Loni Ding: An Appreciation

Isadora Quanehia Ding Welsh, or Ding Bick Lon, known as Loni Ding, passed away peacefully on February 20, 2010 at Summit Hospital in Oakland, following a stroke. She was 78.
Loni Ding

Isadora Quanehia Ding Welsh, or Ding Bick Lon, known as Loni Ding, passed away peacefully on February 20, 2010 at Summit Hospital in Oakland, following a stroke. She was 78.

I first met Loni in 1980, in Washington, DC, as she was organizing the conference that would result in the formation of what would become CAAM. I was a junior program officer at the National Endowment for the Arts, and because we were one of the very few sources of funding for independent film, Loni encouraged me to attend this first ever conference of Asian American filmmakers, video producers and media activists at UC Berkeley.


I say “encouraged” but the truth was, she insisted. This was characteristic of Loni’s power of persuasion, and of her understanding of what it was going to take to create a public media organization supporting programs by and about Asian Americans for the broad public television audience. Because she had worked at KQED as well as the San Francisco Chinatown community, Loni understood better than anyone else that the time was right for such an organization but because our numbers were small, it would take everyone who had a stake.

She pulled us together, but then stepped aside, encouraging other members of the steering committee and then board, and then staff, to develop NAATA/CAAM. Her calling, it turned out was to be a storyteller and educator, and not an administrator. And the stories she told in THE COLOR OF HONOR and ANCESTORS IN AMERICA, and many other wonderful and important documentaries have changed the way millions of Americans have understood our common history. She taught history and she made history.


There is something else that I personally owe to Loni. She taught me a lot about being Chinese-American mainly through asking me questions about my parents and their parents and their particular immigration saga. Then her eyes would sparkle and she would explain how their experiences compared with that of other Chinese-Americans, helping me understand and appreciate their challenges, dreams and hopes for all of us who follow. She was a terrific teacher and mentored the careers of many filmmakers and educators who took her course on documentary film in the community at UC Berkeley. And when I got a chance to be a lecturer in Asian American Studies and eventually to return to CAAM, she was always there to encourage me. I say “encourage” but the truth was, through her inspiration, she insisted.

Stephen Gong

On behalf of her many colleagues and friends we’re developing an award in Loni’s memory that celebrates her passion for documentary filmmaking that gives voice to underrepresented communities. For more information contact admin [at] asianamericanmedia [dot] org.

We invite you to share your memories of Loni on this site. Please make comments below.

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  • Stephen,

    I remember you from that 1980 National Conference of Asian Pacific Producers in Public Broadcasting. I remember Loni calling all the producers we knew or could think of to help stuff envelopes and compile mailing lists or plan workshops and events for the conference. I want to comment on one side of the many sides of Loni.

    Loni Ding was an Asian American pioneer in journalism though she was not known as a journalist. She had the eyes, ears and instincts of a journalist. She knew every body had a story to tell and how to get it out of them. If journalism is dedicated to the proposition that the truth shall set you free, then she was a journalist in the purest sense. She used her journalistic skills – researching, writing, questioning, pitching – to get to the heart of a matter, to get the facts straight, to go straight to the sources and let them speak, or to help them find their own voices to share with the world. She pioneered in giving people from the community the means of production to tell their stories.

    I first met her in 1970 at KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco that for 20 long years had resisted the obvious – that the local Asian American community deserved a voice on the air, that Chinese Americans, whose capital resided in that quaint gilded ghetto called Chinatown, deserved to be represented if not truthfully reflected in the staff, if not the content of that broadcasting medium. I was there to break into on-air television news reporting, as one of the first in the country. She was there (since the year before) to help organize and produce the first Chinese-English bilingual television programming in these parts: Sut Yung Ying Yee, 65 Emmy Award-winning half-hour shows – practical English lessons in Chinese and English with a Chinese American educator, Larry Lew. She helped translate lesson plans into television scripts complete with viewer guides and packets of audiocassette tapes. It was a co-production of the Chinese Media Committee of Chinese for Affirmative Action and KPIX TV Westinghouse that set the standard for media and community collaboration. While at KPIX she also did one of the first pieces on the International Hotel and the issue of low-cost housing in San Francisco. Her report was the first told in the point of view of the tenants.

    In the 1970s, she pioneered community access to television with the creation of Open Studio on KQED. It was a production unit in which people from the community could come in produce their own shows with professional support and guidance and a broadcast service which put more than 700 programs on the air on a daily basis for seven years, with some going national. As senior producer and director she helped created more than 250 half-hour programs in a multiplicity of styles and formats.

    Loni opened up public broadcasting to Asian American voices and Asian American productions. In 1975 her How We Got Here: The Chinese, a half-hour historical essay that turned personal memoirs of five immigrant generations into documentary narrative coupled with a radio simulcast in Chinese raised a new standard in broadcasting.

    When the Archaeological Finds from the People’s Republic of China made a stop in San Francisco on its world-wide tour, Loni was in position with the needed credibility, contacts, and chutzpah to go after a major project of diplomatic, technical and creative complexity. By helming 600 MILLENNIA: CHINA’S HISTORY UNEARTHED a 90-minute documentary for KQED and PBS, Loni became the first Asian American producer-director to land a prime-time national network television special in the U.S.

    It was groundbreaking not only for its content but for establishing the viability of Asian American producers. No one else since has surpassed these kinds of breakthroughs. Perhaps those of us who survive or have learned from her work and her teachings will carry on this and other streams of her legacy. For the good of all. Rest in peace, Loni Ding.

    Christopher Chow

  • Thank you, Stephen, for posting this. I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Loni’s passing. What an incredibly powerful force she was, and what an amazing legacy she leaves through her work and personal inspiration to so many. I had the great fortune of working with her starting in the late 90s to develop her first full web site, raise funds for her Ancestors in the Americas series, and to promote the series to the educational market. She worked with so much energy, passion and commitment. I know how long and hard she worked, with Dave’s help, to try to raise money to complete the groundbreaking Ancestors series, which remains unfinished due to lack of funds. I love your idea for creating an award in her memory. Perhaps one other legacy CAAM could help with is to create a fund that would enable completion of the Ancestors series. May Loni continue to inspire us all to do what needs to be done – and with her high level of creativity and passion.

  • Remembering Loni Ding, filmmaker and activist
    A great friend and supporter of Third World Newsreel, Loni was a social issue filmmaker as well as a professor, advocate and activist. We will miss her but will cherish her memory and her body of work.

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