By Shirley N Lew
AsAmNews New York Correspondent
I never imagined I’d be able to attend a political convention. The thought never crossed my mind, but when I was invited to be part of an all female video production team at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, I was very honored to have been offered the opportunity.
For a week, I was working for the Heritage Series LLC, a company that produces “Inspirational Documentaries about U.S. Ethnic & Minority Cultures.” The video team included co-founder, Samantha Cheng and Anastasia Walsh, the production assistant and myself.
The team traveled around the Philadelphia Convention Center (PCC), the location where DNC caucuses and meetings were held, and the Wells Fargo Center (WFC), the location of the “convention floor.” Overall, The Heritage Series conducted approximately 50 primary source interviews with Asian American Pacific Islander delegates, speakers and guests, and captured 500 static and moving images for historical and archival purposes.
During our stay in Philadelphia, we were hosted by Andy and Pat Toy who lived mere blocks from the PCC. Andy is the Development and Communications Director of the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistant Associations Coalitions, Inc. He and his wife are very active in their community and it was such a pleasure meeting them. The Toy family legacy is featured in the wonderful book pictured below. It was delightful meeting a couple with such fascinating family history. We are grateful for the Toy’s hospitality and for putting up with us returning between the hours of 11:30pm-1:30am daily.
Our video team was a part of a larger network, the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) DNC media team. These media warriors came from all over the nation and we all worked in a bull pen type fashion. Some warriors worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Democratic Party or for the Democratic National Convention. The team leaders of the AAPI DNC media team worked really hard to have everyone synchronized somehow. Some warriors were delegated to create daily newsletters, monitored the campaign for key points from speakers, sent emails to everyone on what content to push out to the media and what talking points to emphasize to the press. They worked around the clock like elves pushing out content to support Clinton’s campaign. Although my video team and I were part of their network, we worked independently from them and our team was not involved with the Clinton campaign.
My team dressed comfortably as we carried our video gear so we could move quickly. After the first day I quickly decided against flat shoes and wore sneakers with my dresses for the duration of the convention. It was the winning look of many women. Comfort reigns, heels do not.
For three of the four convention days, the three of us transported ourselves back and forth between the two locations which were miles a part. Our mission was to record the Asian American presence and experience at the DNC. We interviewed attendees, influential leaders, politicians, delegates, citizens, basically anyone who was willing to speak to us on camera. Eventually the footage would be housed in the Library of Congress, but it was also offered to the press during the convention.
On Monday, the first day of the convention, I covered the AAPI caucus in the morning capturing b-roll in the room while Samantha and Anastasia were outside eagerly trying to catch interviews with any Asian American politician and influential leader as they exited. Congresswoman Judy Chu, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Congressman Ted Lieu and more were present at the caucus.
We were looking forward to interviewing former Olympic ice skater Michelle Kwan but unfortunately we learned she dropped out from being a moderator at the AAPI caucus due to unknown reasons. The only celebrity I saw throughout the convention was Fresh Off The Boat star Constance Wu. She was on a panel that discussed Asian visibility. I tried to get an interview with her afterwards, but she was swarmed and quickly escorted out of the building. I tried.
On Tuesday, I met Janice Eng, a Chinese American delegate from Arizona walking out of the women’s caucus on Tuesday morning. I tried to interview her, but she was rushing to get to an event that I had to attend also, a dim sum brunch hosted by the Philadelphia AAPI community. I was able to get her on camera and interview her near the restaurant and was so glad that she agreed to do so. Eng had this fiery and passionate attitude about empowering other Asian Americans to do their part and to be involved. She also included some of her personal history as a message that we should not forget our roots. Eng was raised in New York such as myself and connected easily because we both had the same family name, Ng. That’s what happens when you’re Chinese and meet others with same name, you’re instantly family even if not related by blood.
