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Sampan: Closing Gaps between Chinatown and Greater Boston

New America Media, NAM Profile, Joanna Wu Posted: Aug 10, 2006

San Francisco -- The only Chinese-English newspaper in New England takes its name from the Chinese word Sampan, a small rowboat used to transport materials in East Asia.

Founding editor Gloria Chun started the bilingual newspaper Sampan to bridge gaps within the community, says English editor Adam Smith. Like a sampan, the newspaper transports news and information between people, community organizations, the English and Chinese speaking population and Chinatown and other neighborhoods.

As Asian communities expand beyond ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown, Smith says there is a greater need to document the development and cultural changes taking place in this historically Chinese neighborhood. Sampan serves as Chinatowns historian, providing news and coverage of the Asian American community in the greater Boston area.

sampan staff

Smith says there are two things that make this biweekly newspaper unique: Its stories are printed in both Chinese and English, and it covers news about Chinatown that the mainstream press often ignores.

Smith calls Chinatown a historically and culturally important neighborhood that is now facing challenges by development.

Sampan, online at www.sampan.org, started in 1972 as a mimeograph newsletter, a method that has been replaced by photocopy machines. The paper was founded by a group of volunteers in the Chinese American Civic Association, now known as the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), a non-profit organization that provides legal assistance, English language classes, job training and other services for Asian immigrants. The AACA continues to support Sampan, which is free to the community.

The newspapers bilingual reporting connects the older, Chinese-speaking population with the younger, English-speaking generation. Nearly seven out of 10 Chinese Americans over the age 65 are not English-proficient, compared to only one out of five Chinese Americans adults under 65, according to a recent study by the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The newspapers 10,000 copies are distributed throughout the greater Boston area. Many of these neighborhoods have seen a steady increase of Chinese Americans in the last decade. Bostons Chinese American population grew by 17.6 percent between 1990 and 2000, with exponential growth in suburbs like Quincy (121 percent), Malden (184 percent) and Waltham (121 percent), and significant growth in Worcester (70 percent) and Newton (83 percent).

The paper helps those living in the suburbs to know whats going on in Chinatown. I feel its one of the most important things to cover, Smith says.

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Playing the part of local historian, Sampan has documented the history of Chinatown through its archives of stories that follow the changes in the neighborhood. The structural changes and the increasing development of Chinatown in the last decade are documented on the pages of Sampan, Smith says.

The paper includes a Chinatown community message board, neighborhood news, an opinion section, an arts and events calendar and sometimes a special health section. News about immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day care and union activities can also be found in the newspaper.

Chinese-language editor Anita Chang says Sampan covers issues that are often ignored by the mainstream media.

I think its important to build a bridge between immigrant communities and the mainstream community, Chang says.

This years stories have included a Chinese journalist who protested the White House visit of Chinese President, Hu Jintao; the increase in Chinese real estate businesses; how depression affects Asians; and students who documented Hurricane Katrinas impact on Vietnamese Americans.

The small three-member staff, including Smith, Chang, and Yang Yang, the advertising manager, hopes to expand its coverage by taking on more paid writers. College students and recent graduates also volunteer to help support the paper. The staff also hopes to expand the papers coverage of the local Southeast Asian community and have more stories on arts and culture.

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