On May 31, in honor of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders month (AANHPI), AABANY and the Asia Society came together to co-host a special screening of Dear Corky,a short documentary film thatcaptures the late New York photographer Corky Lee’s documentation of New York City’s Chinatown, in his hometown, and Asian American communities across the nation.
The film tells the inspiring story of Corky, the man behind the camera, who spent over fifty years capturing over a hundred thousand photographs. His life’s mission was dedicated to achieving photographic justice. Starting from his college days, Lee began photographing Chinatowns, and driven by his deep sense of social justice, he captured images of activists, everyday heroes, and celebrities with equal passion. After the passing of his wife in 2001, Corky found comfort in his photographs, as they became his safe haven. He shared that he felt less lonely because he felt connected to the people in his photographs. Corky passed in early 2021 after being hospitalized for COVID-19. He had been out in the community documenting anti-Asian hate and violence during the onset of the pandemic.
Following the screening, Chris Kwok, Chair of AABANY’s Issues Committee, moderated a conversation with the film director Curtis Chin, Virgo Lee, advisor to the Estate of Corky Lee, and Mae Ngai, Asian American Studies Lung Family professor and history professor at Columbia University.
The panelists shared their fond memories of Corky Lee. They highlighted not only the joy brought to their lives but also the recognition of how impactful he was to the Asian American community. Corky Lee’s photography served as a spotlight and voice of the experiences, struggles, and accomplishments of various communities and movements across the country. His selflessness and passion in his work served as an inspiration to many.
Prof. Ngai also shared a special report on the forthcoming book, Corky Lee’s Asian America, from Penguin Random House. The book will provide a deeper dive into decades of Corky’s activism expressed through his photojournalism. It is now available for pre-order and set to release on February 20, 2024.
AABANY thanks everyone for attending this event as a fitting conclusion of AANHPI Heritage Month. It was truly heartwarming to witness how supported and beloved Corky Lee was.
To view post-screening discussion, please click here for the full video.
On the two-year anniversary of Corky Lee’s passing from COVID-19, AABANY thanks the Estate of Corky Lee and all who came together to organize the photo exhibit “Photographic Justice: A Tribute to Corky Lee,” which was on public display at the Eastern District of New York courthouse, Brooklyn, New York, in the Charles P. Sifton Gallery, from May 2022 to January 2023.
On November 12, 2022, members of AABANY went to see “Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story,” which had its world premiere at the DOC NYC festival at the SVA Theatre. Thank you to Board Member and Issues Committee Chair Chris Kwok for organizing this event.
The film documented Corky Lee’s life and career as the “undisputed unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate.”
Corky was a long time photographer for various AABANY events including our Annual Dinner, and a beloved friend to many AABANY members. Past AABANY member Lily Fan was one of the executive producers. AABANY members Rocky Chin and Kevin Hsi and past AABANY member Hon. Randall Eng appeared in the film.
Those from AABANY who attended uniformly gave the film an enthusiastic thumbs up. We were pleased to see AABANY listed among the community groups that Corky Lee worked with during his decades of photo-activism. We highly recommend everyone to see the film.
AABANY is longtime community partner to the AAIFF, and AABANY members are invited to attend the film festival with the special 20% discount code: AAIFF45BAR.
Our own Francis Chin, AABANY’s professional development committee chair will also be speaking on the 72 Hour Shootout post-screening panel, a special part of the AAIFF.
About the Festival
The Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF) proudly known as “The First Home to Asian American Cinema,” is the first and longest running festival to premier and showcase independent Asian, Asian diaspora and Pacific Islander cinema. With its origins at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City’s Lower East Side, the AAIFF brings together audiences from all over New York City, the tri-state region, and around the world. The 45th Asian American International Film Festival (AAIFF45) will take place from August 3 – 13, and combines in-person screenings and events with online programs.
This year, AAIFF will feature FREE CHOL SOO LEE, a documentary which excavates the essential story of 1970s San Francisco, when 20-year-old Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee is racially profiled and convicted of a Chinatown gang murder. In the past, AABANY featured Chol Soo Lee’s case in a trial reenactment titled,Alice in Chinatown: Chol Soo Lee and His Fight for Freedom. Five decades later, this documentary by Julie Ha and Eugene Yi revisits Chol Soo Lee’s story and serves as an urgent reminder that his legacy is more relevant than ever.
