Member Profile: Chris Kwok Reconstructs the Hidden Narratives of Asian America

In response to the anti-Asian violence and harassment exacerbated by COVID-19, Chris Kwok has created important spaces for the APIA community to address and heal from these discriminatory acts. As Chair of the Issues Committee of AABANY, Chris has organized numerous panels and discussions to educate individuals about the history of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia relating to public health crises, and has co-authored an op-ed for the New York Daily News on the topic.

Born in China, Chris moved to the United States in 1979, where his family was among the first wave of Asian immigrants to settle in Flushing. He had always been interested in history and was able to focus on Chinese and Asian American history as an undergraduate at Cornell. He then went on to UCLA Law School to continue his developing interest in civil rights and critical race theory. Chris served as a mediator for the New York District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Chris also served on the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and was the founding chair of the Asian American Pacific Islander Network. Currently, he is a mediator of labor and employment disputes at JAMS.

The idea that Asian Americans are carriers of disease is not new–it is deeply rooted in Western and American thought. Chris cites the bubonic plague outbreak in San Francisco in the early 1900s as an example of APIA communities being subjected to similar hatred and discrimination we see today. In order to better understand and combat the anti-Asian violence and rhetoric from COVID-19, and also to become better citizens and community members, Asian Americans must be aware of their own history in this country. Unfortunately, Asian American history is not mainstream: this education is not taught but must be self-directed. Through his programs and discussions, Chris hopes to share this under-acknowledged history and “reconstruct the narratives that are hidden in plain sight for most Asian Americans.” 

Over the past two months, Chris has organized and been featured in many events addressing anti-Asian violence and harassment. On April 3, he led a panel discussion through the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) that aimed to educate Asian American lawyers on the history of using public health concerns to justify anti-Asian sentiments. On April 20, Chris participated in a virtual town hall with Alvin Bragg, former Chief Deputy at the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where he spoke to a larger audience about multi-racial coalition building to combat all types of hate crimes. Chris also spoke on a panel for the Asian American Arts Alliance on May 19, where he discussed the rise in COVID-19 hate crimes and how Asian American artists have the power to retell the lost narratives of the APIA community in American history. On May 28, Chris gave the introductory remarks for a panel responding to a virtual trial reenactment of the Vincent Chin case, where he highlighted the relevance of Vincent Chin’s murder in the current environment of anti-Asian harassment and violence. Finally, Chris served as a panelist for the Thomson Reuters Asian Affinity Network on May 28, where he spoke to a corporate audience about the need to build consciousness and address these anti-Asian sentiments in a setting where conversations about diversity and inclusion are generally more constrained.

From the responses he has received from the discussions and panels, Chris has realized that Asian Americans yearn for a space to have these conversations about their histories and identities. The political and social culture that Asian Americans live in limits their opportunities to talk through experiences with discrimination, especially within a public sphere. Chris highlighted that many Asian Americans, given the current context of George Floyd’s murder and the greater Black Lives Matter protests, do not believe they should speak out about their own experiences of anti-Asian violence and harassment. There is no question that the Black community faces longer, systemic, and deadly forms of discrimination. But this does not mean that Asian Americans must be apologetic when talking about their own experiences with racism or stop having conversations addressing their own histories and identities. Rather, the APIA community can show solidarity with the Black community and recognize the experiences of African Americans, while also fighting against and raising awareness of anti-Asian sentiments. Both of these conversations can occur at the same time, as long as Asian Americans acknowledge the context and connection of their experiences to those of the Black community.

Finally, Chris stressed that the APIA community must never stop talking about their history and the prevalence of anti-Asian violence and harassment. Everyone has a different role to play in fighting discrimination and hatred against the APIA community: some may lead important conversations and movements, while others may financially contribute to community groups. Each individual must do “one more thing than what they’re doing already,” as their efforts may inspire others to do the same. When Asian Americans have discussions about their identities and histories, they raise greater consciousness of Asian American issues and contribute to ending these acts of anti-Asian violence and hatred.

We thank Chris Kwok for facilitating much-needed conversations within AABANY and the greater APIA community. Chris will be speaking on a panel for the 2020 Federal Bar Association Eastern District of New York Diversity Forum: The Impact of COVID-19 on Minority Communities on June 23, 2020. To register for this event, see https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1386519.  For more information on the Issues Committee, see https://www.aabany.org/page/154.

MNAPABA and NAPABA Stand in Solidarity with the Black Community

The Minnesota National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (MNAPABA) and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) released the following statement on June 2, 2020:

“The events of the past few weeks—the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, as well as numerous incidents of explicit bigotry, bias, and brutality—are nothing less than disturbing and heartbreaking. The Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association (MNAPABA) and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) stand in solidarity with our Black neighbors in the Twin Cities and beyond.

