I had the opportunity the other day to get a bit of advance info on some community news that will undoubtedly be picked up here in The Rafu Shimpo and other Asian American news outlets in the coming days.
Essentially, I chatted on the phone with attorney Dan Mayeda about leadership changes in the umbrella group known as the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.
The nut of the story is that Mayeda and JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida will become co-chairs of the coalition, effective immediately.
There is, of course, a bit more to the story than that. In case you’re wondering, APAMC consists of several Asian American community organizations — Visual Communications, East West Players and Media Action Network for Asian Americans in Los Angeles; and JACL, Organization of Chinese Americans and the Asian American Justice Center in Washington, D.C.
Mayeda said he also considers San Francisco-based Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA) to be a member, although it has been inactive of late.
Mayeda, incidentally, has volunteered for years — decades, actually — with EWP as a board member, legal counsel and all-around booster. He was also instrumental in the early days of MANAA as its legal counsel. A self-described “UCLA boy” (undergrad and law school), Mayeda has been a key community resource for his legal acumen, advice and energy. He’s also been an educator, teaching at USC, CSUN and CSLA.
The pair will take over the reins of APAMC’s leadership from a representative of MANAA and of EWP, the latter being Marilyn Tokuda, the theater organization’s arts education director, both of whom started their tenures in 2011. (I tried to include her in this column, but ran out of time!)
APAMC is probably best known for issuing “report cards” (in cooperation with the NAACP, and Latino and Native American interests) to the four major TV networks that graded them on how well they include and represent their constituent communities (Asian Americans and Asians in the case of APAMC) in their respective programming. Network TV, according to Mayeda, is still the coalition’s main focus as a media watchdog, although he did say they are interested in portrayals and representation of Asian Pacific Americans in motion pictures and other media as well.
Mayeda gave me a bit of the history of the coalition going back more than a decade. Although former U.S. Rep. Norman Mineta was involved as the coalition’s chair in its earliest incarnation, Karen Narasaki was the name and face most associated with the group after Mineta was tapped to join the Bush administration’s cabinet in the early 2000s.
The then-Washington-based Narasaki was chair for more than a decade. That brings us to this new era of Mayeda and Ouchida. Speaking with Mayeda, I learned that by having co-chairs on two coasts and in two cities (Washington, D.C. for Ouchida and Los Angeles for Mayeda), the hope is that the APAMC can increase its efficacy by having a presence in two key areas: one where the laws are made and one where the programs are made.
“Ideally, it’s easier when you have representatives in both places,” said Mayeda. “On the other hand, most of the meetings with the networks will take place in the Los Angeles base of the networks rather than New York or anywhere else, so the East Coast person would have to come out physically for those meetings.
“But in our case, Priscilla regularly does travel anyway as part of her duties as executive director of JACL. So, we just have to coordinate scheduling, but I think we’ll be able to make that work.”
As for the length of their service as co-chairs, Mayeda said that because APAMC is not separately incorporated as a coalition, there are no bylaws specifying the how long their terms should be. “We obviously serve at the pleasure of the coalition’s members,” he said. As a result, there is no APAMC website, although Mayeda says that and other issues like official letterhead are among topics they hope to address during their term of service.
He said APAMC also wants to continue to work with existing groups like the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, each of which has its own Asian American subcommittees. He also mentioned wanting to continue outreach to talent agencies, casting directors, advertisers, individual actors and so on. CAPE or Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment has not, he admitted, been part of APAMC’s work — but he is open to working with them. “We’d like to join with them when we can,” he said.
(From my perspective, CAPE is probably more oriented toward career advancement for its members as opposed to overtly trying to compel networks to be more inclusive. But I think they could also be a “force for good” if they so desired.)
Mayeda and Ouchida’s leadership with APAMC comes at an interesting time because network TV, while still something to be reckoned with, is on the wane. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet, there is no barrier or gatekeeper willingly or benignly keeping Asian Americans out of the media. Witness all the various Asian Americans sensations on YouTube, the arrival of the YOMYOMF network, Korean recording star Psy and his video’s popularity — all augur a major shift of power from networks to producers who can reach thousands, if not millions of eyeballs without “getting permission” from the networks.
Still, I think APAMC has a role to play in improving the status quo; Mayeda and Ouchida will bring their own skills to advance APAMC, building upon the work of their predecessors. Mayeda said would also like to see more diversity beyond Japanese Americans within the coalition, too. Probably a good plan.
In the meantime, look for the official news release in the days to come.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2013 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.