Staff Columnist

Ashes to Ashes: Greetings, from a California kid

In the words of the late, great David Bowie, “Ashes to ashes, funk to funky/We know Major Tom’s a junkie.”

What do those lyrics mean exactly? I have yet to get to a solid answer, but my name is Ashley and I’m new in town. Hello!

It’s often difficult for me to pick out what is important and poignant about who I am, but the SparkNotes version of my life’s story up to this point is that I’m a first-generation Asian-American, born and raised in San Francisco and the eldest of three children. Growing up, I played competitive tennis and was a pretty big bookworm who was interested in all things related to true crime, cults and science fiction. I lived and breathed “Harry Potter” for far longer than was socially acceptable and was a little too intrigued by the story of Jonestown.

Following high school, I attended the University of California, Irvine (Go Anteaters!), majoring in journalism and philosophy, and just a few short months after my graduation, I moved out to Mt. Pleasant to take on a position as a reporter.

From even before I began my collegiate career, I was told repeatedly that my fields of study would result in meaningless degrees — a hard life eking out an existence on pennies and dimes (which has not turned out to be true thus far).

The warnings I received from relatives, while discouraging, were mostly out of concern and love. As a child of immigrants, the stakes always feel a little higher. There’s a pressure to go into something lucrative, to justify the sacrifices my parents made that allowed me to get this far. It’s the cause of a lot of tension in many families, but my stubbornness would not allow me to give up. I love writing and I particularly love journalism, and I was willing to go wherever the job took me.

It goes without saying that Iowa is very different from California. There are a lot more cornfields and gravel roads, and a lot less Chinese food here, but I’ve found that the stories I come across no matter where I am, share many of the same motivations and truths.

In the two weeks that I’ve been here, through stories that I’ve written, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the depth and power of grief to inspire action, seen what it truly means to pursue a passion out of nothing but genuine curiosity and have widened the breadth of my knowledge on all things related to farming. It’s been quite an adventure and I look forward to learning even more.

What attracts me to journalism is the opportunity to understand the world through the perspectives of others. I’m often touched by the deep complexities of humanity that exist in the everyday lives of people around me. And in attempting to capture that experience and helping to record exactly what it means to live a day in our current world, I am here.

The great joy of my work is that most days, I get to look into someone’s eyes and ask them, in one form or another, “so what’s this crazy life like for you?”

And really, what better job can there be?

I realize I can sound a little too idealistic, but I am genuinely excited to be here and get to know this community even better. Most things in Iowa are new to me, so if you have a cool story you think I should check out or even just want to chat, please don’t hesitate to reach me at ashley.duong@southeastiowaunion.com