Interview by Xeng Moua
My name is Gaogia Vang. A lot of people call me “Gia” for short. I was born in Modesto, California. I am the main anchor at the Fox affiliate T.V. station in Fresno, California. I’m so lucky that I absolutely enjoy what I do! Some days are harder than others, depending on the news, but it is rewarding work to be able to communicate what’s happening locally and nationally to the community you’re covering.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew what I liked to do. I knew I enjoyed my English classes over other subjects. I knew I’d rather write an essay than take an exam. I knew I enjoyed talking to people. I knew people liked talking to me for some reason. I knew I liked colors and patterns. With all that in mind, I declared my major as journalism when I enrolled at Sacramento State. I didn’t know exactly what journalism entailed, but I thought – at that point – I wanted to write for a fashion magazine.
As I got to my last year of college, I needed to do an internship. I had a lot of training in print journalism up until this point because that’s what the courses for the journalism degree were at Sacramento State. Some of my professors had warned the classes more than once, that the print journalism industry was “dying.” That message stuck with me and loomed a bit when I made a decision to get an internship at a local TV station. I can tell you that when I walked into that newsroom, that was the moment I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever monster this was. Fast-paced. Ever-changing. Loud. I was hooked.
I get asked a lot what is my favorite story to cover. No one favorite story ever stands out. I just know my favorite week in my career came in 2015, covering the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. I got to cover the Super Bowl parties. That meant red carpet interviews with stars, exclusive looks at highly-touted parties, and of course, getting to go to the parties. Too bad it had to end with the Patriots winning. I kid, people. Sort of.
My friend and photographer, Matthew Hensley, and I worked long hours, on our own time, to make this piece about the changing cultures of the north end of Kansas City, sing. It was truly a labor of love. I think it was special for both of us when others in our industry saw it as that too, and nominated us for an Emmy. We didn’t go home with the statue that night. But that’s OK. It’s a little silly because I think awards are arbitrary.
I made a lot of mistakes when I first got into this industry. A lot. Fumbling my words on live shots, writing long, drawn-out stories, breaking equipment. Oh, yes, the latter happened. A few times. I would feel horrible about some of those mistakes. I’d describe it as a stomach-twisting feeling that could make me sick. So, I’d consider how you feel about yourself and how you bounce back as a major hurdle of mine. I had to learn how to accept failure, bring it with me along my journey, and move forward. I’m a firm believer that the deeper you fail, the higher the moments of reward. I’m grateful for my failures, in that sense, so don’t ever be afraid to fail.
I like to think I just do something I enjoy. And because I do that, the reward is just a by-product. I do, however, understand I have a platform. A platform that speaks to thousands, and has the power to influence. When I meet younger kids, they think I’m somebody. So, the words I say matter. I take that seriously. From a high school kid who tells me that his sister still talks about the day she met me and the kind words I said to her about her speech, or when I get letters from high school students who tell me my message about being your authentic self, resonated with them, that’s when my job is most rewarding.
Fairness inspires me to cover stories. We have an obligation as a news source to go after facts, and get differing opinions to present to the viewers so they can make informed choices. That’s our job. I still believe it in, and try to go in every day with that mentality.
I feel honored that some people think I do something pretty cool. Having said that, I think we (Hmong people) have to start thinking that these professions are not “out of the box.” TV news is an industry with individuals who have the same degrees and resumes as me and many other Hmong people. We’ve come a long way around the world and we should absolutely be proud of that. We also need to start believing that we’re just as capable as others.
My advice to others chasing their goals and dreams is if it doesn’t feel right in your gut, recalibrate and find something that does. Something that feels authentic to who you are. Don’t worry about the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We’re always evolving and we can, and many will, pursue more than one career in their lifetime. Be open to the process. Work hard. Be good to people along the way.