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ASIA: Southern California's Pan-Asian Newspaper

NCM Profile

Peter Micek Posted: Sep 15, 2004

Asia LogoThe pan-Asian newspaper with the ambitious name is growing.

Asia: The Journal of Culture and Commerce, the only such English-language publication in Southern California, has expanded four-fold in two years, and is now increasing its circulation from 20,000 to 30,000 copies.

We provide a venue to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) community here in San Diego, says editor, publisher and co-founder Leonard Novarro. Soon, Asia, as it is known, will be expanding to nearby counties as well.

Exposing different cultures to one another after 9/11, Novarro says, inspired the newspaper.

One of the most diverse areas in the country, San Diego is 13 percent Asian, totaling 2.8 million residents. The newspaper, Novarro said, defines their cultures, from the Chinese to the predominant Filipino population to Samoans and other islanders.

Successful community events highlight the publications niche. The Royal Thai Ballet brought down the house and an Asian bazaar night hopes to fetch revenue and recreate a festive atmosphere, Novarro says. The newly-minted Asian Heritage Awards are the centerpiece. Groups and organizations vote on the winners, often crossing ethnic lines.

Novarro, the executor of co-founder Rosalynn Carmens vision, mentions 9/11 alongside another tragedy, the riots of South Central Los Angeles of 1992. Such riots, pitting races against each other, would not happen today, he estimates. More groups are reaching out, he says.

Asias pan-Asian focus mirrored the move of other civic and business organizations to a broader appeal in recent years. San Diego County has become a cooperation point, Carmen says, for people of different racial backgrounds. Indians and Chinese, she said, whom the paper serves, come from countries geographically close but with strong differences in culture and language.

But [in the United States], she says, because they can communicate in one language, English, the gap is able to be reduced.

The paper, which Carmen labels a playground for the different cultures, includes a society page, a feature story, a world currents section, and stories about Asia -- though not ones you are likely to read in most newspapers, Novarro says. Along with humor and food columnists, writers cover issues from business and legal issues to fashion and health.

Published twice monthly, at 20-24 pages, Asias cover, back page and center spread are in color. Its 410 distribution points include restaurants, coffee shops, community centers and libraries in ethnic as well as mainstream communities. Hotels and motels, too, receive them, Novarro said. Out-of-town visitors often call to find events, such as festivals, beyond main cultural institutions like the San Diego Zoo.

The audience is second, third and fourth generation Asian Americans, mostly highly educated career people in their late 20s to early 50s.

However, funding is not easy for Asian publications, Novarro says. Ad agencies fail to see the value in this market. And getting support from the community took time, he said. We had to prove to people that we were for real.

Novarro and Carmen give different stories on how they came together. They met while teaching a Thai culture class at San Diego State University, Novarro says. Carmen, who is originally from Thailand, says their first collaboration was covering Thailands illegal use of Iraqi oil. She transmitted pieces to several Thai radio stations while Novarro reported for Reuters.

The two agree that the entire Asian mosaic in the area has many events and happenings that are not being covered in the media.

One cover story in particular, Novarro says, recently hit the mark. We did a cover story on a Vietnamese wedding ceremony -- the dress, what happens, the traditional ceremony. When we distributed the newspaper in not heavily Vietnamese areas, people loved it; they just gobbled up the newspaper. It disappeared in a matter of days.

Competition, Novarro says, is everywhere, from community newspapers in English, the main San Diego daily, and ethnic newspapers in many different languages. But there is a sense of solidarity among them, he believes. Were all in it to put light on our communities.

Everybody has a different focus, Novarro said, and our focus is on achievements and accomplishments.

That said, the newspaper does not shy away from contentious issues. Asia has one goal in particular this year, beyond getting a larger subscription base. To me, says Carmen, the ultimate thing is to get all Asian communities to participate in the bigger picture. For example, increasing the Asian vote.

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