CBA Record May-June 2024

The March Forward: Asian Americans in the Legal Profession By Judge Jasmine V. Hernandez and Kajal Patel

Courtney Fong

Judge Israel Desierto

Judge Anjana Hansen

T o appreciate where you are, you must know where you came from. Thanks to the efforts of leaders like State Representative Jennifer Gong Gershowitz, Illinois public schools’ cur riculum now must include topics in Asian American or Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history, such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the Chinese Exclusion Act. The first of its kind, the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act ensures stu dents will learn about the contributions and sacrifices of Asian Americans in the United States. Contrary to the model minority myth, Asian Americans did not simply appear as successful business owners and profes sionals; they have their own history in this country, complete with twists, turns, and surprises. Similarly, AAPI attorneys have a unique history in the legal profession. A field replete with its own stereotypes, the legal profession is often regarded as steeped in tradition and formality, inflex ible to change, with culturally homog enous members. However, one of the first Asian American attorneys in the United States can be traced back to 1886, Hong Yen Chang, a Chinese immigrant

and graduate of Columbia Law School. Remembering Hong Yen Chang 1886 , Columbia Law School (2020) https:// remembering-hong-yen-chang-1886). Over 125 years later, AAPI attorneys may be found in all facets of the profession. A 2022 study, the Portrait Project , shared that a high percentage of AAPI attorneys now report practicing law to make positive changes in the world. Tyler Dang, Kath erine Fang, Benji Lu, Michael Tayag & Goodwin Liu, A Portrait Project of Asian Americans in the Law 2.0: Identity and Action in Challenging Times (2022). While the number of AAPI attorneys has increased, those numbers appear small when considering who sits in leadership and other decision-making positions. We have made great strides, but as any tiger mom might point out, there is always room for improvement. In celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, we reflect on the history of AAPI attorneys in the law and what we have overcome, achieved, and have still yet to explore. We share more of Chang’s experience and delve into the Portrait Project’s findings. We compare that data to the experience of prominent Chi cagoland AAPI attorneys and judges, who influence AAPI attorneys and allies

alike: Courtney Fong, Chief Operating Officer, Comptia; Judge Israel Desierto (ret.), Circuit Court of Cook County; Judge Anjana Hansen, Circuit Court of Cook County; Jeanah Park, Vedder Price; Sandra Yamate, CEO and Execu tive Director, Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession; and Judge William Yu, Circuit Court of Cook County. Where It All Began As a Chinese immigrant, Chang’s story is notable because after graduating from Columbia Law School in 1886, the New York Supreme Court denied his admis sion to the New York Bar because he was not a U.S. citizen. Chang fought an uphill battle regarding citizenship because the Naturalization Act of 1870 said only those of white or African nativity or Afri can descent were eligible for naturaliza tion. Naturalization Act of 1870, ch. 542 §7, 16 Stat. 254. Most formidable, though, was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned Chinese immigrants from entering the United States and pro hibited those already living here from being naturalized. Although the Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943, Chang nonetheless fought to practice law. After a two-year battle, he received a certificate of natural

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