AALDEF: Report from 2012 Gala

February 10, 2012 – CNN Host Fareed Zakaria, Yale Law School Professor Jean Koh Peters, and Parkin Lee of The Rockefeller Group were honored with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s (AALDEF) 2012 Justice in Action Awards on February 8, 2012.

Juju Chang, Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC News Nightline, and Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs and digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School, were the co-emcees for the banquet, with Daily Show correspondent, actor, and master of satire Aasif Mandvi as the special guest. Chang and Sreenivasan, both long time supporters of AALDEF, began by sharing their highlights of the past year, from Chang’s interviews with celebrities like Celine Dion to Sreenivasan’s ambush by right-wing activist James O’Keefe.

Over 800 leaders in civil rights, law, business, and the arts attended the ceremony at Pier Sixty in New York City. Among the guests were past Justice in Action Award recipients including actor BD Wong, AB Cruz III, Harold Koh, Sandra Leung, and Don Liu. Elected officials and judges were also part of the crowd, including New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, and Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who currently graces the cover of TIME magazine (leading emcee Sreenivasan to joke that his celebrity factor was compensation for New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin’s absence.)

AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung wished the audience a happy lunar new year and reminded them of the necessity of their support. “There are reports of the NYPD’s targeting of Muslims and South Asians under the guise of national security,” said Fung. “Just this week, the Superbowl featured a racist political ad by Republican candidate Pete Hoekstra mocking Chinese people. So in the Year of the Dragon, we have our work cut out for us.”

The power of the immigrant experience in the United States was a theme throughout all three acceptance speeches. “We are creating the first universal nation,” said honoree Fareed Zakaria. “Ten years before I became a citizen, I began using the word ‘we’ to describe the United States. There isn’t a country like this where people from all over the world come and are entirely included in the process.” (View clip on YouTube)

Parkin Lee, former president of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation and Vice President of The Rockefeller Group, spoke about his childhood growing up in a Chinese hand laundry after World War II. “This country was built on the strength and creativity of immigrants who came here and made lives for themselves,” said Lee.

Honoree Jean Koh Peters, the renowned children’s rights and immigrants’ rights scholar, reminded the audience of the value of public service. “Never let your skill exceed your virtue,” Peters said.

The night ended with Aasif Mandvi’s hilarious and deeply politically incorrect stand-up. “I thought they were filming this portion of the show for Comedy Central, but really it’s for the NYPD,” he began. Mandvi added, “AALDEF is at the forefront of fighting for the rights of Muslim Americans. If you believe that all Americans should live in a free and equal society – and I can’t imagine why you would – then please support the organization.”

Since 1987, AALDEF has awarded the Justice in Action Award to exceptional individuals for their efforts in advancing social justice and human rights for Asian Americans. Past Justice in Action Award recipients include the late civil rights icons Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi, David Henry Hwang, Mira Nair, Deval Patrick, Salman Rushdie, Seymour Hersh, Charles Ogletree, Jr., Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Harry Belafonte, Juan Gonzalez, Margaret Cho, and Yoko Ono.

The Rockefeller Group was a 2012 Justice Circle sponsor.

All proceeds from the Lunar New Year Gala will go directly towards supporting AALDEF’s legal and educational programs in immigrant rights, economic justice for workers, voting rights and civic participation, affirmative action, language access to services,¬†youth rights and¬†educational equity, housing and environmental justice, Census policy, and the elimination of hate violence, police misconduct, and human trafficking.

View video clips from the awards at the Justice in Action webpage >

Please credit the following images to Lia Chang.

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Ujala Sehgal
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