Magazine, February-March 2001:
By Jennifer Ching
Like many other Asian American youth, I found my voice in the high
school newspaper. I longed to be witty and sardonic before I even
knew what these words meant; I wrote my biting commentary in the
anticlimactic form of a restaurant review column. Later, as a student
columnist of a local newspaper, I tackled larger issues facing the
young masses of suburban New Jersey: everything from the Gulf War
to prom costs. The first few pages of William Wong's Yellow Journalist:
Dispatches from Asian America reveal the venerable San Francisco-based
columnist to be a kindred ally to those of us on the sidelines who
found our earliest creative and political triumphs in the written
word (perhaps we only imagined they were actually read).
Wong launched his passion for journalism after being fortuitously
rejected from his high school basketball team. From staff reporter
to columnist to commentator on McNeil/Lehrer Newshour, he
has since innovated a unique, decades-spanning career of Asian American
social commentary. Yellow Journalist collects Wong's numerous
writings and columns published over the years and roughly organizes
them into themes like "family" and "immigration." There are stories
of his own -- of an upbringing in Oakland, a trip to China or his
son's unlikely comments to President Clinton -- that makes us believe
that America truly is home. But there are also sharp and insightful
essays on racial violence, political antagonisms and exclusion,
media, gangs and numerous historical markers (from Chinese Exclusion
to Vincent Chin) that remind us that we are still building community
and to embrace the struggles of race, class and gender as relevant
and powerful forces on the local, national and international levels.
Part of Temple University's Mapping Racisms series, Yellow Journalist
is not a narrative biography but a library of thoughtful reflections
made all the more important by their honest, often driving perceptions
of the contemporary events, ideas and sometimes avoided accountabilities
that have marked the emergence of distinctly Asian American issues.
Don't think that you've heard it all before: throughout his writings,
Wong's own voice is reasoned, supported and never exploitative.
As series editor Darrell Hamamoto comments, "'Chinaman,' Chinese
American, Asian American; any way you slice it, Bill Wong is one
straight-up righteous Yellow Man." He's the high school journalism
teacher we all would have loved to have had.
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