NAPABA Webinar on Combating a History of Anti-Asian Discrimination: How to Protect the Asian American Community

A racist cartoon originally depicted in the publication, the San Francisco Wasp, in 1881. The cartoon was a parody of the Statue of Liberty and represented a growing fear of Asian immigrants within the United States

On Friday, April 3rd, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) hosted a webinar titled “Pandemic and Acts of Hate Against Asian Americans: From Past to Present.” The webinar traced the historical roots of Asian American discrimination related to disease and public health issues and presented solutions for the present in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The webinar featured a panel which included Professor Jack Chin of UC Davis Law School, Matt Stevens of The New York Times’s Political News division, Harpreet Singh Mokha of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, and Rahat N. Babar, Special Counsel, Office of the Governor of New Jersey. Chris M. Kwok, the NAPABA Dispute Resolution Committee Co-Chair and our very own AABANY Issues Committee Chair, helmed the panel as moderator. 

Professor Chin began by outlining the extensive history of anti-Asian discrimination within the United States. He focused on how discriminatory legislation at the state level in California and at the national level through the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 frequently correlated Asian American immigrants with disease. In particular, Professor Chin noted how San Francisco became a focal point of race-based efforts to control the bubonic plague in the early 1900s. Multiple political attempts were made to isolate and discriminate against Asians in the city which were repeatedly rebuffed by legal challenges such as Wong Wai v. Williamson and Jew Ho v. Williamson. Professor Chin underscored the ugly but recurring theme pushed in American politics about the “foreignness of germs.”

Following the professor’s historical account, Matt Stevens, an Asian American political reporter for The New York Times, noted the efforts that legislators are making to combat these acts of discrimination. Moreover, he noted the pervasive feeling of fear that permeates the Asian American community.

Harpreet Singh Mokha, National Program Manager for Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) issues at the Community Relations Service of the DOJ, explained the role and function of CRS during this pandemic. Established under Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CRS, frequently called “America’s Peacemakers,” works directly with communities facing conflict on racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and disability issues. It has four primary functions: facilitating dialogue, mediating conflict, training community members, and providing consultation for methods of community assistance. Mr. Mokha noted that members of communities all across the country should be encouraged to make use of CRS’s resources and report hate crimes at their first occurrence. 

To wrap up the panel, Rahat Babar, Special Counsel for Litigation with the Office of the New Jersey Governor, echoed Mr. Mokha’s point to report hate crimes without hesitation. He noted a 2020 in-state report which found a 65% increase in bias incidents between 2018 and 2019 with 46% of those engaging in such bias incidents being minors. Thanks to this report, Governor Phil Murphy was able to set up a task force to explore why minors were engaging in such behavior. Mr. Babar notes that without a robust data set of incident or hate crime reports, lawmakers and community leaders will not be able to identify root problems or pose solutions. 

Overall, the panel outlined past and present cases of racial discrimination targeted towards the AAPI community. All panelists acknowledged the importance of speaking out during this time of uncertainty for the sake of protecting fellow community members both now and in the future. 

This event  reached the largest audience for a NAPABA webinar to date, with 160 registrants. The program stressed placing the events of today within historical understanding of America, engagement with our government institutions charged with enforcing our laws, and collaboration across civil society organizations. We at AABANY thank and acknowledge Chris Kwok for proposing this program to NAPABA and serving as moderator.

A racist cartoon published in San Francisco-based publication, The Wasp. The cartoon promoted then-common racist myths that Chinatown was riddled with disease.
A racist cartoon published in the illustrated San Francisco weekly “Thistleton’s Illustrated Jolly Giant” depicting San Francisco’s The Globe Hotel. The cartoon insinuates that the Globe Hotel secretly contained a “small pox hospital” and an “underground Chinese cemetery,” perpetuating racist stereotypes of the time.

In The News: Chris Kwok’s Op-Ed on Weaponized Coronavirus Language Against Asian-Americans Published in the New York Daily News

On March 26, 2020, the New York Daily News published an op-ed co-authored by Chris Kwok. The piece is entitled “Weaponized coronavirus language is endangering Asian-American lives.” (Chris, who sits on the AABANY Board and chairs the Issues Committee, co-wrote the op-ed in his capacity as a Board member of the Asian American Federation).

The article discusses how anti-Asian rhetoric and labeling the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” is endangering the lives of Asian Americans across the United States. It also provides historical examples of what happens when you link a disease to a particular group of people. It can easily lead to stigma and violence against that group. For example, in the 14th century, Jews were accused of spreading the Bubonic Plague in Europe and massacred. Similarly, in the 1980s to 1990s gay people were blamed for spreading AIDS and suffered violence as a result.

Furthermore, the article notes that this is not the first time Asian Americans have faced something like this in the United States. In the 1850s to 1890s, the Chinese were accused of being carriers of venereal disease and leprosy. As a result of the openly anti-Chinese rhetoric during that period, Chinese people were “…rounded up into thousands of railroad cars, steamers, or logging rafts, marched out of town, or killed.”

