6abc Action News Co-Anchor, Investigative Reporter and AAPI Journalist, Nydia Han, Goes On Record
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel goes on record with Emmy award-winning television journalist Nydia Han. Co-anchor of 6abc Action News Sundays and the station’s consumer investigative reporter, Nydia gets real results for Action News viewers by troubleshooting issues and exposing scams as well as dangerous products. She also is a TEDx speaker and creator of #ThisIsAmerica, a provocative three-part documentary series about racism and the diverse American experience.
Nydia is committed to using her platform to uplift, empower, and give voice to traditionally underrepresented, marginalized groups. She is the recipient of the Pearl S. Buck International Woman of Influence award, NAAAP Inspire Award, and Global Voice Award from the World Woman Summit. She also was named “Outstanding Ally” of Diversity and Inclusion by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
She graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and her career has taken her to television stations in Idaho, Oklahoma City, and Texas.
Nydia is on the community advisory board for the Asian American Women’s Coalition. She is passionate about raising awareness and desperately needed funds for lung cancer research in memory of her mother.
She enjoys good food, wine, and most of all a good laugh. And she is trying really hard to teach her two young children to speak Korean.
How did you get into journalism?
I have always loved to write, and I always planned on being a journalist, but I planned on writing long-form pieces for magazines. When I was in college, I did an internship at a television station, the ABC station in San Francisco. I was hooked. The quarter before that I did an internship at a newspaper and I enjoyed the environment and the experience, but there was something about the power of the medium of television that really appealed to me. I really liked that craft—the powerful pictures, mixed with the immediacy and sound. I decided to switch my specialization to broadcast. I thought this was a great idea, but unfortunately, no one else did.
At Northwestern University, there were a lot of students who seem to be born and bred to do television news. I was not. I was so bad, in fact, that I had a professor call me into her office and ask me if I ever even watched television news, and I said to the professor, “Yes, I watch every night religiously.” And she said, “Well, then I suggest you switch back to print because you just don’t get it, and you’re never going to make it in this business.” I considered doing that and switching back to print, but then the next quarter I had another professor, a man named Rick Brown and he said, “You know what? You’re not the best I’ve ever seen, but you’re not the worst either. Stick it out just a little bit longer and see what happens.” I’m glad that I did. I had a lot of trouble finding my first job, so my challenges did not end with that first professor who told me to switch majors or switch specializations.
I had a news director in Chico, California, who told me that he wouldn’t hire me because I had too many wrinkles on my forehead. I had a news director of Bakersfield, California, telling me that he wouldn’t hire me and no one else would because I had a terrible voice. At the time, to get your first job in television news, you had to physically send out resume tapes. I used all of the resume tapes that I had. I must’ve sent out about 50. I had to go back to my old internship, copy more tapes to send out, and finally, I ended up getting my first job in Pocatello, Idaho.
Gina Rubel: Well, thank you, Pocatello, Idaho, because they saw something that others were blind to, and I think it’s important for our listeners to understand that this isn’t easy to break into, but I’m so glad you chose television because one of the reasons we’re talking today is not just about you being a journalist or an Emmy award-winning television journalist, but really about diversity. In TV, people like you see you and know what’s possible.
What was it like being an Asian American Women in the Television Newsroom when you broke into the media industry?
I will tell you that in every newsroom I’ve worked in, I have been not only the only Asian American in the newsroom, but the only Asian American in the entire building. That is up until a few years ago here at Channel 6. When I first came here, there was already an Asian American Pacific Islander working in the building, although not in the newsroom. And then I had a co-anchor, Eva Pilgrim, who is half Korean, half Caucasian. We have Christie Ileto who is half Filipino, half Black and Jaclyn Lee, who is Chinese American. I’m so grateful that I am now not the only one, but for most of my career, I have in fact been the only AAPI voice at the station. I do understand, especially better today than I ever have before, the importance of diversity and representation and inclusive leadership.
