PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Pride and Prejudice

I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I just wanted to have a newspaper.

It was 1974, and the news of Watergate had just broken. Immigrants in Seattle’s Chinatown were lining up outside grocery stores to buy Chinese newspapers from San Francisco, so they could read about the news. In those days, the Chinese immigrant community had to rely on rumors and gossip. I wanted to help the community by providing them with information and facts. Starting a newspaper seemed like the right thing to do.

Despite objections from my parents and friends, and a touch of skepticism from my husband, I began my marketing campaign. I distributed flyers announcing a new Chinese-language newspaper throughout Chinatown. I told everyone on the street that I was starting a newspaper. People thought I was crazy. One man pulled me aside and said, “You keep on telling people that you are starting a newspaper. What if, in the end, you have no paper?”

Failure was neither an option nor a concern. I completely ignored the statistics that four out of five newspapers in this country fail because of lack of revenue and insufficient advertising. Although my only prior sales experience was a three-week stint in a boutique, I was not to be deterred. Why should I let anybody else determine my fate? I asked myself. Whenever I felt discouraged, I would think about those people waiting in line just to get a copy of the newspaper. I could not turn my back on them. If I met rejection, I would look at it as the entire group of people facing rejection, not just me alone. All along, I saw the endeavor in terms of “us,” as opposed to just “me.”

We—us in the “us” I envisioned—were forced to deal with rejection a little sooner than I expected. After putting together a selling strategy, I decided to target the oldest, most successful restaurant in Chinatown. I thought that I would have the best chance at selling an ad because the owner would certainly have enough money to afford advertising. Mr. Quan was a well-known citizen, respected for his straightforward approach to business. Confidently, I walked into Tai Tung Restaurant and asked to speak to him. The hostess looked me up and down, surprised that a young woman dressed in jeans and tennis shoes would make such a request. Puzzled, she disappeared into a back room and returned with Mr. Quan. I was oblivious not only to proper business attire, but also to business etiquette. Looking back, I should have commented on the fabulous décor of the restaurant or on the success of his business, but I had only one intention: selling ad space for my newspaper.

“Mr. Quan, my name is Assunta Ng. I am starting the Seattle Chinese Post, a Chinese-language newspaper. I want you to buy an ad.”

Mr. Quan, charmed by my boldness, asked me to join him at a booth. “Assunta, I have not advertised for thirty years, and I’m doing great,” he explained earnestly. “Why should I advertise now? And why with you?”

I explained the benefits of advertising in my newspaper, but to no avail. More than ten minutes passed, and still Mr. Quan did not budge on his decision. This was going to be harder than I thought. Mr. Quan had no desire to advertise, and he had no problem telling me so. The community had not had such a newspaper in more than fifty years, he explained. If he decided to advertise now, people might assume that his business was failing. I knew I was in trouble. The Seattle Chinatown community had forgotten the purpose of advertising.

“No,” he said adamantly. “I will not advertise in your newspaper.”

Frustrated, I began to gather myself and leave the restaurant, but something stopped me. I recalled my childhood: “No” was an all-too-familiar word. Growing up in a traditional Chinese family in Hong Kong, I had heard it far too many times.

As a young girl, I was not allowed to dream. My life had already been planned for me, and there was no possibility for variance from that path. I would do all of my family’s cooking, washing and housework until I was old enough to find a husband of my own. That was it—nothing more. My two brothers would be given everything and would never have to lift a finger around the house. They were first-class citizens, and I was not.

Little girls could not create anything for themselves; they could not imagine becoming doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs or anything else. We were expected to be obedient and subservient. I was timid and shy, never questioned authority, always followed all the rules. The only role models I knew were housewives, secretaries and teachers. Although I loved my mother dearly, I knew one thing for sure: I never wanted to end up like her. As a housewife, her life was as predictable as the sunrise, void of excitement and change. My father was a businessman involved in the import and export of commodities, but he was never a role model. I was not allowed to ask him any questions about his business, and would have been mocked had I tried.

As the eldest child, I felt a compelling need to be independent. My culture, I knew, would never permit this behavior from a young woman. My spirit was too wild and free for the restrictive chains of traditional society to contain me, and I began looking for a way out. I spent my free time reading works of literature from the American Cultural Exchange Library in Hong Kong. I admired the free spirit of American authors such as Pearl S. Buck, and decided that America was the place for me.

Although my parents had low expectations of me, they believed in the value of a good education. They sent my brothers and me to the best Catholic missionary school in Hong Kong. My unhappiness prevented me from excelling in high school. When I passed the national standardized exam with flying colors, everyone was surprised. It came as a shock to everyone, including my parents, that I was intelligent. I scored in the top tenth percentile, and suddenly I became college material. Immediately, my parents and peers perceived me differently. And so did I. Convinced that America was the road to a new and better life, I mustered up the courage to tell my parents that I wanted to go. “No,” they said without discussion. “Get those ridiculous thoughts out of your mind.”

During the six months that followed, I acted in absolute rebellion for the first time in my life. I did not utter a word nor did I express any emotion. My parents were standing in the way of my dream, and I was determined to let them know of my disapproval. Finally, my parents realized that my heart was truly set on going to America, and they agreed to give me the money for one year’s university tuition. After that, I would be on my own. At the age of eighteen, I boarded a plane from Hong Kong to Portland, Oregon.

Recalling my childhood forced me to remind myself that I was in America, the land of dreams and possibilities. I could not take “no” for an answer. I remembered the faces of the people standing in the long line.

“Mr. Quan, forget about advertising. I am not asking you to advertise,” I said, changing my strategy.

“You are not?” His face showed relief.

“You’d like to see a Chinese-language newspaper in this community, right?”

“Right,” he replied.

“I am asking you to put a congratulatory message from the staff of Tai Tung Restaurant to the Seattle Chinese Post on its grand opening,” I said.

“So this is not an advertisement?” he inquired.

“Oh, absolutely not,” I assured him.

“How much is half a page?” he asked.

“One hundred seventy-five dollars.”

Mr. Quan reached into his back pocket, counted out $175 in cash and laid it on the table. My first ad!

From there, I went to every business in Chinatown and said, “Mr. Quan is advertising, so would you like to also? And by the way, he paid cash.” I must have worn out five pairs of shoes going door-to-door selling ads, but the reward was awesome: I was able to collect four thousand dollars in advertising for my first issue and signed up hundreds of subscribers.

If you believe in your dream, never, ever give up. “No” may mean “not now” or “maybe later.” But in the world of business, “no” is never final—and it is where the real fun begins.

Assunta Ng

EPILOGUE: Assunta Ng is the founder and publisher of both the Seattle Chinese Post, published in Chinese, and its sister publication, the Northwest Asian Weekly, published in English. Both papers serve the Asian community of Seattle and its neighboring cities.

According to Ng, the Seattle Chinese Post was a relatively early participant in what has become a significant trend in the publishing business and the proliferation of Asian-language media in the United States. Per Ng, the growth is fed by demographics, because Asian and Pacific ethnic groups make up the fastest-growing segment in America’s population.

To learn more about Ng and her papers, please visit www.nwasianweekly.com.

Dahlynn McKowen

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