Now, history seems to be repeating itself as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is falsely being attributed to Asian Americans. In recent weeks we have seen a spike in xenophobic incidents targeting Asian Americans throughout the nation. Such incidents include “…Asian Americans being beaten, slashed, kicked, spat at, sprayed with things, yelled at or ostracized in public.” To make matters worse, President Trump’s deliberate campaign to label the coronavirus as “the Chinese virus” has put Asian Americans at an even higher risk.

To read the full article, click here.

AABANY and SABANY Co-Sponsor Careers in Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) Panel

On Monday, July 15th, AABANY, along with SABANY, co-sponsored a panel on Careers in Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) at the JAMS office located on the 16th floor of the New York Times Building at 620 8th Ave. The panel featured Dr. Kabir Dhuggal, Senior Associate at Arnold & Porter, Robyn Weinstein, ADR Administrator at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Rebecca Price, Director of the ADR program at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and Chris Kwok, mediator and arbitrator at JAMS, ADR Services. Chris Kwok is a Board Director of AABANY, Co-Chair of the Asia Practice Committee, and Chair of the Issues Committee. The panel was moderated by Amit Kumar, Managing Attorney at the Law Offices of William Cafaro. 

After a brief introduction of the panelists, Kumar first asked panelists, “How did you become involved in ADR?” The panelists’ responses ranged from studying it early in law school to falling into the realm of ADR later. Price noted her background as a social worker in helping to make the transition to working in ADR more naturally. Kwok affirmed that and humorously added, “When I try to describe mediation, I sometimes tell people that I’m a psychologist with a law degree.”

The panelists also spoke on key skills for thriving in a career in ADR. These skills included patience, engaged listening, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a genuine passion for the work. Dr. Dhuggal especially emphasized the necessity of robust legal writing skills. He advised, “Legal writing is an art that needs to be finessed. Make every effort you can. A simple way to do this is to find a senior whose writing you particularly admire and tell them that you’d like to co-author a piece with them.” Everyone commented on the importance of meaningful networking as well—be it through organizations such as AABANY and SABANY to even organizing panels with professionals you’d like to reach out to. 

Other topics discussed during the well-attended panel included improving diversity in ADR, domestic ADR vs. international ADR, and predictions on future trends in the career pathway. Afterwards, attendees munched on assorted snacks from Cafe Zaiya while networking—as discussed during the panel. Thank you to all of our accomplished panelists for sharing their valuable insights! 

AABANY Presents: Legal Seminar for Small Businesses

On Friday, May 17, 2019, Sandra Ung, New York State Committee Woman, and Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director, Issues Committee Chair and Asia Practice Committee Co-Chair, presented a legal seminar for small business owners at Flushing Library. The speakers were Tiffany Ma, Young & Ma, LLP, and William Ng, Littler Mendelson P.C., and they addressed a wide array of issues faced by small business owners in both Mandarin and English.

The discussion centered around how small business owners can take steps to make sure they comply with Federal, State, and City employment laws to avoid liability. In particular, the speakers addressed the minimum wage requirements, the importance of maintaining unemployment insurance, the prevention of anti-discrimination and anti-harassment claims, compliance with ADA accommodation requirements and the New York State Paid Family Leave Act.

There was serious discussion on the pressures small businesses face within the legal regulatory framework, with the additional language and cultural barriers faced by first generation immigrant business owners.

The event was also covered by the World Journal and Sing Tao Daily. To read more about the event from the World Journal, click here. To read more about the event from Sing Tao Daily, click here.

We thank Sandra Ung and Chris Kwok for organizing this information session. We also thank the speakers, Tiffany Ma and William Ng, for volunteering their time to address the concerns of small business owners.

AABANY Co-Sponsors: Asian Americans and Higher Education: An End to Affirmative Action?

On Tuesday April 30, 2019, Asia Society and the Asian American Bar Association of New York co-hosted a lively discussion on the lawsuit Students for Fair Admission vs. Harvard University.  Currently winding its way through the Federal courts, Asian Americans and affirmative action have become a point of focus in contemporary political debate.

Within the Asian American community itself, a grassroots Asian American conservative movement has emerged in the last decade, in an attempt to end affirmative action.  This conservative movement alleges that admissions discrimination in the name of diversity is wrong. That view was represented by Jack Ouyang, from the Asian American Coalition for Education.  

Asian American liberals believe that conservative Asian Americans are being used as cover to abolish affirmative action, and fear a defeat of affirmative action means a loss for diversity in all of higher education.  Nicole Gon Ochi from Asian American Advancing Justice -LA represented the view.

Dr. Van Tran, Columbia University sociologist, presented new research on what Asian Americans thought of affirmative action.

Audience members were treated to a deep dive into the issue, with views from both sides represented on the podium.  A reception followed, at which attendees got to continue their conversations around this important topic.