Gina Rubel: There are so many places I can go with this conversation. To be the only one of any group in a room is never easy, and I’m sure many of our listeners have been the only “outsider” in some way or a perceived outsider, and yet we’re all the same. I share that with empathy. I was the only female lawyer at an all-male law firm and being the “only” is not easy. Thank you for sticking it out in television and thank you to your colleagues who represent the AAPI community. I’m just going to mention for our listeners, whenever we refer to AAPI, we’re referring to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in your 20-plus years of television journalism?
The power of perseverance. I’m glad that I didn’t take my professor’s advice and switch specializations and that I decided to continue to pursue my passion and what I really wanted to do. I’m also glad that I’m here because I understand that, especially with this rise in hate and violence against our community, that it’s important that we bring ourselves to the table and to the discussions when we’re deciding what stories to cover and what stories not to cover. It is Asian American and Pacific Islander journalists who, for the most part, especially in the beginning, sounded the alarm on Asian hate incidents, insisting that they be covered, because for a long time there wasn’t this understanding that AAPIs can also be the victims of racism. The fact that we’re here and, in these newsrooms, and we are vocal and we are strong, has made a huge difference in the past year and a half of covering this pandemic-related hate against Asian Americans.
The lesson that I’ve learned is to use my voice and to lean into my full self of being Asian American. I mean, there were times when, as we were discussing, it was a lonely place to be the only Asian American. And there were times that I tried to hide the Asian part of myself as much as I could. I lightened my hair. I wouldn’t pitch a lot of stories and involve the Asian American community because I didn’t want to be perceived as just, “there’s Nydia banging the drum again about the Asian American issues.” I didn’t really feel comfortable being my full self and it’s not until really, probably five years ago that I discovered the importance and the power of really showing up for our community in a visible public and strong way. I’ve seen the difference that it makes. Our station has produced a PSA calling on people to support and show allyship for the Asian American community and to end racism (#StopAsianHate). We’ve produced shows and stories, trying to educate and inform people about the Asian American experience, about our history of racism in this community and how people can help us.
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I am so grateful for these lessons that I’ve learned, and I hope that people learn these lessons earlier on in their career than I did.
Gina Rubel: More than a year ago, there was a conversation on Facebook between me and a connection of mind. He said something to the effect of, “there’s no such thing as Asian hate,” and I immediately said, “You obviously haven’t seen #ThisIsAmerica,” and I tagged you. I want to talk a little bit about your experience, about your viral video and docu-series, This is America, because people need to hear that this is real. These are not perceived violence and ways of treating the AAPI community. It’s real and it’s painful.
Could you talk a little bit about #ThisIsAmerica and how that came about?
We’ve been talking so much lately about these brutal physical attacks against AAPIs, but I think what people need to understand is that this anti-Asian hate is deeply rooted in generations old stereotypes and discrimination and racism -the kind of casual racism or subtle racism that people like myself have experienced. The sentiment that is behind that kind of casual racism, that same sentiment is what has led to this explosion of violence and this ugliness that we’re seeing today. Historically Asian Americans have been seen as the forever foreigner and the enemy. When you look at, for instance, the very first immigration policy in this country restricting a group by race, that was the Page Act in the 1800s, and that excluded, essentially banned Chinese women from coming to the United States and becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.
Eventually, the Chinese Exclusion Act became a law of this land that banned all Chinese from coming to this country, and then later that was expanded to all Asians. There is a long history in this country of painting Asians as people who are a threat. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Asians were blamed for another disease, and that was the bubonic plague. In San Francisco, only Asian Americans had to be inoculated during a certain period in our history. I think about Vincent Chin who was murdered in the eighties by two former Chrysler auto workers who believe that he was somehow to blame for the flood of Japanese cars in the American marketplace.
