Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Homespun to Hard-News: As the Longest-Running Vietnamese Newspaper in the United States, the Nguoi Viet Daily News Keeps Immigrants Connected to Their Native Country and Serves as a Guide to American Life

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Homespun to Hard-News: As the Longest-Running Vietnamese Newspaper in the United States, the Nguoi Viet Daily News Keeps Immigrants Connected to Their Native Country and Serves as a Guide to American Life

Article excerpt

During his career as the publisher of a Vietnamese newspaper, Yen Do would frequently buy articles from writers even if he never intended to use them. Why? Because he knew how badly they needed the income. For that reason, Yen would sometimes pay a triple fee to freelance writers. And for the same reason, he typically wouldn't fire the occasional incompetent employee.

Yet today, more than a quarter century after Do founded his newspaper, it continues to thrive. In fact, it is growing at a time when many national mainstream newspapers are bemoaning declining subscription numbers. With a daily circulation of more than 17,000, the California-based Nguoi Viet Daily News is the longest-running Vietnamese newspaper in the country. Nguoi Viet has a staff of 50 and is distributed as far as Australia, France and Russia.

Nguoi Wet, which means "Vietnamese people," offers primarily political and economic news out of Vietnam and Asia. The 60-page paper also includes news from various villages in Vietnam, written by a network of correspondents groomed by Yen and others. Like its ethnic press counterparts, Nguoi Viet offers news not provided by mainstream media outlets. It also includes a section in English once a week, edited by his 39-year-old daughter Anh Do. The section is aimed at a generation that is largely American-born or, like Anh, immigrated when they were young. Loan Do, Yen's wife, oversees classified advertising.

A war correspondent in Vietnam for U.S. dailies, Yen fled the country with his wife and children close to the April 1975 fall of Saigon. In an oral history published in 2003, Yen described his life's work as "a calling."

"We have no guidebooks to help us survive," he told interviewer Jeffrey H. Brody, a California State University-Fullerton professor. "I only knew that the refugees had to work together and tolerate each other. I knew that we needed a newspaper. It wasn't easy, but we had no choice."

Yen retired from Nguoi Viet last year. Now 65, he is battling diabetes and kidney disease.

"His whole orientation has been to keep folks informed and help them become good citizens," says Dr. Rick Pullen, dean of the College of Communications at CSU-Fullerton. Pullen has known the Do family for more than a decade. "He has a great appreciation for education, and his impact on Vietnamese Americans is profound."

Bringing a Community Together

During Yen's first three years in the United States, he held 10 different jobs in California and Texas to support his young family. At one point, he hung wallpaper; at another, he was a social worker.

When U.S. officials began allowing tens of thousands of Vietnamese to settle in the country, Yen decided to use his journalism experience to help his countrymen start a new life in America. So in 1978, he began writing and publishing a four-page weekly leaflet in his native language. It featured such how-to's as applying for a driver's license,

shopping at the grocery store and buying a house. In the process, Yen taught newcomers about complexities nonexistent in Vietnam, such as escrow. He even wrote about parent-teacher conferences he'd attended.

At first, Yen commuted 115 miles from his home in San Diego to sell his latest issue on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. There, he reconnected with friends he'd known in Vietnam. They became his first distributors, standing at the doors of Vietnamese churches and pagodas on weekends with Yen's papers attached to the front and back of their clothes.

Yen soon realized that Orange County, which was between his home and LA., was fast becoming the "Little Saigon" for Vietnamese arrivals. So he uprooted his family again and moved there. At first, Yen and his family were among 16 people sharing a two-bedroom apartment. When he eventually rented a house for his family, the garage became the publishing office. There, he manually inked the Vietnamese accent marks after preparing his articles with an IBM Selectric typewriter. …

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