APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).
Diem Ly is the Vietnamese American Editor in Chief of the International Examiner (IE), the only non-profit pan-Asian American publication in the country. She both serves as a pseudo-executive director of a non-profit as well as the editorial lead of the paper. She has been asked to speak at numerous events, workshops, and panels sharing her experiences in community media, ethnic youth leadership, and in expressing the IE’s active vision to collaborate and partner with people, organizations, and businesses in meaningful ways to uplift the Asian Pacific American community.
Before serving as Editor in Chief for the last three years, Diem worked as the Assistant Editor for the IE; a freelance writer and researcher; the Morning News Writer for Northwest Cable News; and an Assignment Desk Assistant at King 5 News. She earned a Bachelors of Science from the University of Washington, minoring in neuroscience, before re-discovering her appreciation for writing.
What is the mission statement of your life?
I’ve never been asked this! But if I had to sum up my way of life — To live honestly, stand up against wrongs, never fear being vocal about what is right regardless of repercussions, and develop relationships that will breathe life into you.
How did you end up doing what you’re doing?
I left a career path into science when I realized I pursued it for the wrong reasons. And I rediscovered my true passion, refined it to become a talent, and worked hard to develop it into a career. Writing was a part of my life before I knew how to write. I remember as a child, scribbling in a picture book and feeling frustrated I couldn’t form it into the words I saw in the book.
After all of the studying, relationship-building, research work, volunteering (and the degree) in the science field — I walked away and decided to start over — knowing that if I was born with an interest and seed of a talent, I could shape it into something meaningful for this world.
I had never considered journalism before, but when I decided writing was the tool to mold my future, it was the natural direction. I had taken a couple of Asian American courses at the university that changed my perspective all together on my identity and its context — so I tried my hand at the local API community newspaper, the International Examiner. The editor was also Vietnamese American and female — a stroke of luck! She guided me through my first drafts and freelance work for the paper. I then enrolled in college journalism courses to get a foundation on journalism concepts. There, I had an instructor that believed in my work and talent and advocated for me to the leading broadcasting news station. She thought I should try my hand at broadcast journalism. I then worked as a morning news writer for a cable news channel in Seattle — starting at 4 a.m. and writing 4-5 stories every hour and a half. That was tough! But, when you want to get ahead, you have to make your mark, prove your work ethic and talent and get noticed.
For about a year and a half, I worked two jobs, 7 days a week — half-time as the Asst. Editor at the IE, and half-time as a morning news writer. At the time, I experimented with which direction in journalism I wanted to pursue — broadcasting or print. I ultimately knew I enjoyed working behind the scenes in print much more. I found more fulfillment in that. Then the role as Editor in Chief became open and here I am today, 3 1/2 years later.
If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?
Funny question! Not egotistical at all! 🙂
I’d have to say Zhang Ziyi then — she plays powerfully independent women who at the same time, are learning about their vulnerability. She acts through her eyes.
How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?
We’re the only non-profit Asian American publication in the country. This means we have a cause linked to what we do. This directs our goals. Also, I’m an accessible person — anyone can contact me to learn more or develop an internship or volunteer opportunity with us. One of our missions is to support young people to use their interests and burgeoning skills for the betterment of the community.
If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?
I can’t see the future, but I can express my hope. I hope the next generation will take up the torch left by our previous one — full of pioneers and leaders — and continue to work together to evolve the community, meet its needs, and embrace our unique identity as Asian Americans. I hope we find courage in ourselves and in one another to not fear speaking out against wrongs and acting for the benefit of change. Never believe that there’s nothing to believe in.
Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young professionals? What advice do you have for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?
Don’t be afraid to start over. Every person is capable of change and adapting to new situations. For a lot of young professionals, they want to get that cozy job and stay within their comfort zone. And that’s fine, if that’s your cup of tea. But for most of us, we need to fully realize our potential and challenge who we are and what we are capable of doing in this world. It can be humbling to start over. Unfortunately, young people often compare themselves to their friends or counterparts who they perceive as successful. But who cares what those people are doing?! They didn’t have your up-bringing, your personality, your experiences. They aren’t you. You have special things to contribute. And the more you work on what makes you genuinely happy in all aspects of life, the last thing you’ll do is compare yourself to others. Imagine that person in your life you look up to. Do they care what others think? Or if someone is “better” than them? Have courage to be yourself.
Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?
Vietnamese food, all day long! My mom’s pork stews, fish stewed in clay pots, and sour soups are phenomenal. I’ll always remember visiting Vietnam years ago, eating from a big pot of Vietnamese stew, barefoot, in a hut, surrounded by relatives at sunset. Life should always be so simple. I’m only learning now that simplicity leads a happy life.
Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?
This glutinous experience: Toasting a cranberry-vodka with close friends over a massive table of empty dishes that once held steaks, jambalaya, oysters, creamy pastas, and gooey desserts. Mmm. I’m going to go get dinner now.
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