Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

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Jack Yeh Discusses Advancing Justice-LA & the Significance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Date Published: May 12, 2021 
Source: Sidley Austin LLP
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You’ve been involved for a very long time with Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles. Can you tell us about the organization and your leadership role?
Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA) is the nation’s largest legal aid and civil rights organization serving the most vulnerable of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. Originally founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the group now serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year through direct services, impact litigation, policy advocacy, leadership development and capacity building.
I’ve served on the Advancing Justice-LA board of directors for nearly a decade — since early 2011. I sit on its Executive Committee and am co-chair of the Development Committee, which are both responsible for planning the direction and growth of the organization.
How has Advancing Justice-LA responded to the wave of negative acts against Asian American’s in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
As many have seen in recent news coverage, Asian Americans are facing a wave of xenophobic harassment and discrimination related to the COVID-19 pandemic. At Advancing Justice-LA, we have responded to the crisis with targeted initiatives and projects.
For example, to fight anti-discrimination against Asian Americans based on the misconception that COVID-19 is a “Chinese virus,” we have participated and facilitated dozens of virtual town halls throughout Southern California. These programs build upon what Advancing Justice has been doing on a national level, including the documentation of hate crimes and hate incidents since 2017 and partnering with other non-profits to launch anti-harassment campaigns such as hosting free online Bystander Intervention training courses.
In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau has awarded us one of the largest aid allocations for our work in educating Asian American communities about the avenues of access, resources and support they need to participate in the census so that these communities are counted fairly and accurately. Governor Gavin Newsom has asked us to work with the California Department of Social Services to help distribute COVID-19 Disaster Relief Assistance (DRA) funds to undocumented adults throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.
At the same time, we also continue to provide services to protect women and children from domestic violence and deportation, offer low-income and communities of color assistance with citizenship, immigration and housing issues in Cambodian (Khmer), Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Filipino (Tagalog), Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese. In short, the crisis has provided Advancing Justice-LA the opportunity to refine, refocus and enhance our work, solidifying the commitment to our mission.
You’re also very involved as a mentor with the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association. What can you tell us about your mentoring experience or mentoring initiatives undertaken by the organization?
On a national level, I have been very involved in a number of professional networking and development programs with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Locally, I have served on the Board for the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, the oldest Asian lawyers association in Los Angeles. From relationships developed within these organizations, I have mentored many young lawyers through ever-evolving phases of career development — several of these mentees now occupy prominent positions as general counsels, partners in large private law firms, politicians, and academics.
I view mentoring as a core responsibility of every single lawyer, particularly Asian lawyers. We stand on the shoulders of so many others and it is our obligation to make sure others can stand on ours. I have found the process of mentoring has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my professional career — where my investment in an individual aligns my heart with their success, no matter how long it may take to come to fruition. My mentees have become some of my most cherished professional relationships and personal friendships — and I truly feel connected to their various successes and happiness.
What does celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you? Does it take on a different meaning during this Pandemic and in light of harassment the Asian American community has endured through this unfortunate time?
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month has always had a special meaning to me. We have often been seen (or unseen) as the quiet (model) minority — to the point where our collective struggles and achievements can sometimes feel marginalized. The celebrations and reflections we do in this kind of month serve as inspiring reminders of our history and the many different paths we have taken to get where we are today — having earned positions of influence in the boardroom and as captains of industry; as pioneers in medicine and technology; as leaders in the law, government and political discourse; as visionaries in the arts, fashion, sports and entertainment; and as important decision-makers in our society.
Nevertheless, while the feel-good aspects of a month like this are always lovely, this year’s celebration is different. It is taking place during the most challenging time our world has ever faced — when our societies and our cultures are faced with actual life and death consequences of a corporeal and economic nature. Seeing what such devastation can bring out in people, the hate and fear that ordinarily remains buried under the surface bubbling into the daily insta-feed, and seeing it play out against Asian Americans across the country should remind us all how fragile our success truly is, whether you are Asian or not.
It is a very important reminder that we are running a marathon, not a sprint. Our successes are in the past and are in danger of being long forgotten if we are not vigilant in protecting each other, helping each other and inspiring each other. We must work even harder, more than ever, to get involved, speak up, reach out, and be a material part of the reason that change happens. It is our responsibility.
What is your advice for other lawyers who want to support the Asian American community? How should they get involved?
For those thinking about how best to support the Asian American community, my advice is to stay informed, stay engaged and stay active. There are many organizations in our community that would benefit from contribution in whichever form you can offer: time, thought, labor or donations. What matters is that you make your contribution an important part of your personal responsibilities.

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