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.

Asian American Federation Hosts Community Upstander Training To Stop Anti-Asian Harassment

On Wednesday, May 27, 2020, from 1 PM to 3 PM, the Asian American Federation will be hosting an Upstander Training workshop to address the ways that xenophobia and scapegoating since the COVID-19 outbreak continue to rise, most consistently against Asian communities.

Through a presentation and interactive break-out groups, participants will explore opportunities and strategies to be “upstanders” during the current moment and help disrupt this wave of anti-Asian bias through safety interventions, de-escalation tactics, and calling-in strategies.

Register for this event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/community-upstander-training-tickets-105204906708.

AABANY Hosts Panel Addressing Anti-Asian Violence and Hate Arising From COVID-19 (Korean)

On Sunday, May 17, 2020, the Pro Bono & Community Service Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) hosted the Korean version of its webinar series, “Anti-Asian Violence and Hate Arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The presentation addressed the increase in violent incidents against Asians in the community and included a discussion of the rights that victims and bystanders have when a racially motivated confrontation occurs, as well as what actions rise to the level of a prosecutable offense.

The webinar featured moderator, Sean Dong Min Rhee, a Northeastern University law student, as well as two panelists: Kings County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Pak and Naomi Jeehee Yang, an Associate at Paul Weiss.

During the presentation, Stephanie Pak explained what actions would constitute a hate crime (P.L. §240.30) and aggravated assault (P.L. §485.05) as set forth in New York Penal Law. She also gave examples of actions that would rise to a criminal level so that community members would be able to recognize incidents which they should report to law enforcement agencies or their local District Attorney’s office. Furthermore, Stephanie emphasized that when Korean victims are called Chinese during an assault, this does not invalidate the action from being prosecuted as a hate crime but rather makes the issue ripe for prosecution.

The other panelist, Naomi Jeehee Yang, shared information on who to contact during or after these incidents, as well as a few helpful tips that can help prosecutors and law enforcement. She stressed the importance of recording an incident because the evidence is often a key component in successfully prosecuting assailants. If this is not an option, it is important to call 911, as phone calls to police are recorded and can also be used as evidence during a criminal trial. Most importantly, Naomi spoke on the significance of reporting these anti-Asian episodes. If incidents are reported there will consequently be a more accurate number of cases in which Asians are being victimized in the community. This, in turn, increases the visibility of this issue and will spur action by government officials and policymakers – bringing about legislation or resources that can be helpful to the Asian community.

Thank you to our panelists, the excellent attorneys at Paul Weiss for their pro bono assistance, and our volunteers at the Pro Bono Committee for planning and organizing our Anti-Asian Violence and Hate Arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic webinars. We will have more community presentations on topics related to COVID-19 and its impact on the AAPI community this month. For more information on anti-Asian harassment and violence, email aabanyclinic@gmail.com, call our hotline at 516-690-7724, and check out the resources that AABANY has compiled at https://www.aabany.org/page/covid19.

View the video of the webinar by clicking on the image above.

AABANY Clinic Hosts COVID-19-related Anti-Asian Violence and Hate Webinar

On Wednesday, May 13, 2020, the Asian American Bar Association’s (AABANY) Pro Bono & Community Service Committee hosted the webinar, “Anti-Asian Violence and Hate Arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic.” This event addressed the increase in violent incidents against the Asian American community, and the relevant State and Federal laws for victims and witnesses of these hate crimes who seek to report them.

The webinar featured panelists David Chiang, Supervising Assistant District Attorney, Queens District Attorney’s Office; Joe Gim, Deputy Chief, Nassau County District Attorney; and Julia Kerr, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. Eugene Kim, a volunteer at AABANY’s Pro Bono Clinic, moderated the panel.

David Chiang, Supervising Assistant District Attorney, Queens District Attorney’s Office, discussed New York Penal Law § 240 and § 485, both of which elevate sentencing for bias incidents to the criminal level. Section 240, covering Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, states that threats of physical violence based on the perception of race are considered as misdemeanors. Section 485, the Hate Crime Law, enhances sentencing for incidents proven to be motivated by bias.

Joe Gim, Deputy Bureau Chief, Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, advised victims and bystanders of anti-Asian hate crimes to record the crime by taking a video of the incident with their phones or calling 911. Doing so would not only preserve the evidence necessary to strengthen the case against the perpetrator but also publicize these hateful acts to highlight the prevalence of anti-Asian violence. Even if the victim is not willing to come forward, whether due to language barriers or distrust of law enforcement, bystanders can still report the crime. After preserving evidence and notifying the police, the police will file a Complaint Report, and the case will either result in an arrest or be handed off to prosecutors and end up in trial.

Julia Kerr, Associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, concluded the webinar by encouraging individuals to report incidents of anti-Asian violence to both government and non-governmental organizations to prevent future hate crimes. In addition to calling 911, victims and bystanders can also reach out to the New York State and New York City Hate Crime Task Forces, MTA Hotline, local District Attorney, and NY Attorney General’s Office. Other resources include AABANY, Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Communities Against Hate, Equality Watch, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Anti-Defamation League. 

We thank the panelists for joining us for this CLE program and Eugene for serving as the moderator. Look forward to more community presentations on COVID-19 and its impact on the APA community this month. For more information on anti-Asian harassment and violence, email aabanyclinic@gmail.com or call our hotline at 516-690-7724.

View the video of the webinar by clicking on the image above.

