Asian American Journal: International Examiner, Seattle, WA, July 18, 2001

Decades of Reportage

By James Leong

It is no great surprise that Frank Chin and Bill Wong attended Lincoln School and Oakland High School in California together. The 1960s into the early '70s was a time of Red Guards, Vietnam protests and the first group stirrings of an Asian American voice. Frank Chin fought on Bay Area battlefields with Shawn Wong, Lawson Inada and others while Bill Wong pursued his basic journalistic training from U.C. Berkeley's The Daily Cal and The San Francisco Chronicle and The News Call Bulletin.

He later spent almost four years in the Philippines with the Peace Corps, then settled in Cleveland with The Wall Street Journal after a graduate degree at Columbia University. The 1980s brought him back to the Bay Area, where he was a columnist for The Oakland Tribune for 16 years. He also wrote for Asian Week, the now defunct East-West News, The San Francisco Examiner, Filipinas Magazine and The East Bay Express.

Prior to the 1960s, Cantonese (see yip, sahm yup, heung sahn) was the only major dialect spoken by the 100,000 (some statistics show 150,000) Americans of Chinese descent then living in America. The overturn of the Chinese Exclusion Law and new immigrants changed all that. If for other reason, Bill Wong's first 48 pages should be mandatory reading as an introduction and explanation to those of us born here of immigrant parents. Those now entering their fifth decade are the last of a generation of hyphenated Chinese-Americans with false name paper trails purchased or stolen. These oral and written histories are vital legacies for our offspring, as important as the time-locked legacies of C.Y. Lee and Jade Snow Wong. With anecdotes, reportage and example, Bill Wong fills in the emotional gaps between Judy Yung's trailblazing 1982 Chinese Women of America History Project and Helen Zia's recent Asian American Dreams. Some of the articles are totally journalistic (who, what, where, etc.). Others, including "Minnesota Chow Mein" and "I am a Gook" lend sarcastic humor, like salt on still-open wounds.

On politics, many of the essays transcend time; a few become locked in the moment. Sometimes a deadline is apparent; other times reflection and an inner passion comes through. One wishes for more consistency in the writing, but that splitting of personality is in itself the duality of the Chinese American, with or without the hyphen. Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America proves that Bill Wong is not a Johnny-Come-Lately to the Bay Area scene. His book is a journal of growing up bilingual and bicultural in Oakland, proud of being Chinese American. He may not have been in the trenches, but he was and is fighting the war nonetheless.

< Back to Reviews page

Home | About the Author | About the Book | Author Appearances
Reviews | Order the Book | Contact the Author

Receive William Wong's Alerts | Download Photos

Site developed by