chinatown with my grandfather who owned a Chinese American diner. Although I never lived in a Chinatown, I was raised for 18 years as being a part of Chinatown.

While in the LA Chinatown, my family often visited my father’s friend, Uncle Thit Hung, who owned a local auto garage and gas station. My father and “Uncle” Thit Hung went to the same school in Zhongsan Province in China and rode the same slow boat from China to Honolulu. Today, my all too often visits with my car to Pat Abe’s 7th Avenue Auto Service in Seattle’s Chinatown/ID reminds me how natural it should be to know the person who is working on your car and consider them as a friend or even family. I will often write about connections you can have to the International District beyond restaurants and bubble tea.

If you get a chance, find the IE’s May 7, 2008 issue (you can find it online) and read Diem’s piece, “Greetings from the I.E.’s New Editor”. She describes her road to Editor-in-Chief at the IE. Diem further wrote: “But, the reason I took this position is this: I care about this paper, I care about who’s reading it, and I care about the community and how its story is told. Selfishly, I want this position and the paper to transform who I am. And I want the IE to transform others.”

Diem was 27 when she became the Editor-in Chief. Thanks to the IE Board of Directors for taking a leap of faith in her. I wish there were more twentysomethings in the community like Diem. In two years, she is making a genuine effort to make the IE more of a community paper. In these challenging economic times, especially for print newspapers, transforming to more “community” content has its risks. Asking me to write columns, even riskier.

If I’m not articulate, I’m definitely not artistic or creative. Don’t expect me to come up with witty analogies. I will keep to simple analogies such as the “road” and where that “road” is going.

That analogy works for me because on a road you can see where you are going and sometimes not. There is no GPS guiding you. You have backseat drivers who have an obstructed view but are adamant that they know exactly where to go. I like the road analogy because I get to switch to my OnStar mode. As OnStar, I am not perfect, but more often right then wrong. I am the voice of reason, helping people on the road, to get somewhere faster or sooner without leaving death and destruction behind. But as I have discovered, people seldom like to be told that they are lost or made a wrong turn. So being OnStar will not make me any more popular.

I may not be articulate, but I love the International District. The IE and I are partners in sharing with readers what is best about our neighborhood and how best to move it forward as an economically vibrant and culturally unique neighborhood. If what I write creates controversy — not a bad thing for a newspaper. I have a thick skin, so I’ll keep on writing until Diem tells me otherwise.

Time to stir up the pot and put it on simmer.

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