Today, Asian-Americans everywhere can rejoice when they turn on their televisions—they finally see people who look like them, such as Randall Park as an American Dream-chasing immigrant dad on Fresh Off the Boat or dreamboat Daniel Henney as an FBI agent on the recently premiered spin-off series Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. But for arts-and-entertainment writer Ada Tseng, who wrote cover stories on both actors before their big breaks, a more diverse Hollywood couldn’t come soon enough.
“I’ve just been following these people’s careers because that’s always been the question: Is Hollywood finally going to get more diverse?” the Placentia resident says. “Now things are changing, and it’s exciting to see people I covered years ago finally getting the roles they deserve.”
The 33-year-old Tseng has been reporting and writing on Asian-Americans in the entertainment industry for more than a decade, long before social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter made it easier for people of color to spread awareness on social issues and raise their own voices. Shortly after graduating from college, in 2006 Tseng was named the managing editor of Asia Pacific Arts, an online ethnic arts publication started at UCLA. She and her team navigated a niche in journalism that hadn’t been touched since the heyday of A Magazine, YOLK and Giant Robot in the mid-1990s.
“In the beginning, no one was really writing about diversity in Hollywood because it was a pretty rare deal, so it felt like we were a part of a secret club,” Tseng says with a laugh. “We thought all these small Asian films and directors and actors were cool, but no one else knew about them.”
Journalism was a profession she adopted hesitantly. Born to Taiwanese-immigrant parents in the Silicon Valley, Tseng felt pressured to pursue a more practical career, and to the delight of her engineer father, she majored in computer science at UCLA. It wasn’t long before she realized she had a knack for writing, and after a couple of internships at pop-culture magazines, she knew where she wanted to be.
Now Tseng has racked up an impressive number of bylines in the likes of LA Weekly, KoreAm Journal, Audrey Magazine and NBC Asian America, covering everything from high-profile stars such as Lucy Liu to a surprisingly well-managed fan club honoring the K-pop girl group Girls’ Generation. She earned her MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College in 2011 and was named a Society of Features Journalism diversity fellow last year.
But to many, Tseng is known as the woman behind the infamous Haikus With Hotties series, a silly-but-clever idea that featured attractive Asian-American male stars and their handwritten haikus among the pages of Audrey Magazine; it gained so much popularity it was turned into a smokin’-hot calendar, à la Sports Illustrated. She has since taken her storytelling abilities further into the digital realm with her podcast Bullet Train, on which she examines trends in pop culture from the “hot mom” phenomenon in China to the popularity of Japanese dating games. And while she’s pleased to see the amount of diversity in the media today, Tseng doesn’t think her job will ever really be over.
“We have a handful more Asian-Americans being represented than we did back then, but that doesn’t mean that now we have a sitcom that we’re done,” Tseng says. “We’ve got a long way to go, and there are an unlimited amount of untold stories out there, so how can I not tell them?”