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Monday, November 12, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Profile

Assunta Ng -- Series Of Unusual Challenges Helped News Editor Thrive

At 18, Assunta Ng told her family she wanted to leave her home in Hong Kong to go to college in America.

The announcement came as a shock.

Unlike many American-born business and community leaders, Ng was neither a student-body president nor the type who would dream of starting a business.

She was, she says, the ``model'' Chinese daughter. Meek, well-mannered, obedient to her parents.

Her father did not approve of women pursuing careers. Her mother, a housewife, had friends who worked as nurses, teachers and secretaries - jobs outside the home but hardly, Ng recalls, ``role models for me.''

At the time, role models didn't matter. In traditional Asian families such as her's, an ambitious daughter meant trouble.

``My mother never asked me, `What do you want to be when you grow up?'

But underneath Ng's demure behavior was a desire to ``make a difference,'' and that made her push to be allowed to go to college in the United States.

After months of haggling, her parents offered her a deal. They would pay her air fare and support her for one year. Beyond that, she would be on her own.

Today, Ng has become known not only as publisher of the Seattle Chinese Post but also as a community leader.

Plaques in her cluttered International District newsroom commemorate her many awards from community groups, professional organizations and magazines, such as Esquire.

Her paper has gone from a shaky start-up to a thriving weekly with 15,000 subscribers and wide impact on local Asian communities.

Her Chinese-language edition contains not only news about China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia but also news of local and national issues. The English edition, which covers more Asian-American issues, has stories about community events and issues that mainstream daily newspapers tend to overlook.

``She's more aware than most others that issues don't affect just Chinese but all of the Asian community,'' says Seattle School Board member Al Sugiyama.

``She is very driven, and she puts out a good community newspaper,'' Sugiyama says, ``one that gets people in the community to respond.''

A recent Seattle Chinese Post banquet, which honored three local Asian Americans, was an example.

Ng held the banquet to call attention to the fact that Asian Americans were achieving career milestones.

The paper expected 200 to 250 people, mostly Asians. The banquet drew nearly 500, including Mayor Norm Rice and representatives from several racial, ethnic and social-service groups.

The turnout impressed Andrew Cho, who publishes the daily Korea Times in Seattle.

``She has an ability to gather all kinds of people, to communicate and bring them together, an ability that goes beyond being the publisher of the Chinese Post,'' he says. ``She does not have a narrow-minded attitude in any way, though she is quite conscious of herself as a minority. It is a balance that I admire.''

Ng says being a female and minority has enhanced her visibility in Seattle. ``In Hong Kong, I was one of millions. Here, I stand out.''

After leaving Hong Kong, Ng could have eased into American life easily by moving near some family friends who had settled in California.

But in search of adventure and freedom from old family ties, she went to Portland and later transferred to the University of Washington.

She survived on a scholarship and at least three part-time jobs. She baby-sat, worked a lunch shift in one restaurant and a dinner shift in another. During vacations, she earned additional money by dishwashing in the university cafeterias.

Despite the grind, those early years were stimulating. ``Something happened. I began to find out who I really was. I think I was tired of being a follower and never trying anything unusual.''

After college, Ng began to realize that adjusting to American society was tough for many other immigrants, particularly children.

She initially taught social studies at Mercer Junior High to children of immigrant families, and saw many felt lost in a strange system. Often, 13-year-old children, for instance, would not know the basics of American history but would be enrolled in the seventh grade.

In hopes of helping parents understand their children's feelings, Ng would encourage parents to become involved in school activities.

Eventually, however, she began to feel teaching was not for her.

``There was a strike, in which I didn't participate,'' she said. ``Afterward, my colleagues held no grudge, but I didn't feel as though I belonged. I wasn't reaching my full potential.''

She quit her job to give birth to two sons and returned to the UW for master's degrees in business administration and speech. She then spent time trying to decide what she should do.

The idea of starting a newspaper evolved from a friend who remarked that the Chinese community needed a newsletter or some means of spreading word of various happenings.

That statement made Ng recall the difficulties her students had faced.

An image of early years in the United States also resurfaced. She recalled Chinese immigrants, who, unable to speak English, could not understand events such as Watergate.

In search of news, they would gather near an International District grocery to wait for a Chinese-language newspaper from San Francisco because there was no local Chinese paper. That made Ng think a local paper could fill a need and she decided in 1982 to start one.

``I would like to say it was a great bolt of lightning, but it wasn't,'' she says. ``I just saw a need and figured I could try to fill it, for awhile.

``As it turned out, it was the way to fulfill myself and my potentials, too.''

Running the paper, though, hasn't always been pleasant.

On a recent evening, Ng was exhausted as she returned to her office for a 5 p.m. appointment. Though she'd expected a light day, she had spent the morning speaking on entrepreneurship and the afternoon assigning stories for the following week.

She would have liked to have gone home, but after her appointment, there was one more engagement - an Asian American Journalists Association meeting to plan the group's 1991 national convention in Seattle.

Such days are typical, she says. The workload has been worse.

Take the Wah Mee massacre. One week before the mass slaying in the International District, Ng published special Chinese New Year editions in English and in Chinese.

``After that, we had to continue both editions (English and Chinese), even though we were so small and the workload was almost killing us. If we didn't, well, people would have thought our community was so secretive that it didn't even have a newspaper in English.''

Added to the physical burden of following the story was the emotional toil. When Ng ran a photo of the murder scene on the cover, she received angry letters. She continued to pursue hard-hitting stories, even when the work was so trying it made her physically sick.

It was the same with the Tiananmen Square massacre last year in Beijing.

At one point, Ng ran six pages of news about the massacre of pro-democracy students in her Chinese edition. Readers demanded more. The Post's telephone bill skyrocketed as Ng and her staff feverishly tried to call Hong Kong and mainland China for information and fresh angles.

``Our subscribers were hungry,'' she said. ``If we had let up, it would have hurt our credibility.''

Although the paper does not flinch from hard news, Ng believes it serves a dual role. Besides reporting news, it should promote the community.

Even though Ng is quick to herald the accomplishments of others in the Asian-American community, she maintains a low profile.

Last spring, for instance, she won an award from Women in Communication Inc., a women's journalism organization. But when Susan Cassidy, the Post's English-edition editor, wanted to run Ng's picture, Ng argued against it.

``She walks a fine line and I understand that,'' says Cassidy. ``She wants to be very careful not to use the newspaper to push Assunta Ng.''

The picture did run, after Cassidy convinced Ng the Post would have run a photo of any other Asian who had won the award.

But Ng is not afraid to take a stand. In 1986, for instance, she was one of 15 women who joined the International District's chapter of the Rotary Club, even though the organization did not allow women.

The club filed a petition in federal court demanding that Rotary change its policy, and eventually, in a related case, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the organization to change to do so.

Though Ng had nothing to do with the lawsuit, she takes pride in being one of the chapter's first female members.

``It gets to the heart of why I left Hong Kong,'' she says.

There, opportunities for women were limited. But in the United States, she has been able to accomplish things that make her parents proud.

``My achievements have changed the way my father looks at women and my mother, too,'' she says. ``They see what I've done, and it changes the way they look at the Asian community. Other people are the same way.

``I think that is my real success.''

-- Name: Assunta Ng

-- Age: 39

-- Position: Publisher, Seattle Chinese Post

-- Goals: To increase size and content of paper, continue to broaden coverage of English edition to encompass all Asian groups.

-- Quote: ``Something happens to your character when you are away from home. You want to create your own existence, and as you do that, a new self emerges.''

Profile appears weekly in the Business Monday section of The Seattle Times.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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