On August 13th, the festival will showcase its Closing Night Presentations. Features include DEAR CORKY, directed by Curtis Chin illustrating an intimate look at the legendary photographer Corky Lee. A long-time friend of AABANY, we have hosted various events honoring Corky’s legacy, including the photo exhibit “Photographic Justice: A Tribute to Corky Lee,” currently showing at the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York. Passionate about activism, documenting history, and combatting Asian hate crimes through his camera, Dear Corky is a film revealing the man behind the iconic pictures that mobilized the Asian American community.
To learn more about the other films and see the full schedule of the festival, click here. For more information about ticketing, click here.
What do laundry workers in Manhattan’s 1930s Chinatown have to do with the neighborhood’s activists today? Experience stories of repression, mobilization, and resilience in Chinatown, past and present, at this evening of documentary film and discussion. We begin with Betty Yu’s Discovering My Grandfather Through Mao, about Yu’s grandfather’s activist work with laundry workers during the Chinese Exclusion era, followed by ManSee Kong’s Chinatown Tenant Stories: Mrs. Zheng on Delancey, about Chinatown resident Mrs. Zheng’s introduction to community organizing. The screenings conclude with a private preview of Curtis Chin’s unreleased documentary, Dear Corky, about the late photographer Corky Lee, who died of COVID-19. A talkback and audience Q & A with the directors, moderated by reporter Shirley Ng, will follow the films.
About the Speakers: Curtis Chin is an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker whose voice has been recognized by the National Association for Multicultural Education, the National Association for Ethnic Studies, the American Librarians Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and more. A graduate of the creative program at the University of Michigan, Chin has also received fellowships from ABC/Disney Television, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and served as a Visiting Scholar at New York University. As a community activist, Chin co-founded the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the premiere non-profit dedicated to promoting Asian American writers. He has also worked as the Director of Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and served on Barack Obama’s Asian American Leadership Committee during his 2008 Presidential Campaign. His memoir, Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant is scheduled to be released in 2024. curtisfromdetroit.com
ManSee Kong is a filmmaker and cultural worker born and raised on unceded Lekawe and Munsee Lenape land (Queens/NYC). Her work is anchored in immigrant experiences and inspired by grassroots community organizing efforts. Her films have screened at Museum of Modern Art, Glasgow Women’s Library, film festivals and community spaces, with support from the Jerome Foundation, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Camargo Foundation, Spike Lee Production Award, Puffin Foundation, and Asian Women Giving Circle. In 2015, she co-founded Chinatown Art Brigade (CAB) with Tomie Arai and Betty Yu, a cultural collective that uses art to advance community-led social justice campaigns. CAB has received support from A Blade of Grass, Rubin Foundation, Asian Women Giving Circle, Fourth Arts Block, Culture Push, Laundromat Project, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, among others. ManSee is a Third World Newsreel Production Workshop alum with an MFA in Film from NYU.
Shirley L. Ng is a staff writer for the news blog, Asian American News (AsAmNews) and a community organizer at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). She is an advocate for the Asian American community, a passionate supporter of Manhattan Chinatown and a member of several groups and associations. Shirley attended NYC public schools and graduated from Hunter College with a BA in Media Communications and Political Science. She was born in Manhattan and raised in Chinatown by immigrant parents from Toisan, China.
Betty Yu is a multimedia artist, photographer, filmmaker and activist born and raised in NYC to Chinese immigrant parents. Ms. Yu integrates documentary film, new media platforms, and community-infused approaches into her practice. She is a co-founder of Chinatown Art Brigade. Ms. Yu has been awarded artist residencies and fellowships from the Laundromat Project, A Blade of Grass, KODA Lab, Asian American Arts Alliance, and her work has been presented at the Brooklyn Museum, Queens Museum, NY Historical Society, and Artists Space. She holds a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, an MFA in Integrated Media Arts from Hunter College and a One-Year Certificate from International Center Photography New Media Narratives program. Ms. Yu teaches at Pratt Institute, Hunter College, and The New School and has over 20 years of community, media justice, and labor organizing work. Betty sits on the boards of Third World Newsreel and Working Films and on the advisory board of More Art.