I grew up in a really homogenous community, where very few people looked like me. I was constantly being asked, where are you from? How do you speak English so well? And those tiny little paper cuts are really kind of the death of all of us, right? I mean, it really made me feel like I didn’t belong. I wasn’t seen and perceived to be as American as everyone else. But as I grew older and I was on television, I felt like, hopefully people would now see me as an American journalist and not a perpetual foreigner. But even in Pocatello, Idaho, I remember a couple coming up to me when I was shooting a story and asked, “Are you lost? Do you speak English?” And I whispered back, “I speak English for a living and probably better than you do.”
It wasn’t my proudest moment, I have to admit. But fast forward to my career in Philadelphia. I’ve been here 18 years now, and the incident that you’re referring to happened about four years ago. I was walking down the street and I was crossing the street on a green light at a crosswalk, and a woman was making a left turn and she almost hit me. We exchanged words about who had the right of way, and then as she drove off, she yelled, “This is America.” And after a lifetime of feeling like people didn’t see me as a true American, I just couldn’t stop thinking about those words. I responded in a live Facebook video that ended up going viral. Three million people watched it. Tens of thousands of people commented on it and shared it. What I really wanted to understand when that conversation so shockingly went viral was, who are we as Americans?
How do we see race, and do we understand the very diverse American experience? I started to really go through those comments to try to see what the different points of view were. And I started reaching out to people, especially folks who clearly did not see me as I saw myself. And it was interesting because a lot of people responded and most people, I will say, responded in solidarity and support, and very diverse people responded that way–people of all backgrounds and colors. But then there were, again, those who didn’t like my message, basically claiming ownership of those words, “This is America.” And when I went to try to talk to those people, I really learned a lot. For instance, there’s a guy named Wayne Cheeseman who really fueled the flames on Facebook. And when I reached out to him, initially, he did respond via email, Facebook messaging.
But then when I asked him if he would talk to me in person and on camera, because I wanted to document these conversations for a documentary series that I was thinking to create, he ghosted me. I never heard from him again. But my main job and the main hat that I wear for Action News is that of investigator reporter. I know how to find people and find their addresses. I found his home address and just showed up at his house one day. And it was great because I really had conjured up this image myself, of who I thought he was. In my mind he was racist, and I assumed that he was uneducated and unsophisticated and the truth is he isn’t any of those things. He was also generous and kind enough to invite me into his home.
I spent the afternoon with him and his children who happened to be about my children’s ages, and it turns out that Wayne and I have a lot in common. We both love basketball. We have the same hopes and dreams for our children and for our families. When we were able to figure out the things in which we have in common, we were able to open up space to dialogue about our differences. What Wayne told me was that he had actually been on his own journey of self-reflection and that after I reached out to him, at that point, he actually watched my Facebook video in its entirety, and he said that it was not what he thought that I was talking about. That made him really reflect and sit back and decide to take some time, to really listen to people.
He actually joined a fantasy football league in which he was the only person who wasn’t a person of color. He said, he just took that opportunity to move in and lean in and understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of other Americans. He learned a lot that, but I learned a lot too, because I realized that I have my own biases that I bring to the table, and I need to check those if I really want to have a constructive conversation. One of the things that I always tell people is, when I was telling the story about the woman who sparked this whole #thisisamerica movement, which is what I call it, did you have a picture in your mind of her skin color and what she looked like? And I want you to think about that because I’ve never revealed her race or skin color. So that might say something about you.
Gina Rubel: That’s a great point because I do have an idea in my head. As soon as you said it, frankly, I saw a white woman behind the wheel of a car with dark hair, a little bit older, in mid-fifties or sixties and… Look at me, I’m biased against my own people. I think you make a great point.
What are some actionable steps people and companies can take to help to not only be allies to the AAPI community, but to all other marginalized communities or communities that just don’t look like them?