Thanks to everyone who came out for this event. Thanks especially to all the speakers for their insights and views. See below for short bios of all the speakers. (Thanks to Elsa Ruiz for the event photos.)

Chris M. Kwok, Esq. (moderator) serves as the Co-Chair of the Issues Committee and Asia Practice Committee for the Asian American Bar Association of New York. He received his B.A from Cornell University with a major in Government and minor in Asian American studies, and his J.D from UCLA Law School, where he served on the staff of the Asian American Pacific Islander Law Journal.  Formerly, he was the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Coordinator at the U.S. Equal Employment Commission in the New York District office. He is a mediator with JAMS.

Dr. Van C. Tran is a professor of Sociology at Columbia University whose research and writing broadly focuses on the incorporation of Asian immigrants and their children into American culture, politics and society.  He has served in many positions at both the Eastern Sociological Society and the American Sociological Association. He is a frequent commentator in the media and was selected as an NPR Source of the Week in July of 2015.

Nicole Gon Ochi, Esq. is the Supervising Attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice—LA’s Impact Litigation unit. She joined Advancing Justice as a Skadden Fellow in 2010 and has taken a lead role in litigating and providing advocacy on matters involving employment discrimination, education, workers’ rights, affordable housing preservation, language access, and civil rights.

Dr. Jack Ouyang is the Vice President of Operations at the Asian American Coalition for Education. Mr. Ouyang has been an outspoken Chinese American civil rights activist and was a key organizer of the Chinese American for Equality. He was a board chair at the Millburn Short Hills Chinese Association and the Millburn Institute of Talent. He is currently an IT Professional based in New Jersey.

AABANY Co-Sponsors a Book Release Event: Practical Equality, by Robert Tsai

From left to right: Chris Kwok (Mediator at JAMS), Prof. Suzanne Kim (Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School), Prof. Robert Tsai (Professor of Law at American University and the author of Practical Equality), Hon. Denny Chin (Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit), Yang Chen (Executive Director of AABANY)

On March 11, AABANY co-sponsored a book release of Robert Tsai’s new book, Practical Equality. The event was held at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, and was also co-sponsored by UCLA Alumni New York Tri-State Network and Association of Asian American Yale Alumni.

Robert L. Tsai is a professor of law at American University. He is the author of Practical Equality and America’s Forgotten Constitutions and his essays have appeared in Boston Globe, Washington Post, Los Angeles Review of Books, Politico, Boston Review, and Slate.

Professor Tsai’s new book discusses a practical approach towards fighting for equality through the lens of legal ideas. It proposes that arguments not directly relevant to equality may achieve the goals of equality. It offers an alternative and more practical approach to the fight for justice.

The event mainly featured a panel discussion of the book. We were honored to have on the panel Hon. Denny Chin, Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Suzanne Kim, Professor of Law at Rutgers Law School and Judge Denny Chin Scholar, and Professor Robert Tsai, the book’s author. The panel discussion featured many subjects, including Judge Chin and Prof. Kim’s thoughts on the book, people of colors’ historic struggles for justice, and contemporary political issues. The panel ended with a Q&A session, during which the audience engaged the panelists with questions raised by the panel discussion and the issues addressed in the book. Afterwards, the audience got to mingle among each other and with Professor Tsai, who also signed copies of the book which were made available for sale.

Panel discussion with Judge Chin (left), Prof. Tsai (middle) and Prof. Kim (right).

AABANY would like to congratulate Professor Tsai on the release of his new book. We thank Judge Chin, Professor Tsai, and Professor Kim for participating in the event. We thank Chris Kwok, Chair of the Issues Committee, for organizing the event. We also thank Seyfarth Shaw LLP for hosting the event at their office, and UCLA Alumni New York Tri-State Network and Association of Asian American Yale Alumni for co-sponsoring the event.

Chinese American Veterans of World War II Honored with Congressional Gold Medal

On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Chinese-American World War II Veteran Congressional Gold Medal Act into law. The Act finally recognizes the achievements and contributions of Chinese Americans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Second World War.

The bill passed due to the efforts of everyone involved in the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project. The mission of the project was to recognize, honor and celebrate the military service of approximately 20,000 Chinese Americans who fought in the Second World War.

Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director, Issues Committee Chair and Asia Practice Committee Co-Chair, participated in the effort to get the legislation passed. Chris served on the Steering Committee of the Chinese American WWII Veterans Recognition Project and acted as Legal Counsel to the Committee.

Brian Song, AABANY President-Elect, and Chris Kwok, as AABANY Issues Committee Chair, also advocated for passage of the bill at NAPABA Lobby Day in Washington, DC, during APA Heritage Month in 2018.

AABANY commends Chris Kwok and Brian Song for their efforts and advocacy in support of getting this very important legislation passed.

To learn more, see: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/chinese-american-wwii-vets-receive-congressional-gold-medal-n950986

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