2008.041.003 Oral History Interview with Ti-Hua Chang
Ti-Hua Chang is a prominent television journalist based in New York City. He has been awarded the Peabody, Edward R. Murrow, and numerous Emmy awards for his investigative journalism. Chang is especially proud of discovering the four witnesses to the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers, which led to the re-opening of that famous case. Chang’s father was a renowned journalist who covered various significant events, including the Hiroshima bombing. Chang decided to follow his father into the journalism profession, despite his father’s advice to become a doctor. However, it was difficult for Chang to land a job in television. His friend, Al Itilson, pointed out to him that his Asian identity was probably hindering his job opportunities. As a result, Chang decided to change his name to increase his chances of being hired. Chang eventually got his first job in Mississippi, where he was able to embrace his full name and identity. He understood the significant impact using his full name has on underrepresented communities. He believes that a journalist’s role is to hold to account the government and give a voice to the people. In January 2009, Chang reported a story on Asian poverty,which highlighted the economic struggles of Asian Americans, particularly immigrants. Chang concludes by emphasizing the importance of journalism for democracy and the need for diverse voices to accurately portray society. He believes that fewer journalists would be bad for democracy and Asian Americans because, to cover the Asian American story, you would need Asian Americans.


My father was one of the best journalists in all of Asia. He was the first allied correspondent to go to Hiroshima one month after the bombing. We have photographs to prove that. You can actually see the streaks on the photographs from the radiation. The doctors here suspect he got rheumatoid arthritis, which eventually killed him, because of that exposure to the radiation. He was a great journalist, but growing up, my father would say to me, "Don't become a journalist; I want you to be a doctor."

Going into television was a job for me, and I didn't realize the racism against Asian American men and Asian men in this society until I was trying to get jobs. I had a long period of unemployment, and I called up the guy who had helped me get my first job; his name was Al Itilson, and I said, "Al, should I quit being a reporter? I've been unemployed for nearly a year now. Should I just go to law school like my parents want?" And he said, "No, you're a good reporter. They're not hiring you because you're an Asian male." This was coming from someone who's a friend of mine, who's helping me with my career. He said to me, "When I look at your face, as an Asian male, and I'm the boss, my shoulders get tense and my stomach gets queasy, because I see you and I think of a karate expert, a Chinese laundryman, or a Japanese XXXXXXXX soldier.

The perception of me as a human being, and as an American, is definitely influenced by my face, which is Asian, and to my name, Ti-Hua Chang. When I graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a Masters in Journalism, I was unemployed for a year. I sent out my resume and I couldn't get anybody to respond. So I changed my name, at that point, to T. H. Chang; still couldn't get anybody to respond. My brother said to me, "You know, they probably think you can't speak English." So then I put "U.S. Citizen," and he said, "Well, now it looks like you just got naturalized and became an American citizen." So I had to change my name to T. H. Chang and put "Born in New York City," so people would know, yes, I speak English.

When I got to Mississippi, my first job--the only job I could get--was in a place called Biloxi, Mississippi. And I learned a lot there; the people were good in Biloxi. And what happened--when I left Biloxi to go to Philadelphia for a job, an African American reporter asked me, "What does T. H. stand for?" And I said, "It stands for Ti-Hua." And he said, "Well, why didn't you use your full name?" I said, "Well, I'm in the South, everyone's J. C., Billy Bob, whatever--I figured T. H. Chang would work fine--what difference does it make?" He said to me, "Well, it might have made some difference to those Vietnamese children living in the New Orleans area if you'd used Ti-Hua instead of T. H. They might have been prouder of their names." And I looked at him and I said some expletive view, and I said, "but you're absolutely right." And from that point on, my name has always been my name--Ti-Hua Chang.

I think a journalist's job is to be a balance to the government and a voice to the people, especially people who have no voice. When I cover stories about Asian Americans, the most important thing is to tell the truth. Don't paint a better picture, but don't paint a worse picture. Just tell the full spectrum of the truth about a community.

In January, 2009, I did a story called "Asian Poverty." It was about the reality of being an Asian American in New York City and how most of the Asian Americans in New York City are, in fact, poor. There are those who are doing well in life, especially those who speak English well, but there are many, many more, especially the new immigrants who don't speak English well, who have the invisible jobs--the jobs in the restaurants, the jobs in construction, the jobs that don't pay well. When I saw the people lining up at night who were either unemployed and elderly, who were obviously hungry and really having trouble making ends meet, having trouble getting enough to eat--when I saw that, that basically inspired me and prompted me to work harder.

If there are fewer journalists, it's bad for democracy. And, in fact, if there are fewer journalists, and it's bad for democracy, it's also bad for Asian Americans, because being able to cover the Asian American story--to tell the Asian American story honestly and fairly--I believe you need Asian Americans.

I'm Ti-Hua Chang; I'm a television reporter in New York City.

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