What I Learned From This Year’s AAJA Convention

By Yvonne Leow, AAJA VP for Journalism Programs

It was 2:30AM. No one wanted to be on a programming call the morning of the AAJA convention, but we all knew we had to. Listening in, I could hear every breath tinged with exhaustion, every sentence punctuated with exasperation. Some had just stepped off a plane hours before, others had been working all day, and I couldn’t help but wonder: why are we even doing this?

A few days later at AAJA’s convention gala, our national president Paul Cheung made it clear. Standing on stage, he said: “We’ll be here whenever you need us to be, and just know that we’re here to support you. You’re like a sister to me. And I’m really happy that you’re going to be the next AAJA president.”

He was right. Unlike any other professional organization I’ve been a part of, AAJA is like family. We sacrifice our time, energy and money because the work we do has always been bigger than ourselves. While our mission is to diversify media companies and news coverage, we’re also champions of equity and access for all. Our ability to mentor and advocate for one another is essential, and today, it matters more than ever.

As AAJA has evolved in the past 35 years, so have the challenges we face. Discrimination is no longer overt, but structural and insidious. It is the insensitive headline or the killed story that wasn’t relevant to our “traditional” audience. It is the shroud of doubt cast over our ability to lead a newsroom, or star in a blockbuster movie, because cultural humility is often mistaken for a lack of confidence.

This is why AAJA exists. It lets us come together to take on these problems and shape important conversations about what it means to be Asian American. If our newsrooms or companies deliver us a blow, we lift each other up, with introductions at job fairs and networking events and advice over email and Slack. We teach each other to walk, then run, then fly with programs like JCamp, Voices, Executive Leadership Program, and iCon. And a few times a year, we lose sleep so that we can create spaces from one on one mentorships to regional events such as V3, N3Con to our annual convention where we can check in on each other and see how we’re doing.

Like family, I have no doubt we will have our disagreements and disappointments. I’m sure there will be days when my convictions will be tested. On those days, I’ll try to remember people like Abe Kwok, who saw my potential before I realized it myself, or leaders like Paul and Kathy Chow, who pushed me because they believed I could and should always be better. I will never forget friends like Michelle Lee and Frank Shyong who eased my fears, and messages from journalists, some of whom I have not seen in years, who generously expressed their encouragement and support.

They are why I’m proud to be a part of this family. They are the reason I serve.

To learn more about AAJA and our annual convention, please visit www.aaja.org.

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