William Yukon Chang, a Hawaiian-born journalist whose English-language newspaper for the children of Chinese immigrants in New York sought to promote an American identity in them, died Sept. 4 in San Francisco. He was 103.
His daughter Dallas Chang confirmed his death, at a rehabilitation facility.
For 17 years starting in 1955, Chang’s monthly Chinese-American Times chronicled life, culture and politics in the Chinese community in New York, particularly in Chinatown, though he defined the broader East Coast as his coverage area.
“New York’s Chinese-American community was pretty small at the time and not powerful politically, and Bill spoke for them,” Charlotte Brooks, a history professor at Baruch College in Manhattan, said in a phone interview. “He was determined to give the community a voice and something they could be proud of.”
His was one of the few English-language newspapers in operation in the 1950s and ’60s that were aimed at a multigenerational Chinese American readership. “He wanted them to feel they were American, yet still Chinese,” Chang said, “that they belonged to America, and that there were others like them.”
Chang’s stewardship of the newspaper coincided with his other endeavors in Chinatown, where his local profile and fluency in English made him a sought-after translator, a confidant to old-school Chinese familial associations, a go-between in landlord-tenant disputes and a voice on the neighborhood’s community board.
“If card games turned into gambling dens and got busted, he could translate with the police,” Chang said. “If someone got caught by immigration, he knew bail bondsmen.”
By 1964, when he said he had about 3,000 subscribers, Chang felt that he had helped educate Chinese Americans and brought respect to them.
“After 50 years in New York,” he told The New York Post that year, “we are finally a minority group. We are no longer just an oddity. Now I’d like to help speed up our assimilation.”
William Yu-Kon Chang was born Jan. 1, 1916, in Honolulu. His father, William Sang Chang, was a merchant seaman; his mother, Kui Kyau Lee, was a homemaker. He learned to speak both Chinese and English fluently.
After graduating from high school in Honolulu, Chang left for Shanghai. There he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at St. John’s University, an Anglican school founded by American missionaries.