Allen & Overy Honors the Legacy of Vincent Chin through a Virtual Trial Reenactment

Vincent Chin is a name painfully familiar to some and unrecognizable to others. It is the beginning of so many stories, including mine. Three years ago, I met Annie Tan (no relation to me, though we happen to share the same name), an Asian American activist, teacher, and niece of Vincent Chin. She was the keynote speaker at Crossroads, a conference for young Asian American activists organized by Columbia students. I was a confused 16-year-old attending my first conference dedicated to activism. 

At the time, I had just begun exploring my Asian American identity and history. Through self-education and discussions with other students, I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the model minority myth. But, despite my interest in activism, I did not believe that I could seriously pursue or be successful in creating change for the Asian American community. Who would listen to a young, Asian American girl, not even old enough to vote, talk about race, especially when these conversations are often so complex and black and white?

However, as Annie Tan stood behind the podium and began recounting her own journey in activism–how she found a supportive community through Columbia’s Asian American Alliance, and how the legacy of her uncle, Vincent Chin, affected her work–I realized that someone like me, someone who looked like me and even had the same name as me, could be an activist. Because of Asian American women like Lily Chin and Helen Zia, Vincent Chin’s death became not just a moment, but a movement for Asian Americans. And, it is because of people like Annie Tan, and maybe even people like me, that the story of Vincent Chin, and the story of Asian America, continues to be told and heard.

This year, on May 28, during APA Heritage Month, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) co-sponsored a virtual trial re-enactment of the Vincent Chin case with Allen & Overy–the first time a reenactment has been performed virtually via WebEx due to the restrictions of COVID-19. I attended this event, hoping to learn more about the man whose life inspired so many, including myself, to speak out against hatred, violence, and inequity.

Vincent Chin was beaten to death in 1982 in Detroit days before his wedding by two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who were laid-off automobile workers. The fatal assault was preceded by an argument between Chin and Ebens, who hurled racial insults at Chin, reportedly calling him a “Nip.” At the time, Asian Americans were the face of the enemy: the robust Japanese automobile industry was putting many automobile workers in Detroit, like Ebens and Nitz, out of work. 

Despite the violent acts that Chin’s murderers committed, they were imposed only a fine for their crimes. When the case reached the Wayne County Circuit Court, Judge Kaufman, finding Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter, only sentenced them to three years probation and a fine of approximately $3,000. They received no jail time, and no prosecutor appeared during the trial, nor was Chin’s family notified of the trial. 

Frustrated with this outcome, Helen Zia and Lily Chin, supported by the newly-founded Asian American civil rights organization American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), urged the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal criminal charges against the murderers and investigate the case as a civil rights violation. The case was brought to Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, one of the first African American women to serve on the Federal bench, and in 1984, the U.S. District Court found Ebens guilty of violating the civil rights of Chin and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. However, Ebens’ lawyers appealed, claiming that the trial judge did not allow the defense to present evidence that suggested the prosecution tampered with the witness testimony. This led to a retrial in the federal court in Cincinnati on May 1, 1987, which found that Ebens was not guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights and that his actions were not motivated by Chin’s race. The same year, Ebens and Nitz settled a civil suit out of court, where Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 and Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million to the Chin estate. To this day, Ebens has not served any jail time and has yet to pay the now $8 million (with accumulated interest) he owes to the Chin family.

The Vincent Chin case highlighted the flaws in our criminal justice system and served as a catalyst for Asian American civil rights engagement. Following the trials, federal and state laws were enacted to give victims of hate crimes greater rights. The case also led to reforms in sentencing and plea bargaining, including the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Most importantly, Chin’s murder awakened the civil rights consciousness of Asian Americans in a time when the subject of race was still Black and White. Asian Americans were galvanized by the notion that they, just like Vincent Chin, could be beaten to death because of their race without the perpetrators suffering any consequences. People across ethnic and socioeconomic lines joined together to seek justice for Chin, creating organizations such as American Citizens for Justice, now known as the Asian American Center for Justice, focused on civil rights work.

A panel discussion followed the trial re-enactment, featuring: Christine Choy, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” and professor at NYU Tisch School of Arts; Emil Guillermo, print and broadcast journalist, and contributor to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s blog; and Jia Lynn Yang, Deputy National Editor at The New York Times and author of One Mighty and Irresistible Tide, which examines the history of immigration in the United States. The discussion was moderated by John Hwang, Partner, and Jiawei Chin, Associate, at Allen & Overy. 