We demand change. When there is an imbalance of power, our position as members of the Bar and our understanding of the rule of law makes it even more critical that we stand strong against any form of injustice. We recognize the generational failures of our government and criminal justice systems in protecting the Constitutional and human rights afforded to Blacks. 

We must address deeply rooted racism in our society. We must work to create trust and fairness in our legal system by addressing systemic bias in the law to safeguard civil rights, civil liberties, and justice for all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious background, or immigration status.

MNAPABA and NAPABA stand in solidarity with the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (MABL) and the National Bar Association (NBA) as they seek justice and reform at a local and national level. We stand in unity with our affiliated Asian Pacific American bars and sister bar associations in speaking out against racism in all its forms.”

AABANY Member Profile: Hon. John Z. Wang Runs for New York City Civil Court

https://www.instagram.com/judgewang4civilcourt/

Hon. John Z. Wang, a proud member of AABANY, has launched his own campaign to run for New York City Civil Court in the First Municipal Court District, which covers Battery Park, Chinatown, FiDi, Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca, and Two Bridges. An active contributor to the Judiciary Committee of AABANY, Judge Wang has organized panels on how to become an appointed and elected judge in hopes of encouraging more Asian American and Pacific Islander lawyers to pursue this path. Now, he hopes to make his community proud by becoming the first Asian American Civil Court Judge elected to the First District.

Judge Wang immigrated to the United States at five years old and grew up in a predominantly working-class Italian American neighborhood in Brooklyn. As one of very few Asian Americans in his community, he recognized the dangers of racism and bigotry and the importance of respecting other cultures and races.

The Judge has devoted his entire career to public service. After graduating from Vassar College and Brooklyn Law School, he received a six-month fellowship to work at Legal Services, where he advocated for claimants of unemployment insurance. Subsequently, he served as a court attorney in Brooklyn Family Court and the Bronx and Manhattan Civil Courts, and clerked for Hon. Anthony Cannataro, a New York State Supreme Court Justice and the Administrative Judge of the New York City Civil Court. Last year, Judge Wang was appointed as a Brooklyn Housing Court Judge. In all his years serving in New York’s courts, he has also contributed to policy-making by helping to restructure parts of the Manhattan Civil Court.

Now, Judge Wang hopes to serve as the first Asian American Civil Court Judge elected to the First Judicial District. Judge Wang views the Civil Court as the people’s court–it serves everyday people with real, working-class issues. He is moved by the stories and individuals that these small claims and credit card disputes represent, and hopes to do his part to deliver justice to everyday people.

Judge Wang also maintains a reputation for treating individuals that come before him with dignity, compassion, and fairness. As the only sitting judge in this contested race, Judge Wang understands the weight of making difficult decisions regarding people’s livelihoods.

AABANY’s Judiciary Committee vetted Judge Wang for his appointment to Housing Court in 2017 and found him highly qualified and well-suited for the role. The Committee noted that “[t]he advocates and judges that encounter Mr. Wang in the courthouse uniformly praise his intellect, work ethic and demeanor.” After more than two years on the bench, Committee Co-Chair Will Wang (no relation) observed: “It is somewhat uncommon for a relatively recent judge to have published the number of opinions Judge Wang has published. To me, this demonstrates both Judge Wang’s work ethic and overall writing ability.”

Judge Wang believes he faces a tough but winnable campaign. The COVID-19 pandemic has created serious challenges, including uncertainty in voter turnout and participation, but he hopes that his experience working in Civil Court will inspire individuals to volunteer and vote for him.

For more information on Judge Wang’s campaign, including how you can volunteer or support his candidacy, visit https://www.judgewang4civilcourt.com/ or email judgewang4civilcourt@gmail.com.

This member profile has been published for informational purposes only and does not constitute and should not be construed as a campaign endorsement.

https://www.instagram.com/judgewang4civilcourt/

Common Threads of Justice: Get to Know Hon. Peter Tom

The Historical Society of the New York Courts continues its month-long celebration of Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month with its 2017 film Get to Know: Hon. Peter Tom. At the time of the interview, Justice Tom served as the Acting Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department.
 
The now-retired Justice Tom speaks of his upbringing in Hong Kong, and how his early years in the United States brought him to an interest in the law. He traces his judicial career from Housing Court Judge to Appellate Division Justice. He also discusses the importance of boxing in his life. The film comes full circle in Justice Tom’s reflections on the American dream.