Many congratulations to longstanding AABANY member Kathy Hirata Chin on being honored by the Columbia Law School Association and Asian Columbia Alumni Association with the i
The well-attended reception began with AABANY Development Director Margaret Ling providing a brief history of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. She highlighted two key dates in Asian American history: May 7th, when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States in 1842, and May 10th, when the transcontinental railroad was completed with the help of Chinese laborers in 1869.
Then, NYCLA’s secretary Jai Chandrasekhar welcomed guests to the reception and shared some of Hong Yen Chang’s achievements, including being the first Chinese person in the United States to graduate from an American law school, in 1886.
Next, the Hon. George B. Daniels shared some of Kathy Hirata Chin’s achievements as an accomplished litigator and community member.
Then, AABANY’s Executive Director Yang Chen read from the introduction to the Portrait Project, the first-ever comprehensive study of Asian Americans in the legal profession, which spoke on the progress today of Asian Americans as big firm lawyers, government attorneys, corporate counsel members, public defenders, judges and more—reaching “levels of legal participation unthinkable compared to just over 30 years ago.” He made this reference to comment on how far Asian Americans in the legal profession have come from Hong Yen Chang’s time and have yet to go.
Bridgette Ahn, the current president of the Network of Bar Leaders, then took the podium to share brief remarks on NYCLA’s work and mission. Rudy Carmenaty, the President of the Columbia Law School Association, followed up by illuminating more of Ms. Chin’s achievements and the reasons for holding the Hong Yen Chang reception.
Then, the honoree Kathy Hirata Chin shared an engaging presentation on Hong Yen Chang’s remarkable life, including many long forgotten and little known details about his achievements at a time when discriminatory laws and attitudes toward Asians were far more prevalent.
Finally, Ms. Chin was presented with the inaugural Hong Yen Chang award honoring her trailblazing achievements in the spirit of Hong Yen Chang. Her husband, the Hon. Denny Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, added his reflections. He stated, “Kathy is a wonderful, caring, gracious, hard working, brilliant person. And beyond that, she is a terrific lawyer, a pioneer in her own right as an Asian American woman—a litigator—making her mark at a time when law firms were still holding events at male owning clubs. And there were zero Asian American partners.”
Regarding Ms. Chin’s accomplishments, as stated in AABANY’s press release, “[she] has handled dozens of appellate cases, concentrating her practice in healthcare and real estate…. She has served on Governor Mario M. Cuomo’s Judicial Screening Committee for the First Judicial Department from 1992-1994; the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel for the Eastern District of New York from 1992-1999; the Gender Bias Committee of the Second Circuit Task Force on Gender, Race, and Ethnic Fairness; the New York County Lawyers’ Association’s Task Force to Increase Diversity in the Legal Profession; and Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections from 2003-2006; and the New York County Lawyers’ Association Board of Directors. In April 2016, she was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the First Department Judicial Screening Committee. Since January 2016, Chin has served as a member of the Second Circuit Judicial Council Committee on Civic Education & Public Engagement, focusing on historic reenactments as a teaching tool. With her husband, the Hon. Denny Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and teams of lawyers and judges from AABANY, she has developed and presented reenactments of famous cases such as Korematsu vs. U.S, to educate the community about the significant contributions of Asian Americans to the social, political and legal history of the United States.”
Regarding Hong Yen Chang, according to AABANY’s press release: “In 1872, 13-year-old Hong Yen Chang came to the United States to be groomed as a diplomat. He earned degrees from Yale University and Columbia University’s law school and passed the bar exam. However, after passing the bar examination, he was first denied admission because of his lack of U.S. citizenship due to the Chinese Exclusion Act. A special act of the New York Legislature (N.Y. L.1887 c. 249) allowed his admission despite this bar and in 1888, Hong Yen Chang reportedly became the first Asian American attorney admitted to the bar in New York. Hong Yen Chang then moved to California and applied for admission to the bar there but was denied in 1890 due to his lack of citizenship. Not until 2015 was this exclusion
Please join AABANY in congratulating Kathy Hirata Chin on all of her achievements and on her well-deserved honor at the inaugural Hong Yen Chang reception.
Thanks to Kevin Hsi for providing the photos for this blog post.