Christine Choy reflected on the evolution of activism and the Asian American identity, referencing major events such as the end of the Vietnam War, and the rise of the Black Panther Party and other young student movements. She cited the Red Guard Party in Chinatown as an early example of Asian American activism and stressed that Vincent Chin’s murder was responsible for asserting Asian Americans’ role in civil rights.

Emil Guillermo emphasized that though the crime of Vincent Chin awoke people in Detroit, he, himself, did not know as much as he should have about the case. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Chin’s death, most people still do not understand the full picture of what happened during Chin’s case. Guillermo also highlighted the similarities between Vincent Chin’s death and that of George Floyd, urging the Asian American community to recognize their shared experiences with Black communities.

Finally, Jia Lynn Yang noted how quickly the Asian American population has grown, rising from 3.5 million in 1980 to now over 20 million. Despite their growing presence, Asian Americans are still viewed as foreigners who will never belong in the United States, just as Vincent Chin was. In fact, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed many Asian Americans to immigrate to this country, was not consciously written to welcome non-Europeans. Now, however, almost two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and the xenophobic attacks Chin faced have transformed into anti-Asian violence and harassment from racially-charged fears over COVID-19.

Many of us are tied to Vincent Chin, often in ways we may not even realize. He is the reason why many individuals, like myself, are inspired and emboldened to engage in Asian American activism. Vincent Chin is not just a memory they think of once a year, on the anniversary of his death. As I listened to Annie Tan describe her family’s pain, and how brave and lonely Lily Chin–her great aunt–was as she fought for her son’s justice, I understood that Vincent’s murder is a wound that continues to haunt families, friends, and communities connected to him, and a legacy that is still alive in Asian Americans today.

It is easy for us to forget their names: Vincent Chin, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain. But we must recognize that these individuals are not simply statistics or hashtags. Their lives–cut short by racism, bigotry, and the failures of our criminal justice system–mattered. Their lives have the power to inspire people to take action against hate and to spark movements, but this is only possible if we continue to learn about and honor these individuals, whose stories have been lost and overlooked. Only then, by acknowledging those before us, can we strive to create real change and avoid repeating the past.

We thank Allen & Overy and all of the participants in the reenactment for giving their time to raise awareness of Vincent Chin’s legacy. To learn more about the Vincent Chin trial reenactment and to request the script, go here. For more information about AABANY’s trial reenactments project, visit https://reenactments.aabany.org/.

2019 NAPABA Convention Review

Here’s a recap of everything you might have missed!

Looking at social media posts from the Convention, we were pleased to see so many attendees share our feeling that NAPABA is a family, a group of friends and colleagues, and most importantly, a community. No matter the field, the level of experience, or geographic location, we are one NAPABA.

We’re excited to head into 2020 with you all, but first let’s look back at this year’s Convention!

New Year, New Leadership 

Bonnie Lee Wolf was sworn in as NAPABA’s president. We are inspired by her vision for NAPABA and look forward to supporting her leadership! 

Using History to Inform Our Future

Through a re-enactment and historical materials, we revisited the importance of Korematsu v. United States, when Fred Korematsu challenged Executive Order 9066, which led to the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Individuals who played key roles in the successful effort to overturn Korematsu’s conviction in the 1983 case brought his story to life, connecting his values of equity and human rights to the issues we face today.

During the Saturday plenary, an inspiring group of LGBTQ attorneys reflected on the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas that opened the door for inclusion for diverse communities and laid the groundwork for marriage equality to become a right across the country. However, true inclusion is still a work in progress. Panelists offered their look at the future of diversity and inclusion for the LGBTQ community.

Celebrating 31 Years

At our Anniversary Gala, we celebrated 31 years of NAPABA by looking to the future with a swearing-in of the 2019-20 NAPABA Board of Governors. Comedian, actor and writer Sheng Wang hosted the gala and Chef Kristen Kish and food critic Soleil Ho had a great conversation about identity, self-worth and success.

2019 Award Winners

We were honored to recognize this year’s award winners at the 2019 NAPABA Convention. We’re proud to have so many distinguished members, who inspire our work every day.

Trailblazer Awards

The Honorable Richard J. Chin. To see the award video, click here.
Julia Markley. To see the award video, click here.
Byung “BJay” Pak. To see the award video, click here.
Debbie Leilani Shon. To see the award video, click here.

Affiliate of the Year Award

To see the award video, click here.

