Filmmaker Mira Nair, Alice Young, and Open Society Institute Receive AALDEF Justice in Action Awards in New York

Posted by Lia Chang on Wednesday, 31 March 2004.

Filmmaker Mira Nair, Alice Young, and Open Society Institute Receive AALDEF Justice in Action Awards in New York

This year, to celebrate their 30th anniversary of service to the Asian American community, AALDEF , the New York-based civil rights group, brought together more than 900 diverse individuals from across the country for a festive gala evening on March 25 at PIER SIXTY, Chelsea Piers , in New York City.

Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang and novelist/performance artist Jessica Hagedorn were on hand to co-emcee a night of cocktails, a silent auction and a scrumptious dinner along the Hudson River.

I caught up with special guests U.S. District Judge Denny Chin and Federal Magistrate Judge Marilyn Go, and fellow journalists People magazine executive editor Jeannie Park; WCBS-TV anchor Cindy Hsu and reporter Arthur Ch'ien and WNBC-TV reporters Ti-Hua Chang and Vivian Lee.

Other notables included AALDEF 2002 Justice in Action award recipient David Lim, the Port Authority police officer who rescued hundreds of lives when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, 2001 and filmmakers Warrington Hudlin of and Amy Chen (The Chinatown Files ) who came out to support this very special organization. AALDEF's staff and volunteers work tirelessly to promote and protect the civil rights of Asian Americans nationwide.

This year AALDEF presented 2004 Justice in Action awards to Mira Nair , the internationally-acclaimed filmmaker and director of Monsoon Wedding and Mississippi Masala ; Alice Young , partner at Kaye Scholer LLP and chair of the law firm's Asia Pacific Practice; and Open Society Institute , the foundation created by financier George Soros to advance democracy and human rights around the world. AALDEFs Justice in Action awards are bestowed upon individuals or organizations that have advanced social justice and equality.

Derrick Bell, a legal scholar and visiting professor at New York University Law School, presented the first Justice in Action award to Alice Young, his teaching assistant at Harvard Law School in the 1970's. Describing Young as a trailblazer, Bell noted that Young was in the first class of women to graduate from Yale College and later one of only three Asian Americans in her class at Harvard Law School. He described Young as a valued mentor to hundreds of young lawyers and law students, encouraging them to do community work.

Alice Young has been an ardent voice for civil rights throughout her career as a corporate lawyer. Despite the challenges of balancing family life and career, Young has devoted much time to Asian American community activities and serves on the boards of several nonprofit groups, including the Committee of 100 , Asia Foundation , and Aspen Institute . She described how Asian Americans have been unfairly targeted for government scrutiny, from the 1996 campaign fundraising scandals to the discredited prosecution of Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. In accepting the award, she thanked her parents and family and concluded, I sincerely believe that there is injustice in inaction.

Presenting the award to Open Society Institute was Peter Kwong, author of Forbidden Workers and Asian American Studies professor at Hunter College/CUNY. Kwong praised OSI 's grantmaking in the areas of immigrant rights, civil liberties and criminal justice reforms, and commended its leading role after September 11 in supporting organizations that were engaged in legal representation and advocacy against immigrant detentions, racial and ethnic profiling, hate violence, and the government's encroachment on civil liberties.

OSI president Aryeh Neier and its vice president and director of US Programs Gara LaMarche accepted the Justice in Action award for Open Society Institute . LaMarche noted that in 1996, after Congress passed restrictive welfare reforms that excluded legal immigrants from basic government entitlements, George Soros decided to spend $50 million to launch OSI's Emma Lazarus Fund , which focused on combating the unfair treatment of immigrants and encouraging long-time residents to become naturalized citizens. He described Soros as "a successful white European immigrant who stood shoulder to shoulder with people of color and immigrants in the U.S. LaMarche observed that after September 11, AALDEF and the ACLU were at the frontlines in the defense of civil liberties, and said that OSI was "proud to stand alongside those who inspire us. Neier then spoke about the international dimensions of OSI 's philanthropy. He described OSI 's support for immigrant rights advocates after September 11 as aiding their new initiatives in calling for open societies in Pakistan and other Muslim countries around the world.

Sree Sreenivasan, WABC-TV tech guru and co-founder of the South Asian Journalists Association , presented the final Justice in Action award to filmmaker Mira Nair. Both Sreenivasan and Nair lauded AALDEF for its work immediately after September 11 in defending the civil rights of South Asians and Muslims.

Nair talked about her short film based on the real-life events of the Hamdani family in Queens, whose oldest son was missing after he went to Ground Zero on September 11 to aid in rescue efforts and then was accused by the media of being a terrorist. Nair quoted the mother as saying: First you call my son a terrorist, then you call him a hero. Is this the price he pays for compassion? Nair's impassioned speech about the need to respect the rights of immigrants who come to America in search of democracy and freedom received a long and enthusiastic round of applause.

Founded in 1974, AALDEF litigates cases that have broad impact on Asian American communities, educates Asian Americans about their legal rights, trains students for careers in public interest law, and shapes public policies to ensure the equal participation of Asian Americans. AALDEF is a founding member of the Public Interest Law Center in TriBeCa, which includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

All proceeds from the 30th Anniversary Gala will benefit AALDEF 's legal and educational programs in the areas of immigrant rights, economic justice for workers, voting rights and civic participation, affirmative action, language access to services, youth rights and educational equity, and the elimination of hate violence and police misconduct.

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