Wednesday night I finagled my way into a better viewing section so that Anastasia and I could claim a seat like many others on stone steps which had a great spot on center view. We really didn’t belong there, but I got us through. That same night, when President Obama spoke, many of us thought, “selfie!” So, like the many hundreds of people, I took a selfie with Obama behind me on the convention floor. It was a great moment to hear Obama speak live before his term is over.
One of the biggest highlights was witnessing the AAPI caucus speak on the convention floor. It was the first time in political convention history that the AAPI Caucus was ever invited to speak. I experienced a historic and galvanizing moment and felt my pride as a Chinese American. As a young child there were not many Asian American faces in government, so to watch the opening video of the Asian American pioneers in government speak brought tears to my eye. It was such an inspiring and proud moment. Below is the entire full video (14min) when the AAPI Caucus was on the convention floor which was not covered on major news outlets.
For several days, my team and I spent a lot of time setting up and breaking down equipment, playing a game of beat the clock as we transported ourselves to and from events and dealing with security. We faced roadblocks for the first two and half days with security questioning our gear, but eventually we were cleared by the end of the second day after receiving three different type of credentials. If I were to ever attend another convention, packing patience and expecting chaos is key.
Technical issues with the cloud, poor lighting or sound for our interviews occurred on and off. Other things beyond our control included the scheduling of interviews. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t. There was not much we could do about interview schedules, so we had to let that go. We had to stay focused as best as we could and be on our feet figuratively and physically. Our minds were constantly running to be sure we had our equipment in working order and that we had extra batteries and if they were recharged.
In one instance we found a great place for an interview, but the backdrop was terrible, so I hacked a backdrop made up of color printed copies of the AAPI logo for Clinton’s campaign, then we taped it to the wall. It was moments like that we had to think and move quickly, and in doing so, there were some days we missed eating lunch or dinner. We survived on water, snack bars and dried fruit and nuts we packed from home. I ate two packs of Planters Nut and Chocolate for dinner while Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor. There was no time to wait on long lines for food.
On Thursday, the final night of the convention after many hours of waiting, Clinton finally spoke. Her speech, like any candidate spoke of how she is the better choice and how she would advocate for policies in the best interest of the nation. It surely was a historic moment to witness, the first female presidential nominee in US. It was the same night when Khizr Khan spoke about his son, a fallen US soldier. Now Khan is trending all over social media and the news. His speech was just so powerful. In my opinion, I certainly believe he deserved the standing ovation.
Thursday was a long night, but the three of us left the WFC on an incredible high. I didn’t mind the hot weather and the extremely cold convention rooms or the long lines to exit or enter a building. If I were to be offered to do this again, I am now better prepared. There were times when it was physically tiring, but we persevered. It was the first time the three of us attended a convention as videographers. My gear got heavier as the day went on, but the adrenaline kept me going.
Prior to leaving for the DNC, many friends wished me luck and wished me a safe trip. The Republican National Convention (RNC) played out on television with demonstrations and chaos in Cleveland, OH a week before the DNC, so I was expecting the same thing to occur when I arrived in Philadelphia, but I didn’t see it. I am not saying it didn’t happen. The ones I did see were not as angry and massive as the ones in Cleveland. If there were any, I simply was not aware of them because I was indoors working most of the time and barely watched any television. The three of of us could barely even remember what day it was and that was the truth. As chaotic it was every day working at the DNC, getting up really early and getting back really late, the experience was all worthwhile as I was able to experience such important firsts. As many of my friends know, I’m always hustling. At the DNC, Samantha, Anastasia and I certainly were hustling and I think we would do all over again. And guess what? We are. Samantha and I, and photojournalist Corky Lee, who will be joining us, are waiting for our credentials to be approved to record the AAPI 2016 presidential election forum in Las Vegas on August 12. Call me crazy? Nah….just part of the job that I enjoy.
What would you expect if you had a chance to attend a political convention?
How did you feel watching the video of the APPI caucus when they spoke on the convention floor?
Share your experience with us if you were ever a delegate or have attended a political convention.