APA-Owned Law Firm of the Year Award

To see the award video, click here.

Law Firm Diversity Award

To see the award video, click here.

Military and Veteran Service Award

Captain Lia Mitoko Reynolds. To see the award video, click here.

President’s Award

Dale Ho. To see the award video, click here.

Pro Bono Award

Karen King. To see the award video, click here.

Women’s Leadership Award

Debbie Leilani Shon. To see the award video, click here.

 Best Under 40

Vanessa E. Candelaria | Attorney, Law Offices of Vanessa Candelaria
Christina Chan | Assistant Attorney General, Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General
Nooree Lee | Associate, Covington & Burling LLP
Cindy Lin | Partner, King & Spalding LLP
Laurie Rose Lubiano | IP & Product Counsel, The Climate Corporation
Catherine Y. Lui | Partner, Orrick LLP
Jessica Nguyen | General Counsel, PayScale, Inc.
Marc A. Pilotin | General Counsel, California Labor and Workforce Development Agency
Sid Shenoy | Partner, Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP
Christopher Thana Sukhaphadhana | Senior Counsel, Intellectual Property, Bard Peripheral Vascular, Inc.
Jerry Vattamala | Democracy Program Director, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Johnny Wang | Partner, Stinson LLP
Jovita T. Wang | Partner, Richardson Wright LLP
Bryant Y. Yang | Assistant U.S Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office
Bilal Zaheer | Partner, Locke Lord LLP 

Partners Network In-House Counsel Awards

Diversity Leadership Rising Star Award 

Laurie Rose Lubiano

Diversity Leadership Award

Michael C. Wu

NAPABA Gives Back

Thanks to everyone who joined us at our Community Service Project and Farewell Breakfast! We assembled over 200 care packages for the Asian Family Support Services of Austin. AFSS Austin is a nonprofit that helps Asian, immigrant and refugee survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault & trafficking. 

A Message from NAPABA Law Foundation

The NAPABA Law Foundation thanks everyone who donated during convention to support NLF’s fellowships, scholarships, and the Thomas Tang National Moot Court Competition.  

Whether by buying a Fred Korematsu or Judge Denny Chin bobblehead, wagering at Casino Night, bidding on silent auction items, or using text-to-give during the Gala, these proceeds will be used to advance access to justice for our communities.
 
Speaking of the text-to-give, congratulations on breaking the system! It appears that so many people were jumping on their smartphones to donate that our vendor’s system crashed! 
 
If you were unable to make a gift at Convention, you may donate via NLF’s website by clicking here. Remember, Harry Gee, Jr., and his family are matching the first $150,000 raised! Every dollar you donate will have double the impact!

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Thank you to the amazing sponsors who supported the 2019 NAPABA Convention.

Premier Sponsor
Walmart

Jade Sponsors
Littler
Microsoft
Prudential

Platinum Sponsors
Akin Gump
Apple
Baker Botts
Comcast NBC Universal
Goodwin
Google
McGuireWoods
Nationwide
Paul Weiss
Seyfarth Shaw

For a full list of our 2019 sponsors, click here.

Save the Date

Join us for the 2020 NAPABA Convention 
November 5 – 9, 2020
Los Angeles, California 

AABANY Celebrates 2nd Annual Fred Korematsu Day in New York City

On Wednesday, January 30th, AABANY celebrated Fred Korematsu’s 100th birthday and New York City’s 2nd annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. The historic event was presented by the Asian Practice Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA), the New York Day of Remembrance Committee, AABANY and numerous community groups. The event was hosted by NYCLA, at 14 Vesey Street, and over 150 individuals braved the freezing cold and attended to honor Fred Korematsu and his legacy.

Fred Korematsu was a Japanese American man who lived during the era of Japanese internment. Under FDR’s Executive Order 9066, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps without any hearing or due process. Fred Korematsu challenged the order by refusing to go to the concentration camp he was assigned to; his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States. The Court, however, deferred to the Executive Order and ruled in a 6-3 landmark decision that internment was based on “military necessity.” Korematsu’s conviction was eventually overturned in 1984 in a coram nobis proceeding in which the court found that the government deliberately misstated facts or provided misleading information in obtaining the conviction of Fred Korematsu.

