APALSA Conference Discusses “The New Yellow Peril”


From left to right
Moderator Eunice Kim and panelists from “Asian Pacific Americans in Law Firms

This past weekend, hundreds of students and attorneys from across the country attended the Thirteenth Annual National Asian Pacific American Conference on Law & Public Policy, entitled “The New Yellow Peril?” The conference was co-hosted by Harvard Law School’s Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) and the Asian American Policy Review at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. The conference co-chairs were 2Ls Alan Park and Jennifer Cheng.

An array of speakers discussed topics that ranged from challenges facing Southeast Asian refugee communities to political activism. The conference kicked off with a series of evening events at the Sheraton Commander Hotel. A screening of the documentary film, Sentenced Home, was followed by a discussion with the film co-director, David Grabias, and Federal Public Defender Jay Stansell of Seattle, Washington.

The film traced the heart-breaking stories of three Cambodian American men who found themselves facing deportation decades after fleeing to the U.S. as refugees. “There’s no other film that looks at what the situation is like for the deportee and his family . . . [the film] was a unique opportunity to show [this],” said Grabias in response to an audience question about the source of his inspiration for creating the film.

Congressman Mike Honda, representative for the 15th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives, concluded the evening with his keynote speech. Despite long weather delays at the airport, Congressman Honda arrived in spirit and donned the conference T-shirt as he spoke on the conference theme: the different and modern challenges facing Asian American communities since the era when Asian immigrants were feared as the “Yellow Peril.” “We know this country is not perfect . . . Our Preamble [to the Constitution] says, ‘form a more perfect union,'” said Honda. He urged the audience, “You have a lot of opportunities ahead of you. I commend you and charge you to make this country fulfill its promise to make a more perfect union.”

The following day included six different panels and a keynote address by Professor Vikram Amar, a frequent commentator in national media on constitutional law issues and Professor at the University of California, Hastings School of Law. Amar covered a diverse range of topics in his speech and in response to questions afterwards, including the post-9/11 Constitution, law school admissions processes, and general advice to the students in the audience.

Amar noted the prominence of Asian American attorneys in the national debate on the “Constitution in wartime,” be it on national media or “in the trenches” representing detainees in court. He also discussed his current research plans, which he said would enable testing of the famous mismatch hypothesis in Professor Rick Sanders’s study on the negative effects of affirmative action. Amar said his research would conduct an empirical analysis of bar exam passage rates, including consideration of where the law student attended college. Amar said, “I think some people are reluctant to look at empirical data in this area because they fear it will be used for certain partisan interests, including a lot of academics [sic].” Amar said he himself believed, however, that it was important to do research of this kind.

The panel on “Issues Facing Southeast Asian Refugee Communities” provided an overview of challenges and achievements of Cambodians, Hmong, and Vietnamese refugees in the United States. Moderated by Helly Lee of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, the speakers covered a broad range of topics affecting the largest group of refugees relocated to the country. Nguyen Dinh Thang, Executive Director of a national resettlement and social services organization, and Chheub Bun Heng, a Boston-area health educator and community activist, talked about the difficulty of providing linguistic and culturally competent services to their communities.

Having worked on numerous Cambodian deportation cases, including before the U.S. Supreme Court, Federal Public Defender Jay Stansell emphasized the importance of fixing the public education system to ensure that refugee youth in inner cities do not continue falling through the cracks. In addition, Fresno City Councilor Blong Xiong discussed the need for political coalition building across ethnic and racial lines to get these issues addressed.

The panel on “Blogging and APA Political Awareness” featured C. N. Le, U. Mass-Amherst sociology professor and founder of Asian-Nation; Eric Hananoki, former segment producer, researcher and blogger for The Al Franken Show on Air America Radio; and Phil Yu, creator of AngryAsianMan.com. The panelists discussed their own blogging experiences as well as their views on the impact and potential impact of blogging on Asian American political participation.

When asked about the potentially divisive effect of multiple blogs for multiple segments of the population, the panelists appeared to agree that the availability of a wider variety of viewpoints facilitated by blogging outweighs the potential for any balkanization that did not already exist. Ultimately, the panelists saw blogging as a positive tool to increase political participation among Asian Americans by exposing them to the views and experiences of other Asian Americans. Yu also commented that despite AngryAsianMan’s moniker, his weblog was that of a reasonable man.

The panel on “APAs in Law Firms: Loving It or Leaving It?” discussed a range of issues including firm life and both challenges and opportunities for APAs at firms. All panelists urged the audience to “find your passion” and pursue the practice areas that one enjoys most. Each panelist was also overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the environment and appreciation of diversity at their own firms or former firms.

In response to questions about whether a “glass ceiling” still exists, most panelists seemed to reject the notion of a glass ceiling. However, some of the panelists also suggested more broadly that for some APA firm associates, there may still exist lingering, subtle obstacles or opportunities particular to APAs along the path to partnership. The ensuing discussion led to the question of whether associates might face stereotypical perceptions that APAs are not as skilled at securing business for firms.

The panel on “Outsourcing in India and China” addressed issues pertaining to the rise of outsourcing in today’s global trade environment. Panelists included Prof. James K. Galbraith, renowned progressive economist of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and Prof. Anthea Zhang, an expert in international joint ventures from the Jones Graduate School of Management at Rice University.

Both panelists reasoned that from economic and business perspectives, outsourcing has positive benefits leading to greater wealth overall and has become an integral component of successful, competitive business. Additionally, 3Ls Shaun Mathew and Vikram Thomas joined the panel and spoke about their research over the past year on the growth of legal outsourcing in India. The panelists seemed to concur that: outsourcing of legal services does not seem likely to impact American attorneys in the near future, but there may be increases in the outsourcing of legal support services that could be mitigated by retraining programs. The panelists noted that increased outsourcing to Asia is beneficial to Asian Americans who can fill jobs in middle management and provide necessary liaisons because of their ethnic background.

The panel on “APAs and Immigration Reform” addressed the problems that Asian communities are facing regards to immigration re
form and set out suggestions by the panelists on what future advocates, policy makers, or activists could do to help improve the current situation. Panelists consisted of Professor Daniel Kanstroom from Boston College Law School, Zenobia Lai from the Greater Boston Legal Services, and Traci Hong from the Asian American Justice Center.

The conference concluded with a banquet and performance by Comedian Dat Phan, a winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, which continuously filled the hall with peals of laughter for the duration of the evening.

Sophia Lai, Wen Bu, Florence Goal, and June Rhee contributed to the reporting of this article.

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