Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Dosing out Lessons of Diversity

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Dosing out Lessons of Diversity

Article excerpt


My eyes were still adjusting to the auditorium lights flickering back on, as the crowd of young American soldiers swarmed me. I had just finished my slide-show talk about Angel Island -- the Ellis Island of the West Coast and a major entry point for Chinese Americans. Most of the soldiers had never heard of Angel Island. They peppered me with questions. Why is Angel Island not in American textbooks? What are the feelings today of immigrants such as my great-uncle, who came through Angel Island and faced hatred and discrimination just because they were Chinese?

That's when I realized I had stepped into a new realm. I was no longer just a journalist sharing photographs and first-person stories of my Chinese forebears who had immigrated to America before World War II. I was no longer just a guest speaker of the U.S. Army, hop-scotching through tiny German towns and spoon-feeding troops a dose of diversity as if it was over-the-counter cough medicine. I had become an educator. It satisfied and terrified me all at once.

As a working journalist, I have always believed that we, the media, educate and influence the public. Sometimes I even used that belief to convince myself it was so important to "get the story" that we were justified in telephoning crime victims, camping outside embattled politicians' offices well into the night, and photographing hospital patients in pain. Handling some of those stories over the years has not been easy. Sometimes I have felt so uncomfortable I have wondered why I have stayed in the business.

As I answered the soldiers' stream of questions during my weeklong German tour, I was reminded why.

Journalists have the rare opportunity to witness and record history -- from up close. We have the opportunity to shape that information into stories for people who are unable to witness it. We can question those in power and tell their stories and we can tell the stories of the underdogs who refuse to quit. The Angel Island story is one of those.

In 1998, I began freelancing a documentary project about the Chinese immigrants who came through Angel Island in San Francisco Bay between 1910 and 1940. Unlike Ellis Island, which Europeans considered a gateway, Angel Island was more like a prison. …

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