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The hero I never met

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

When it comes to women pioneers in the media arts industry, I can think of no Asian-American woman more influential than legendary Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and educator Loni Ding.

An independent artist, journalist, teacher, activist, mother, mentor, and fire-starter, Loni produced more than 250 broadcast programs for public television and international broadcast. Her fierce advocacy for public television and independent film led her to establish the National Asian American Telecommunications Association (NAATA), which is now known as the Center for Asian American Media(CAAM). Along with showcasing Asian-American independent cinema, NAATA/CAAM led the way for Asian American works to be broadcast on public television. Many Asian-American filmmakers today have been directly influenced or touched by Loni’s work.

Sadly, Loni passed away in Oakland on February 20, 2010 at the age of 78 as a result of a series of strokes. I regret that I never had the chance to meet Loni but I feel like I know her because her legacy lives on in San Diego through our work with the San Diego Asian Film Foundation.

I am certain that had Loni not begun NAATA in 1980, there probably wouldn’t be a San Diego Asian Film Festival or Foundation today. In fact, it was our participation in a national roundtable of media arts organizations, artists, and activists hosted by NAATA in 1999 that gave impetus to kick-start “the movement” here in San Diego eleven years ago.

Today, there are more than a dozen Asian-American film festivals around North America (including San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dallas, Philadelphia, and Portland) that embrace Loni’s mission to document and share the Asian-American experience with the broadest audience possible and fight for community access to such programming. In addition, there are armies of students, filmmakers, and community organizers who have all been touched by Loni’s fire to seek the truth and create a just society.

We are a better community because of Loni, and I will forever be grateful for the path she blazed for all of us.

Lee Ann Kim is the executive director of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation. She is a former journalist. She can be reached at LeeAnnKim@SDAFF.org