About the Films: Chinatown Tenant Stories: Mrs. Zheng on Delancey (ManSee Kong, 2015, 6 mins.): Chinatown resident Mrs. Zheng reflects on her introduction to community organizing upon joining a local grassroots group after garment factories in Chinatown closed en masse after 9/11. Mrs. Zheng became a lead tenant organizer with CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and successfully organized tenants in her own building on Delancey Street in 2005, pushing back against an unscrupulous landlord. Based on oral history conversations with Mrs. Zheng, Chinatown Tenant Stories is a video and talkback series created for use in tenant organizing meetings, and produced as part of the Asian American Oral History Collective in collaboration with Chinatown Tenants Union of CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, with support from Third World Newsreel and LMCC.
Dear Corky (Curtis Chin, 2022, 16 mins.): For over fifty years, Corky Lee photographed New York City’s Chinatown, as well as the Asian American community around the country. With a strong sense of social justice, he captured the biggest activists and celebrities to the everyday heroes. Sadly, after continuing to document the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, he fell to COVID. Through his words and pictures, this documentary offers a glimpse of the man behind the camera.
Discovering My Grandfather through Mao (Betty Yu, 2011, 18 mins.) is a short documentary film about Betty Yu’s personal journey as she uncovers her grandfather’s radical history as a labor organizer and co-founder of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance of New York (CHLA), one of the oldest Chinese-American labor organizations in this country. Her grandfather, Sui Woo, a hand laundry worker came together with other workers and recognized the need for an organization that could challenge the racist and anti-Chinese policies in the 1930’s. Today, Chinese Americans and immigrants can learn from this rich history of workers resisting institutional racism and recognizing the importance of community organizing as a powerful tool.
About Asian CineVision: Asian CineVision (ACV) is a 501(c)(3) media arts nonprofit devoted to the development, exhibition, promotion, and preservation of Asian and Asian American experiences through storytelling. Our mission is to nurture and grow the community of makers and enthusiasts of Asian and Asian American independent film, television, and digital.
On Thursday, May 19, 2022, AABANY board members, committee chairs and invitees attended a private viewing of “Photographic Justice: A Tribute to Corky Lee.” The event was well-attended by numerous EDNY judges, community members and elected officials.
“Photographic Justice” pays homage to the life and work of renowned New York City-based photographer Corky Lee, who documented the Asian American movement through the last five decades. The group photography exhibit features a selection of Lee’s works along with that of other Asian American photographers. The term “photographic justice” has been used by Lee to describe his mission to rectify the exclusion of Asian Americans in America’s visual history.
Lee’s last project was to chronicle the effort to combat anti-Asian violence before his passing from COVID-19 in 2021.
A long-time friend of AABANY, Lee was the photographer for AABANY’s Annual Dinner for many years. In 2017, AABANY co-sponsored a photo exhibit by Corky Lee in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. At the event, Lee discussed his experiences as a photojournalist over the years as and his role as the self-proclaimed “Undisputed Unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate.”
AABANY President William Ng, in his remarks during the reception, read the dedication to Corky from AABANY’s Anti-Asian Hate and Violence Report: “Corky Lee personified the Asian-American movement, and AABANY honors his memory by carrying on his work to combat indifference, injustice and discrimination against Asian Americans.”
This exhibit is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM through November 20, at Hon. Charles P. Sifton Gallery of the United States Courthouse for the Eastern District of New York (225 Cadman Plaza East).
Thanks to AABANY board member Chris Kwok for his instrumental role in organizing and making this VIP reception possible.
On May 25, the Asian American Judges of the Eastern District of New York celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with a presentation titled “Photographic Justice: The Retelling of Asian American History in the United States.” Through the photography of Corky Lee, the presentation chronicled Asian Americans’ involvement in U.S. history, which has mostly been omitted from American history books.
The presentation began with a retelling of the Golden Spike ceremony in 1869 that celebrated the completion of the transcontinental railroad. While the majority of the railroad construction workforce was comprised of Chinese immigrants, the photograph taken to commemorate the railroad completion did not include any of the Chinese workers. At the 100-year anniversary of the ceremony in 1969, speakers still ignored the contribution of the Chinese workers. Corky Lee, a renowned photographer, believed in photographic justice and in 2014, he gathered the descendants of the Chinese workers to reenact the Golden Spike ceremony photograph. He said, “Some people would say we are reclaiming Chinese American history. In actuality, we’re reclaiming American history and the Chinese contribution is part and parcel of that.”