NYCCHR Chair and Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis’ Response to a Rise in Anti-Asian Harassment and Hate Crimes

The recent spike in Anti-Asian harassment and hate crimes have prompted a strong response by NYCCHR Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis. Encouraging New Yorkers to stand together against discrimination, she describes the history of scapegoating in times of crisis and the dangers of fearmongering. She encourages individuals to combat Asian-American stereotypes and misconceptions that underplay anti-Asian racism. With Malalis at the helm, the NYCCHR has formed a COVID-19 response team to handle reports of discrimination and harassment. She strongly encourages victims and bystanders to record and report such incidents to the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

Celebrate APA Heritage Month with AABANY

Despite the restrictions against public gatherings during COVID-19, AABANY has remained active and busy for APA Heritage Month, hosting multiple community presentations about anti-Asian harassment and violence on May 13, 16, and 17, in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Korean.

We will continue to celebrate APA Heritage Month during the remainder of May, and we hope you will join us at the following events. Please follow the links for further details and to register.

Wednesday, May 20
AABANY Members Invited: Lowenstein Cooks for a Cause
5:00-6:30 PM
Zoom Conference
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1379391

Thursday, May 21
AABANY Co-Sponsors: General Counsel Virtual Panel
4:30-6:00 PM
Zoom Conference
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1374410

Thursday, May 21
White & Case Presents a Virtual Screening of Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066
4:15 PM
Zoom Conference
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1379976

Wednesday, May 27
AABANY Co-Sponsors: COVID-19: Relief for Small Businesses Webinar Series Part 1 (Labor and Employment Law)
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Webinar
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1380520

Thursday, May 28
AABANY Co-Sponsors: A Virtual Trial Reenactment: Remembering the Murder of Vincent Chin
3:00-5:00 PM
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1380200

Thursday, May 28
AABANY Co-Sponsors: COVID-19: Relief for Small Businesses Webinar Series Part 2 (Restructuring and Bankruptcy Law)
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Webinar
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1380546

AG James Launches Hotline to Combat Coronavirus Hate Crimes and Xenophobic Rhetoric

Individuals Who Have Experienced Hate Crimes and Bias-Based Incidents Are Encouraged to Call the Ongoing Hotline at 1-800-771-7755, or Email Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James [on March 23, 2020] announced the launch of a hotline for New Yorkers to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents. The hotline, which will continue indefinitely, comes in the wake of rising reports of harassment and assaults, as well as rhetoric against Asian Americans amidst the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. 

“As we face an unprecedented and uncertain time for New York, the United States, and the world, we must reiterate the fact that this pandemic does not give anyone an excuse to be racist, xenophobic, or biased,” said Attorney General James. “No one should live in fear for their life because of who they are, what they look like, or where they come from. I encourage all victims of discriminatory actions stemming from this pandemic to contact my office. We will continue to work with local law enforcement to combat hate in all its insidious forms.”

In the last week alone, there have been numerous reports in New York of Asian Americans being harassed or physically assaulted as a result of this pandemic. The last several weeks have also seen a rise in anti-Asian rhetoric through the use of terms such as ‘Chinese virus,’ creating a stigma around Asian communities. This comes on the heels of a record number of hate crimes over the past several months in New York, demonstrating the urgent need for action. The Attorney General’s Office, in its commitment to combating these heinous acts, implores everyone, from everyday New Yorkers, to individuals at the highest levels of government, to stand united against hate, now more than ever.

“During this public health crisis, people are fighting for their lives – fighting to keep their families safe. Yet these incessant, irresponsible, and atrocious naming of COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ is endangering the lives of Asian Americans. I thank Attorney General James for setting up this necessary hotline for New Yorkers to report coronavirus-related hate crimes or biased-based incidents,” said U.S. Representative Grace Meng. “I have repeatedly called on public officials – from the President to the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives – to abstain from using derogatory language that demonizes Asian Americans. This must stop. Public officials – and the media – must speak truth to power and refrain from dabbling in misinformation or conspiracy theories. I’m urging all New Yorkers to come together, call virus the coronavirus, and report to the hotline those who would use this uncertain time to make racist, xenophobic or biased attacks.”

“Long scapegoated and cast as ‘yellow peril,’ Asian Americans are besieged on two fronts by the COVID-19 contagion, with outbreaks of ignorance and bigotry sometimes inflicting more harm than the virus itself,” said State Senator John Liu. “More and more hateful incidents are occurring, ranging from distasteful gestures to obnoxious name-calling to outright violence against Asian-Americans — and despicably condoned by the president himself. The battle against the coronavirus has actually brought out the best among New Yorkers but it is necessary to remind some not to let fear of the unknown devolve into irrational and inexcusable hate, and we thank beloved Attorney General Tish James for leading the charge on this front as well.”

“Currently our community is dealing with COVID-19, a global pandemic — but our community is also facing another virus: extreme anti-Asian xenophobia,” said State Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou. “While we battle this crisis, it has become abundantly clear that the coronavirus does not discriminate based on race. Yet, people are using COVID-19 as an excuse to perpetuate racism and xenophobia throughout New York and the entire country. There have been so many reports of Asian Americans being attacked because they were just riding the subway or wearing a face mask. The attacks are hateful, and go out of their way to blame our community. It is important that we stand together and remain educated on the growing emergency. Together we must stop the spread of the unfounded harmful stereotypes and hateful words that people are using to demonize our Asian American community through thoughtful and reasonable discussions. Thank you to the Attorney General for setting up a hotline to address and to better support our community through this devastating time of unfounded xenophobia and hate crimes against our community.”

Although local law enforcement is responsible for criminally prosecuting these perpetrators, the Attorney General’s Office is taking on this issue in other ways, including connecting victims and impacted communities to available resources, launching civil investigations, and supporting local law enforcement, among other steps.

The Attorney General urges those experiencing hate crimes and bias incidences to report them by emailing the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau at civil.rights@ag.ny.gov, or calling 1-800-771-7755.