At the celebration, AABANY members performed “Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice,” a reenactment of legal proceedings in Korematsu v. United States. The reenactment was led by Hon. Denny Chin, United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Kathy Hirata Chin, Partner at Crowell & Moring, who reprised their roles as Narrators 1 and 2. Also part of the cast were many veterans of the reenactment team, including Hon. Kiyo Matsumoto, Vincent Chang, Vinoo Varghese, Francis Chin, Clara Ohr, Andrew Hahn, Yang Chen and David Weinberg.

A panel discussion on “Why the Korematsu Case Still Matters Today” followed the reenactment. The panelists were Prof. Rose Cuison Villazor of Rutgers Law School and Afaf Nasher, Executive Director for the New York Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director and Issues Committee Chair, moderated the discussion. The panelist remarked on the importance of Korematsu in Asian Pacific American History, connecting his legacy to APA community outreach and condemning the parallels between Korematsu’s case and the current Administration’s stances on immigration, deportation, and detention.

AABANY was proud to be part of this historic celebration of Korematsu Day in New York. We were particularly pleased to be joined by Koji Abe, Deputy Chief of Mission, Jin Hashimoto, Political Consul, Yuki Kaneshige, Public Affairs Specialist from the Consulate General of Japan, and City Councilman Daniel Dromm who introduced the New York City Council resolution that established Jan. 30th as the Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in New York City.

The celebration was covered by NHK World Japan and WNYC News. To learn more click on the following links.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20190131_24/

https://www.wnyc.org/story/japanese-american-internment-dramatized/

We invite everyone to learn more about Fred Korematsu and his legacy by visiting the Korematsu Institute website. http://www.korematsuinstitute.org/homepage/

In the News: AABANY’s trial reenactment of “Fred Korematsu and His Fight For Justice”

On January 30th, AABANY co-sponsored and celebrated New York City’s 2nd annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, hosted by the New York County Lawyers Association at 14 Vesey Street. The event was covered by NHK World Japan.

Lawyers in New York have reenacted the legal battle of a second-generation Japanese-American who challenged the constitutionality of the US internment policy during World War Two.

To see the video and to read the full article, click on the image below.


PRESS RELEASE | NEW YORK COUNTY LAWYERS ASSOCIATION HOSTS SECOND ANNUAL FRED KOREMATSU DAY CELEBRATION IN NEW YORK CITY, JOINED BY ASIAN AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK, NEW YORK DAY OF REMEMBRANCE COMMITTEE AND COMMUNITY GROUPS

NEW YORK, January 25, 2019 – New York City will celebrate its 2nd annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, hosted by the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA) at 14 Vesey Street from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. This event marks Korematsu’s 100th birthday. The Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution is already officially recognized in four states and was first officially celebrated in New York City in 2018. Spearheaded by the Asian Practice Committee of NYCLA, the Asian American Bar Association of New York joins the New York Day of Remembrance Committee and numerous community groups to organize this historic event.

At the celebration, Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) members will perform “Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice,” a reenactment of legal proceedings in Korematsu v. United States. Judge Denny Chin, United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Kathy Hirata Chin, Partner at Crowell & Moring, will narrate the reenactment.

“Why the Korematsu Case Still Matters Today,” a panel discussion, will follow the reenactment. The panelists are Prof. Rose Cuison Villazor of Rutgers Law School and Afaf Nasher, Executive Director for the New York Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, and Chris Kwok, AABANY Board Director and Issues Committee Chair, will be the moderator.

Fred T. Korematsu was a national civil rights hero. In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified by military necessity.

In 1983, in light of new evidence of government misconduct, Korematsu’s 40-year-old case was reopened. On November 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.

“AABANY is proud to help celebrate Fred Korematsu’s 100th birthday, on the occasion of the second annual Korematsu Day in New York City,” states Yang Chen, AABANY’s Executive Director. “AABANY was among the groups in New York that testified before the New York City Council in 2017 in support of commemorating January 30th each year as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in New York City. We were there last year for the inaugural celebration, and we are honored to be able to present one of our trial reenactments to recount the story of Fred Korematsu and his struggle for justice. The only way we can ensure that we as Americans never again repeat the gross injustice Japanese Americans suffered during World War II is to tell his story and share its many lessons with the general public.”

For more information, please contact Yang Chen, AABANY Executive Director, at (212) 332-2478, or main@aabany.org .

The Asian American Bar Association of New York is a professional membership organization of attorneys concerned with issues affecting the Asian Pacific American community. Incorporated in 1989, AABANY seeks not only to encourage the professional growth of its members but also to advocate for the Asian Pacific American community as a whole. AABANY is a New York regional affiliate of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA).

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