Tenth anniversary APALSA conference draws over 400 participants

BY GLORIA CHAN

The Tenth Annual National Asian Pacific American Conference on Law & Public Policy was hosted by APALSA and the Kennedy School´s Asian American Policy Review (AAPR).
Human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama was honored by establishing an award in her name.

This past weekend approximately 400 participants and 35 panelists and honorary guests participated in the Tenth Annual National Asian Pacific American Conference on Law & Public Policy, entitled “Border Crossings: Globalizing the Asian Pacific American Movement for the 21st Century.” The conference was hosted by Harvard Law School’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) and the Asian American Policy Review (AAPR) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The Conference Steering Committee consisted of 2Ls Conference Co-Chairs Chester Day and Gloria Chan, APALSA Co-Chairs Angela Chan and Renny Hwang, and Linh Ho, an MPP2 at the Kennedy School of Government.

The Conference kicked off with an Opening Ceremony at the Marriott Hotel in Kendall Square, which featured keynote speaker Karen Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, giving a “State of the Community Address.” The Opening Ceremony also included a performance by VariAsians, a Boston a cappella group that captured that evening’s audience with their soulful voices.

In celebration of the Conference’s Tenth Anniversary, APALSA and AAPR recognized ten years of advocacy work not only of Harvard alumni, but also activism in the Asian Pacific American community at large. In particular, Conference organizers honored life-long human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama through establishing the “Yuri Kochiyama Award for Social Justice.” The U.S. government imprisoned Kochiyama in an internment camp in her early twenties during World War II. In the early 1960s, she began to speak out against civil and human rights violations occurring within the United States and around the world. At the age of 83, she remains active in civil rights and human rights work, continuing three decades of speaking out on behalf of political prisoners around the world. The Conference attendees gave Kochiyama spirited standing ovations after her speech during the plenary panel entitled “Activism Against Racial Injustice in Times of War,” and after the presentation of the inaugural Award to Kochiyama during the closing Banquet. Kochiyama urged Conference attendees to stay vigilant and to challenge injustices using the slogan coined by supporters of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal: “Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right!” The crowd roared with applause.

Alumni speakers from across the nation participated in the celebration of the Conference’s Tenth Anniversary as keynote speakers and panelists. During Friday evening’s Opening Ceremony, Jacklyn Park, ’95, who was Chair of APALSA at the time the Conference was created, gave an address about the founding moments of the Conference ten years ago. Saturday’s events began with a moment of silence honoring the memory and legacy of Judge Herbert Y.C. Choy, ’41, who passed away last Thursday. Judge Choy was the first Korean-American lawyer to be admitted to an American bar and first Asian Pacific American federal judge. Judge Choy is lauded for serving with integrity and fairness on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua, ’87, gave the closing keynote address Saturday evening at the banquet, and signed copies of her acclaimed book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Other alumni speakers included UCLA Law Professor and Visiting HLS Professor Jerry Kang, ’93, Boston College Law Professor Daniel Kanstroom, LL.M. ’92, and Temple Law Professor Jan Ting, ’75.

The Conference, with its theme of “Border Crossings,” exposed the international contexts of policy and legal debates that affect Asian Pacific American communities. The plenary panel addressed the effects of military engagement on the makeup, welfare, and activism of these communities. The panelists made linkages between the Japanese internment, the treatment of Asian Pacific American servicemen and servicewomen during the Vietnam War, and the racial profiling of South Asian and Arab Americans post-September 11th.

Throughout the Conference, one could feel the energy amongst the participants, speakers and honorary guests. From the catered lunch to the career fair to the banquet, scholars chatted with each other; lawyers chatted with students; and everyone was buzzing about the panels that they had attended throughout the day. One attendee, Chee How Yap, a student from Amherst College, commented that “the Conference was invaluable in exposing the diverse issues that continue to affect APAs. The steering committee did a wonderful job in attracting accomplished panelists from a diverse set of viewpoints, which became quite apparent during some heated but intellectually stimulating discussions.”

During the Academic Panel entitled, “Exposing Implicit Racial Biases: Lessons from Social Cognition Theory for Anti-discrimination Advocates,” Professor Jerry Kang, a visiting professor at HLS, promised attendees “jaw dropping” studies on how implicit racial biases operate. Psychology professors Mahzarin Banaji from Harvard University and Margaret Shih from University of Michigan delivered on Professor Kang’s promise through innovative audience participation, by testing attendees using a number of implicit bias experiments displayed on the flat screen television above the stage.

Natalie Wagner, HLS 2L, reflects on the Media Panel that she attended: “there was something for everyone, ranging from a wacky academic advocating the use of Asian-on-Asian porn to a baby boomer’s perspective on the role of Asian symbols in popular culture… I also was impressed by the professionalism of the Conference as shown by the wide range of panel topics, distinguished guests, as well as the sea of suits in attendance.”

One group of panelists, though not necessarily dressed in suits, were able to effectively challenge the audience to think about their own positions and responsibilities as future lawyers, policy makers, and leaders. The Youth Panel was called “An Invisible Crisis: The Effects of War and Forced Migration on Southeast Asian Refugee Youth.” It was unorthodox in that, instead of legal academics, it featured practitioners and youth organizers who worked directly with underserved young people on the streets in the Southeast Asian communities in Dorchester, MA and in Providence, RI, as well as testimonials from youth themselves. Dr. Catherine Vuky, a clinical psychologist who serves medically underserved immigrant communities here in Boston, is only one of two clinical psychologists of Vietnamese descent in all of Massachusetts. In her presentation, Dr. Vuky exposed language access as one of the main factors keeping underprivileged immigrant communities from receiving the services they desperately need. Other panelists included youth organizers Tri Phuong and Dan Koo from Tiêng Xanh-Voice, Inc., an organization in Dorchester that strives to empower young people who are facing gang violence, high dropout rates, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse and drug addiction.

The spirit of the Conference was captured by Debra Yang’s keynote address. In speaking to an audience with much privilege, Yang, the first Asian Pacific American U.S. Attorney, reminded attendees that “we’re only as good as our greatest common denominator. As we move forward as a group, we have to keep in mind those who are [left] behind.”

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