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Because Maricopa County's Asian population might, at times, be barely noticed if it weren't for restaurants, George Cole figured it was time to try to pull things together. To build a sense of community, he says, he is using the printed word.
The Asian American Sun, the 12-week-old, English-language newspaper he publishes with the help of the newly formed Asian Chamber of Commerce, started appearing in Asian restaurants and businesses in mid-May. Cole and managing editor Madeline Ong-Sakata say response has been encouraging.
"People are saying, 'This is great, how can I get a subscription?'" says Ong-Sakata, whose father, former Arizona senator Wing F. Ong, was the United States' first Chinese-American state legislator.
Not everyone's saying the Sun is wonderful.
Although Cole and Ong-Sakata say they want to instill unity among the county's scattered Asian population--now about 34,000--at least one person is skeptical about the Sun's ability to pull it off. He's Manny Wong, publisher of the local Asian-American Times.
"The unifying started four years ago," says Wong, who was born in the Philippines, "when my newspaper started."
Both publications appear to have similar goals, but different philosophies about accomplishing them.
Wong started the Arizona Chinese Times, apparently the state's first Asian-oriented publication, in 1990. Readership appeared to reach beyond the Chinese community, however, so a year later, he launched the Asian-American Times.
The biweekly Times is bilingual, a continuing nod to the county's large Chinese population, which, according to 1990 U.S. Census figures, is just under 10,000, or about 29 percent of the entire Asian community.
Wong says his new competitor, the Asian American Sun, "disrespects the Chinese, for the simple reason that the newspaper is in English. They are trying to eat the whole elephant. I eat the elephant piece by piece."
The first issue of the English-language Sun went into distribution on May 15, fronted with a profile of Phoenix's interim mayor, Thelda Williams. The second and third issues featured Governor Fife Symington and County Supervisor Betsey Bayless, respectively, along with articles about local and national Asian issues and a legislative update written by Representative Barry Wong, Republican-Phoenix.
Cole was born in Beijing; his father was a U.S. citizen doing business there, and his mother was Chinese. He says the decision to create an entirely English-language newspaper for the Asian community was a strategic one. Newspapers published in specific languages are fine, he says, but they keep the overall community fragmented. This was the problem with the Times, he says; by publishing some articles only in Chinese, Wong's newspaper alienates much of the rest of the community.
But "if it's in English, then mostly everyone can read it," he says.
In addition to the Chinese community, which in itself includes a number of languages and dialects, Maricopa County's Asian population--about 1 percent of the overall population--includes Asian Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Laotians and Vietnamese. There are more than 52 different Asian languages, Ong-Sakata says.
More than language separates the two Asian-American newspapers.
Wong wonders whether the Sun's close ties to the Asian Chamber of Commerce--the Sun's cover describes it as "the official publication" of the chamber--compromise the newspaper's ability to truly represent the views of the community.
Without the help of the chamber, its operators admit, the Sun probably wouldn't exist. The chamber opened a few months ago, about the same time as the Sun. The organization was another unifying effort, the brain child of Allen Dong, who now serves as president of the group's board of directors.
"He said, 'If we start this, would you like to do a newspaper?'" Ong-Sakata says. "I'm not a journalist; I'm a community activist. But I've always wanted to do a newspaper-type thing."
So, with the chamber's resources behind it, the Sun splashed onto the scene with a circulation of 7,500, more than twice that of the Times, which Wong says is about 3,000. Both newspapers plan to increase those numbers by the fall; much of the expansion is aimed at portions of the state outside Maricopa County. Ong-Sakata says her newspaper is even distributed to the Arizona trade office in Taiwan for readers curious about the state's Asian community.
She does acknowledge that the Sun, at least in its infancy, has taken a softer, more friendly approach than most newspapers. The profiles of Williams, Symington and Bayless, for example, were designed more to introduce them to the Asian community than to quibble over politics. Even so, she says, the newspaper is providing information that few of the Sun's readers would ever pick up a mainstream newspaper to find out. And the newspaper's writing often has a dinner-table familiarity comfortable with its audience.
"We have a lot of new immigrants," she says, describing the community's rapid growth over the last ten years. "Before, you knew everyone; now you don't. That's why we found the need to do a newspaper. There's just so much going on."
And perhaps because of the community's fragmented nature, the Times and Sun agree, in general, on their role in public life.
"Because of the lack of a Chinatown, or a Japantown, or a Koreatown," Wong says, "the newspaper serves as the center of information.