The presentation continued by recognizing the contributions of Asian Americans to the American war effort during World War 2, many of whom fought on battlefields overseas. These individuals include the decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Philippine Scouts, and WASP aviators Maggie Gee and Hazel Ying Lee. The third part of the presentation focused on the numerous laws passed in U.S. history that prohibited Asians from immigrating to America such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement. For years, immigration and access to citizenship was based on race. That situation remained unchanged until 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act finally abolished national origin, race, and ancestry as basis for immigration to the U.S. This resulted in increased immigration from China, India, Japan, and the Philippines.
The final segments of the presentation focused on the Asian American Movement and how Asian Americans have come together to address racism and inequality. Addressing the anti-Asian hate and violence occurring today, the presentation concluded that “the current climate of violence against Asian Americans must not stand in the way of Asian Americans being seen, being heard, and being respected in America.”
Thank you to Magistrate Judge Sanket J. Bulsara, District Judge Pam Chen, Magistrate Judge James Cho, District Judge Diane Gujarati, Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo, and District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto for the important presentation on Asian American history and for celebrating AAPI Heritage Month. To view the full presentation, click here.
On Wednesday, February 24, 2021, AABANY hosted its 2021 Virtual Gala: Uniting for Justice and Equity.
The event kicked off at 6 pm with a Pre-Gala Virtual Cocktail Reception on Remo attended by sponsors and special guests, including prominent General Counsels and judges. At 6:30 pm, all Virtual Gala attendees were invited to enjoy a piano concert featuring AABANY Member Renee Yao.
The Virtual Gala started at 7 pm and Kate Siahaan-Riggs, NYC-based actor, stand up comic, and writer, served as emcee. Throughout the gala, AABANY held a text-to-donate fundraiser to support Portrait Project 2.0, the second phase of the Portrait Project study which is researching why Asian Americans are underrepresented in top leadership positions across all sectors of the legal profession and how it can be addressed.
This year AABANY was proud to honor:
Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, the City University of New York, with the AABANY Impact Award
Sneha Desai, Deputy General Counsel Litigation of BASF Corporation, with the AABANY Women’s Leadership Award
Kirkland & Ellis LLP with the AABANY Law Firm Diversity Award
Ed Lee, AABANY Board Director and Partner at Kirkland & Ellis, accepted the Law Firm Diversity Award on behalf of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Honoree Sneha Desai delivered an acceptance speech, stressing the importance of individuals in leadership and influential positions to make positive change in diversity and inclusion. The Honorable Denny Chin, U.S. Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, hosted a fireside chat with honoree Frank H,. Wu to discuss his career and the work he has accomplished.
In addition, we were also pleased to present the 2021 class of Don H. Liu Scholars: Narissa Ganpat, Minji Kim, and Minh Eric Le.
The Gala concluded with a tribute to Asian American photojournalist and historian Corky Lee who passed away in January due to COVID-19. Corky had taken photos of our past Annual Dinners from its earliest days until 2020.
We thank all of the AABANY Virtual Gala Planning Committee members and volunteers for their hard work in making this year’s celebration a huge success.
We extend sincere thanks to all of our sponsors. Their generous sponsorships make it possible for us to pursue our mission to advance the interests of the Asian Pacific American (APA) legal community and the communities we serve and support our many activities and signature events throughout the year.
Lastly, we thank everyone that attended the 2021 Virtual Gala and celebrated with us. Our Virtual Gala was streamed on Vimeo which reports that the gala drew 1,400 views. To watch the gala on You Tube, click here or on the image at the top of this blog. To view the Virtual Gala program book, click here.
An eight-fold increase in reported hate crimes against Asians, racist rhetoric such as “the Chinese virus,” and insufficient media coverage of anti-Asian violence — these were among the timely issues discussed at a press conference hosted by the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) on February 11. The press conference centered around AABANY and Paul, Weiss’ co-authored report: A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence against Asian Americans in New York During COVID-19: Impact, Causes, Solutions. Speakers of note included:
Chris Kwok, Board Director, Issues Committee Chair
Karen King, Vice Chair, Pro Bono & Community Service Committee; Counsel, Paul, Weiss
U.S. Rep., Grace Meng (D-NY)
Prof. Russell Jeung, Stop AAPI Hate
President Frank Wu, Queens College, CUNY
The report’s primary finding is that anti-Asian hate and violence surged in 2020. Between March and September of that year, the number of reported anti-Asian hate incidents related to COVID-19 exceeded 2,500.