I do say all the time that this is not just about Asian Americans and this is about all of us and who we want to be. There are many common threads in our experiences. I have said so many times that hate and fear are the drivers of discrimination and division, and that right now the Coronavirus is just the latest vehicle. Jews have been blamed for black death. African Americans were shunned for Ebola. This is not unique to Asian Americans.
One thing is to be informed. I think unfamiliarity drives fear, fear drives hate. If people can take the time and take the initiative to learn about other people, learn about other experiences, that is absolutely the first step. One of the things that I’ve been talking about is the importance of teaching the history of Asian Americans in the classroom. But until that happens, and then for adults who are already out of the classroom, I think it’s important that we take time to talk to each other, to read. I can’t tell you how often in the beginning of the pandemic, no matter how many times I wrote an op-ed, I posted on social media. I did stories talking about this rise in violence and hate against Asian Americans. And yet time and time again, when I would have a conversation with someone, even a friend or a colleague, they would say, “Oh, I had no idea that that’s happening.” So, I encourage people now that we’re all a little more aware of the situation. Follow people who don’t look like you. Follow people who have a different experience and a different perspective so that you can understand, and you’ll be alerted and informed as you go through your social media accounts. I think that’s one easy way that people can try to move in and understand each other, because I think that has to be the first step– acknowledgement and understanding.
The second thing is people need to call out racism when they see it. And casual racism, too. There is, again, a reason why that simple phrase, #thisisamerica, went viral because it hurts, and we also understand that when we don’t call out those casual incidents, they turn into these physical, brutal acts of violence that we’re seeing today. I think that it is important, whether you’re in the classroom or the boardroom or your workplace or your neighborhood soccer game, or party, that if you hear somebody say something that is racist and discriminatory and wrong and hateful, that you call it out and correct it.
For leadership, it’s so important to think about how to lead inclusively. There are times when maybe there’s an Asian American in the room who isn’t quickly speaking up. Think about and understand it may not be because that person doesn’t have an opinion or doesn’t have something to say, or doesn’t have information, but maybe this is not an environment in which that person feels comfortable to speak up. Maybe you need to ask or call on that person, or maybe do it outside of the meeting. There are a lot of ways I think that people can really consider and meet their employees where they are. I also think it’s that people really look at those kinds of cultural differences, and really think about what their qualifications are for hiring and for promoting and making sure that they are doing those things in a way that is truly inclusive as well.
What’s one great book that you would recommend to our listeners?
The Partner Track by Helen Wan, and I’m really enjoying it. So that’s one book that I just think is terrific.
Gina Rubel: I’ll throw out The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.
Nydia Han: I love Pearl S. Buck.
What is one thing you love reporting about?
I’m the consumer investigative reporter, so I love any sort of consumer investigation, and I really, really like telling any story that I think shines a light on inequality and amplifies the voices of traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups.
What’s one of your pet peeves as a member of the media? Like, when people pitch you stories.
When people get mad if I don’t immediately respond.
How many emails do you get in a day?
I think I have 3,000 in my inbox right now. The truth is things do slip through the cracks, and a lot of times it’s not because I’m uninterested or I don’t plan on doing something. Sometimes I do need a gentle reminder or nudge, that’s so helpful. But I think I am very appreciative when people are willing to give us some grace.
What’s your favorite social media platform?
What’s your least favorite social media platform?
Which social media platform do you like getting contacted on if somebody has a great idea for you?
I think either way, probably Instagram. I really prefer email, if someone can find my email address. The best way to contact me, I have a website at www.nydiahan.com and I have a contact page and that’s probably the best way to contact me. I’m not great about responding via social media.
What is one parting piece of wisdom that you’d like to share with our listeners?
It’s so critical and so important right now that we don’t just stand shoulder to shoulder, but that we stand on top of each other’s shoulders so that together we can see over the wall of hate, because our society just cannot sustain what is happening right now. I think the responsibility is on all of us to make sure that this world is a place where everyone feels safe and secure and knows that they belong.
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Connect & Learn More
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