Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act

CAAM Executive Director Stephen Gong, speaking at the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act at the Library of Congress.
"You can’t fully participate in this society unless you see yourselves and your stories told in this society." - Stephen Gong

Founded in 1980, the Center for Asian American Media is a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. With funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, CAAM provides support to Asian American projects for public media. We believe that stories told from a deep cultural perspective have the unique ability to encourage personal reflection, stimulate engaged civic discourse, and make positive change both inside specific communities and throughout society at large.

CAAM’s Executive Director, Stephen Gong, spoke on a panel at the Library of Congress commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act. The event celebrates 50 years of public tv and radio with a series of panels featuring pioneers and experts in public broadcasting. Watch the panel here. Gong’s speech is below:

“The seeds of the [National] Minority Consortia, independent and diverse filmmakers, really goes back to the same era of the Great Society, so many entities founded in the 70s and it came out of civil rights and on the rapidly changing demographics of the country which was starting to be recognized even then. The Hart-Celler Act, the immigration act was rewritten in 1965. Even though it’s taken the rest a generation, it has reshaped America.

So in this time period between the 60s to the 80s, the Asian Americans went from one percent to six, we’re over 20 million and the fastest-growing. The premise that we all had as this whole enterprise was getting underway—was where were the voices for these other communities, for whom our presence in media overall was an absence or of stereotypes?

So for Asian Americans, in entertainment media, we are the villains in war movies, the houseboys, gangsters in Chinatown, or laundrymen.

And yet we have this inspiration of the Civil Rights Movement to recognize how important it was to participate in society.

So the mechanism for us in the Minority Consortia and the wisdom of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was to help ensure that there was a pipeline of programming which was by and about these new minority communities.

The National Minority Consortia (NMC), the five entities [Center for Asian American Media, Latino Public Broadcasting, Vision Maker Media, National Black Programming Consortium, Pacific Islanders in Communications], have been doing this for 30-35 years now.

We have learned something deeper in this construct that it was important to include the perspective of people of color in telling diverse kinds of stories, be they history or social issues or even our cultural history.

I think at first, we thought we were presenting authentic images that our own communities could recognize—one piece is that you can’t fully participate in this society unless you see yourselves and your stories told in this society.

The second point—we came to understand relatively quickly after that, was that these stories need to be for all Americans and not just Asian Americans. The Asian American would be a good example because we’re so diverse so different in language and cultural backgrounds and in some ways you are no expert in any other culture but your own in this construct of Asian America.

In recent years, I think where we are today in this question of “Who is an American? and “What is it that makes America great? “ We took for granted that diversity and acceptance was a key factor of the America experience but it is vital that we stand in for this notion of what this country can be.  And we’re not just about our racial stories, diversity is within each of our communities as well and I think that’s the larger piece to re-shift the way we all talk about what is our common history, the way we examine things. I think we’re still exploring what these different points of view mean and it’s a journey we’ll all need to be on because we don’t have the guide stone of a white, European, male-dominated through-line of history.”

Panelists: David Fanning, creator, “Frontline,” Clayborne Carson, founder and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute; senior adviser, Eyes on the Prize, Stephen Gong, director, Center for Asian American Media, Margaret Drain, former executive producer of “American Experience,” Patricia Aufderheide, university professor of Communication Studies at American University (moderator)