At the press conference, Rep. Meng kickstarted the discussion of this grim reality by situating it against a backdrop of long-standing intolerance toward the AAPI community, which motivated the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Meng condemned some of the nation’s top government officials and social institutions for fanning the flames of this deep-rooted racism. As noted in the report, the xenophobic rhetoric of elected officials, paired with misinformation spread by the media, normalizes and fuels disease-based stigma against Asians. The subsequent uptick in violence against Asian communities motivated Meng to propose and help pass House Resolution 908 in 2020 denouncing all forms of anti-Asian sentiment. While Meng described the bill as largely symbolic, it has since been incorporated into President Biden’s presidential memorandum, which includes concrete measures to disseminate COVID-19 resources in different languages and improve the collection of data on hate crimes. Meng’s fight to amplify voices within the AAPI community thus lights the path forward. “We’ve taken a positive step — an initial step — but we must continue to speak out whenever and wherever anti-Asian sentiment rises,” said Meng.
A similar desire to spotlight the plight of AAPIs motivated Chris Kwok to serve as an executive editor for the report on anti-Asian violence. Since the onset of the pandemic, Kwok noted at the conference, there has not been a single prosecution or civil resolution for any incident of anti-Asian bias. A key purpose of the report is thus to show that Asian invisibility in the political and legal space has real-life consequences. Moving forward, Kwok hopes to inspire a constructive dialogue among Asians and other Americans alike. To that end, the report highlights seven initiatives that will help policyholders at all levels keep communities safe and hold perpetrators of violence accountable. These initiatives range from broad prescriptions, such as public education campaigns and collaboration among minority groups, to specific remedies, such as clear reporting mechanisms for victims and the more consistent prosecution of hate crimes.
Professor Russell Jeung continued the discussion of possible solutions to anti-Asian hate incidents while echoing his concern about the divisive effects of COVID-19. Drawing from data he helped collect for Stop AAPI Hate, Jeung said that among United States cities, New York City reported the second-highest number of hate incidents in the past year. Assessing the range of anti-Asian hate incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate, the report notes a concerning number of incidents involving verbal harassment, physical assault, and being coughed and spat on. Worse still, the youth and the elderly are the most common victims of racist attacks and consequent racial trauma. Among its federal recommendations to address this issue, Stop AAPI Hate proposes to expand civil rights protections for AAPIs experiencing discrimination, end the racial profiling of Chinese researchers, and mobilize a federal interagency response to anti-Asian hate amid the pandemic. As Jeung is quick to emphasize, this fight for the civil rights of Asian Americans is a fight to expand protections for all Americans. “Please stand up, speak out, build bridges, and together we can make good on the promise of a diverse democracy,” said Jeung.
In promoting the proposals of Stop AAPI Hate and the report, for which he wrote the foreword, Queens College President Frank Wu highlighted the importance of building multi-racial coalitions. Wu identified Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented communities as allies to the AAPI community. As emphasized in the report, stronger collaboration among such minority groups is especially critical in communities like New York City, whose diversity heightens the danger that hate incidents exacerbate racial politics. “It would be a mistake of principle and pragmatism to point the finger at another group and suggest that others are guilty by association,” said Wu. Instead, we must look to universal values and American ideals as forces for national unity. As Wu writes in the foreword to the report, “To be Asian American is to be American, to express confidence enough in an experiment of self-governance to participate wholeheartedly.”
Rep. Meng concluded the press conference by calling on all Americans, especially those raised in the United States, to identify and combat racism when it occurs within their own circles. Meng stated that too often, stories of victims from the AAPI community are left out of mainstream media and the public consciousness. Along with implementing the aforementioned policy recommendations, therefore, Meng emphasized the need for racial solidarity. Only then can Americans progress toward the shared goal of dismantling systemic racism in this country and advancing justice for all.
NEW YORK – February 10, 2021 – The Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) is proud to announce the release of its report co-authored with Paul, Weiss, A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence against Asian Americans in New York During COVID-19: Impact, Causes, Solutions. Executive editors of the report were Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director and Issues Committee Chair, and Karen King, Vice Chair of AABANY’s Pro Bono and Community Service Committee and Counsel at Paul, Weiss. The report is dedicated to Corky Lee, who passed away on January 27, 2021 due to COVID-19. Corky was a revered photographer in the Asian American community who had been documenting the effort to combat anti-Asian violence and harassment in the wake of COVID-19. Read more here.
To read A Rising Tide of Hate and Violence against Asian Americans in New York During COVID-19: Impact, Causes, Solutions, click here.