Helen Zia

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Helen Zia (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: 谢汉兰; pinyin: Xiè Hànlán; born 1952) is an American journalist and scholar who has covered Asian American communities and social and political movements for decades.

Life and career[edit]

Zia was born in New Jersey to first generation immigrants from Shanghai. She entered Princeton University in the early 1970s and was a member of its first graduating class of women. As a student, Zia was among the founders of the Asian American Students Association. She was also a vocal anti-war activist, voicing her Opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, a firm believer in feminism, and active in movements creating cross racial unity among low income people of color.

She entered medical school in 1974, but quit in 1976. She moved to Detroit, Michigan. She went to work as a construction laborer, an autoworker and a community organizer, after which she discovered her life’s work as a journalist and writer.

Zia's time in Detroit overlapped with the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. Zia played a crucial role in bringing federal civil rights charges against the perpetrators of Vincent's killing and in igniting an Asian American response to the crime through her journalism and advocacy work. At the time, little existed in terms of a cohesive and organized Asian American movement in Detroit, but Zia's journalism helped to galvanize the Asian American community to demand justice for Vincent Chin.

In January 2000, Zia authored Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People,[1] a finalist for the prestigious Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. President of the United States Bill Clinton quoted from Asian American Dreams at two separate speeches in the White House Rose Garden.

She also co-authored, with Wen Ho Lee, of My Country Versus Me,[2] in January 2002, which reveals what happened to the Los Alamos scientist who was falsely accused of being a spy for the People's Republic of China in the “worst case since the Rosenbergs.”

Zia is the former Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine. Her articles, essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, books and anthologies. She was named one of the most influential Asian Americans of the decade by A. Magazine.

Zia has received numerous journalism awards for her ground-breaking stories; her investigation of date rape at the University of Michigan led to campus demonstrations and an overhaul of its policies. She has also been outspoken on issues ranging from civil rights and peace to women's rights and countering hate violence and homophobia. In 1997, she testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the racial impact of the news media.

She traveled to Beijing in 1995 to the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women as part of a journalists of color delegation. She has appeared in numerous news programs and films; her work on the 1980s Asian American landmark civil rights case of anti-Asian violence is documented in the Academy Award nominated film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” and she was profiled in Bill Moyers' PBS documentary, “Becoming American: The Chinese Experience.

Zia received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the Law School of the City University of New York for bringing important matters of law and civil rights into public view.

In June 2008, Zia married her partner Lia Shigemura in San Francisco as one of the first same sex couples to legally marry in the state of California. [3]


  1. ^ Zia, Helen (2000). Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0374527369. 
  2. ^ Zia, Helen (2002). My Country Versus Me. Hyperion. ISBN 0786868031. 
  3. ^ "Helen Zia: A Disobedient Daughter and Her Passion For Justice". 

External links[edit]