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Fighting our Forgetfulness: A Call to Action for Asian American Law Students

Michael Lowe Wu was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is committed to fighting for those stuck in the criminal justice system and will be spending his summer interning with the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender.

Several months ago, Margaret E. Montoya, the first Latina admitted to Harvard Law School and a law professor at the University of New Mexico, came to UC Davis School of Law as a special speaker. Within minutes of taking to the floor, she had the audience engaged in a fascinating discussion on race, ethnicity, language, and identity in the legal profession. She ended with a passionate plea, urging the students in attendance to recognize the embarrassing lack of diversity in the legal field and to hold on to their individual identities as they prepared to enter it. It was a truly inspirational speech.

Yet, as moved as I was by her presentation, the event was titled "Latina/o Identity in the Legal Profession," was held during Cesar Chavez Week, and was organized by the La Raza Law Student Association. She made her message applicable to all of us, but her words were especially directed at the Latina/o students in the audience. As a public-interest oriented, Asian American law student, I came away from the event asking myself, "Where are all the similarly fired-up Asian Americans and why don't I know who they are?" I've come to several conclusions.

Although Asian Americans in law school are in the best position to know and understand the history of discrimination that our predecessors have suffered, for many of these students, there is no personal connection to that history. I admit that I am one of them, having been born in this country, raised in a middle-class family, and never subjected to blatant racism. However, Asians have endured a long history of racism and discrimination in this country. (Remember the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Angel Island, and the Japanese American Internment?) Our generation is at risk of forgetting this history and foregoing progress if we do not vigilantly protect the legacies and retell the stories of those that came before us.

This year, California celebrated the first ever Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in honor of the civil rights icon who challenged the legality of Japanese internment and eventually achieved vindication for his people. However, the purpose behind this commemoration was not just to honor Fred Korematsu. It was to remind us of the principles of equality and freedom that Fred stood for and to inspire us all to finish the work that Fred and so many others started. We have been given an occasion to celebrate the countless Asian American leaders that, along with Fred, have been champions for civil rights. Yuri Kochiyama, Richard Aoki, Ronald Takaki and many others were prominent leaders during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Today, contemporaries such as Bill Tamayo, Sumi Cho, Julie Su, and Angela Chan carry the banner and continue to inspire young people to join in. These passionate, outspoken Asian American civil rights leaders are out there in our communities, we just need to care enough to look to them for inspiration and bravely join their ranks.

At times, I find myself growing discouraged by the apathy and indifference I sometimes see in Asian American law students. But I know that there is still hope. I truly believe that a person can successfully transition from indifference, to awareness, and eventually to a genuine understanding of the role that they can play in furthering the causes of justice. Not everyone is meant to work in a non-profit as a die-hard, civil-rights attorney and activist. However, every student privileged enough to be in law school has a duty to recognize the progress that still needs to be made and actively seek out opportunities to contribute. Our predecessors started a movement. It is now our job to join in and continue it.

The Significance of Birthright Citizenship in the APA Community

Jonathan Le is a student at Southern Methodist University and Central South Regional Director.

I recently had the pleasure of reading an article about birthright citizenship by former Texas Solicitor General Jim C. Ho. In his article, Mr. Ho addressed how many opponents of birthright citizenship support state legislation to disqualify children of undocumented immigrants. I strongly agree with Mr. Ho's stance that children born in the U.S. are entitled to American citizenship, regardless of their parents' status
Though I am far from a constitutional scholar, I believe that the opening language of the 14th Amendment is quite clear. The first sentence states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." To me, there are no implied exceptions or exclusions to the guarantee of citizenship to those born in the U.S. I think that a person would be hard pressed to read in any other interpretation.
As future lawyers, I feel that we should be cognizant of this enduring issue. While the debate over birthright citizenship may not be as pressing to APAs as it was 20 or more years ago, it continues to directly impact our community. Even if our legal careers do not take us into the field of immigration law, I think we should make an effort to help immigrant families. Regardless of how long ago their family immigrated here, every person that is born in the U.S. should not be deprived their constitutional right to citizenship.

Reaching Out and Reaching Up

Jonathan C. Li is the Regional Director of the Northeast for NAPALSA. He is also the current President of the New York Inter-APALSA Council.

Prior to law school, I had not taken any leadership roles in organizations such as the Asian student groups or professional organizations. However, that all changed when I got to law school.

Asians in the workforce today face what is called the "bamboo ceiling." This refers to the phenomenon in which Asians are well represented in the lower-echelon of professional jobs, but are much underrepresented in the executive and upper-management levels. There is a disproportionate ratio between those who start out at entry-level positions and those who manage to work their way up. This is especially prevalent in the legal field where there are a far smaller percentage of Asian partners and judges as compared to Asian attorneys. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that there are far fewer Asians in the legal field than in medicine or business. (I can personally attest to this as I have many relatives who have attended to med school or business school but not one went to law school.) However, a lot of it is due to stereotypes and misperceptions that Asians are hardworking and diligent but lack communication and people management skills. Asians are also viewed as passive. I have no doubt that some of my former coworkers prior to law school saw only me as the quiet Asian guy who comes in and does his work and leaves.

All of this has motivated me to get more involved in the Asian American legal community. I have served on the board of Hofstra's APALSA, and am the current President of the New York Inter-APALSA Council and Northeast Regional Director of NAPALSA. I have had many positive experiences as a result of my involvement in these organizations. I believe that change is possible but it must start at the roots. Asians are now in the position other minorities groups were once in. As law students we can start by collaborating and supporting each other's APALSA events, workshops, trainings, forums, and conferences. It is also important to network and build solidarity within the Asian community. Organizations such as NAPALSA are especially vital because they bring students together and represent them and give them a voice. It is only by helping each other can we help ourselves to prepare for successful future legal practice. To quote Chris Chan, "it would be great if there were more chopsticks in the offices."

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