The Changing and Expanding Asian Media Landscape
Fifteen years ago, Nguoi Viet engaged a consultant, who said that the publication’s aging readership meant that it would likely go out of business within a decade. What he didn’t take into account was that immigration from Vietnam would increase the outlet’s audience. Since then, the demand for Vietnamese-language news has so grown that Nguoi Viet has done away with its English-language section entirely and has built out a thriving website and YouTube channel, which has expanded its audience globally. While Asian communities have most certainly lost “legacy” media outlets during the pandemic, many found meaningful ways to continue publishing despite extreme economic pressures.
As immigration from Asia increases, and as Asian Americans move into the second and third generations and beyond, Asian community media are growing and changing. The last decade has not only brought new readers to Asian-language community media, it has seen younger Asian Americans turn to English-language digital platforms and social media accounts that define cultural identity beyond language or that serve diverse communities under the Asian American umbrella.
Speaking Truth to Power
Where the previous generation of publishers may have seen themselves more as entrepreneurs or community-based business owners, newer generation publishers more frequently speak of themselves as journalists. Dzung Do said that Nguoi Viet was founded by a group of friends from Vietnam who fled their country together. “Twenty years ago, the first generation of Nguoi Viet wouldn’t challenge disinformation, because they have a lot of friends they didn’t want to upset. We’re different, we grew up in America, we believe in freedom of speech.”
Whereas in the past, almost all Asian community media publishers and leaders were men, recent years have seen the emergence of a new generation of Asian women media leaders, like Jinxia Niu, Christina Oriel and Leezel Tanglao. Many of these women are feminists and have dedicated themselves to challenging oppressive power structures and right-wing disinformation within their communities – like Suchitra Vijayan at The Polis Project, serving South Asian audiences; Ca Dao “Cookie” Duong and Jady Chan at The Interpreter, dedicated to translating factually accurate journalism into Vietnamese; and Shawna Chen at The Yappie.
“Our editorial standards are in line with the principles of feminism, equality, and justice,” said Chen. “We are serving AAPI audiences and we’re trying to be mindful that we are inclusive and intentional in our coverage.” They have covered Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders’ stance on waste management from the Fukushima nuclear reactor explosion and a shooting in Indianapolis that targeted Sikh Americans. “It is important for us to say, this is our community. We are very keen to be held accountable.”
Other digital outlets, like The Blueprint, Karen News, Rohingya Today, Khasokhas and Baaz, serve underrepresented minority, Indigenous, refugee, and caste-oppressed people from within Asian communities, who are often excluded or invisible even in Asian community outlets.
Narrating the Past, Envisioning the Future
Many new archival, oral history, storytelling, and podcasting projects have emerged over the last decade, creating a body of accessible Asian American history. Earlier oral history projects in Asian communities may have catered to the vanity of influential but problematic community figures or reinforced model minority narratives. However, newer archival projects, like The Densho Project and The South Asian American Digital Archive, document Asian American political history and the history of AAPI activism, resistance, and movement building in order to undergird contemporary Asian American efforts to build justice and equity.
Other storytelling projects, like Quincy Surasmith’s Asian Americana and The SEAD Project, use the inherently humanizing nature of audio and voices to engage and empower AAPI community members. New groups, like The Asian American Podcasters Association, founded in 2019 to elevate and celebrate podcasts for and by AAPI, and Potluck Collective, featuring nine independent AAPI podcasts, allow audio journalists to build relationships across AAPI communities, share tools and strategies, and elevate each others’ work. Last year, The Asian American Podcasters Association held its first annual Golden Crane Awards to celebrate AAPI podcasting.
Surasmith said that when he first launched Asian Americana, he thought, “I’m tired of the 101. I’m tired of talking about the model minority myth. I’ll just make the 201 – Asian American histories at a 201 level.” During the pandemic, his pieces have showcased how Asian American communities have been allies with Black communities and how they have helped each other. “Let’s be clear. Asian Americans have always been doing this because we care about our communities, not because we need to prove we deserve to be here,” he said.
Other younger AAPI are finding community news online, but on social media rather than new digital outlets.
“In my bubble, my dad reads the Hmong Times and watches Hmong TV and radio,” said Katelyn Vue. “Young people grow up around it, so they watch or see it. But if we want to keep up with the community, we do it more on social media.” She follows The Hmong American Experience group on Facebook for uplifting stories and visibility for this large and diverse community that’s been in the U.S. for 50 years. She also follows Hmong American accounts on Instagram and has noticed more and more stories on Hmong communities from Sahan Journal being shared as Instagram stories.
“Growing up and not seeing pictures of Hmong people on front pages and Hmong names in headlines, when we do see something positive, that’s something we gravitate toward,” she said.
Young Asian American Muslims might gravitate toward Muslim, a digital outlet with active communities on Instagram and Twitter, for news, stories, and art for and by Gen Z and millennial Muslims. The Asian LGBTQ Project is a blog and social media community dedicated to “Breaking the Last Taboo,” through multimedia for and by LGBTQ Asians.
Local News for Global Communities
The global is local for many Asian Americans. Amid devastating COVID-19 surges in Asia and South America, Epicenter published a powerful essay on the impact of vaccine apartheid in immigrant communities with global ties. The Hmong Times has created a special series about the Hmong refugee and resettlement experience in partnership with a St. Paul-based community aid organization, to develop educational materials for Minnesota students and fund relief efforts in Asia.
Even with the emergence of new media serving transnational, global diasporic, and national AAPI communities, much of Asian community media continues to be local news media for a single Asian American community. Rong Xiaoqing said she considers herself a local reporter. “I’ve been reporting on Chinatown for 15 years.”
Said Chi Zhang, “Many Asian outlets play a role as local assets enhancing the local communication infrastructure.”
Nguoi Viet houses a community room inside its newspaper offices, which it makes available to Vietnamese community members and organizations. Although the offices – and community space – closed down during the pandemic, the outlet previously hosted upwards of 10 events a month, provided food for the events, and covered them for the newspaper. “When we have an event like that, we have to still publish the newspaper and serve the community at the same time, but we love that. When we serve food and create space, we are serving the community,” he said. He views this relationship as symbiotic, only natural. “Our newspaper is the voice of the community. And most of our income comes from the Vietnamese community.”
Into the Future
Community media for and by Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians and Alaskans, have been an integral part of the local and national media landscape for decades. As AAPI communities grow, change, and build ties with each other and other communities across the U.S., the media serving them will continue to evolve alongside them.