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2003-05-16

Chinese-American Journalist, Author, Activist, Feminist, Lesbian Helen Zia Speaks on the Politics of Identity and the Nature of Evil in the Post-911 U.S.A.

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Zia is the author of My Country Versus Me: the Story of Wen Ho Lee, and Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People.

We spend the rest of the hour with author, journalist and political activist Helen Zia.

Zia was born in New Jersey in 1952, the daughter of immigrants from Shanghai. At the time, there were fewer than 150,000 Chinese-Americans in the country, and most of whom were concentrated on the West Coast.

Helen Zia attended Princeton University as a member of one of the first classes that allowed women. In between her studies, she helped found the Asian American Students Association and the Third World Students organization. She helped organize protests against the Vietnam War and began to speak publicly.

Zia later moved to Detroit and began to write on labor issues for local newspapers. In 1982, two unemployed white autoworkers attacked a 27-year-old Chinese American named Vincent Chin with a baseball bat, and beat him to death. The killers blamed the Japanese carmakers for Detroit?s problems in the auto industry. They received two years of probation.

The Chinese American community was outraged, and Helen Zia helped to found an organization dedicated to achieving justice for Vincent Chin. Eventually, the killers were found liable for Chin?s death and were forced to pay one and a half million dollars to Chin?s family. But they never served time in jail.

Zia is the author of the book, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, which traces the history of Asians in America from the first Filipino settlers in Mexico in the 1500s to the struggles of a diverse group of communities today. The book includes a discussion of the perceptions of Asian Americans in the popular media, the conflicts between Korean American grocers and African American communities in LA and New York, and the fight for acceptance by Asian American gays and lesbians.

In 2001, Helen Zia published My Country Versus Me: the story of Wen Ho Lee. Wen Ho Lee is a Chinese American nuclear scientist who was falsely accused of being a spy for China. Lee spent nine months shackled in solitary confinement and forbidden to speak his own language. In the end, federal prosecutors dropped all counts but one, that of mishandling of secret information. The judge who approved the agreement actually apologized for the U.S. government, saying it had "embarrassed this entire nation and everyone who is a citizen of it."

Zia’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit News, A.Magazine, Essence, The Advocate, OUT!, and numerous other publications. She is also the former executive editor of Ms. Magazine.

On Tuesday, Helen Zia spoke at Stony Brook University in New York. Her lecture is called ?The Politics of War and Remembrance.?

  • Helen Zia, author, journalist, and activist, speaking at Stony Brook University on May 13, 2003.

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