The Tenth Annual National Asian Pacific American Conference on Law and Public Policy (NAPACLPP) will be held on March 12 – March 13, 2004, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Entitled Border Crossings: Globalizing the APA Movement for the 21st Century, the Conference seeks to enrich our understanding of Asian Pacific American movements by situating them in an international context, and by exploring how the issues we face within the United States reflect those outside our borders.
Meeting Yuri Kochiyama: Reflection of the APALSA Conference
What exactly was the Conference on Law and Policy (the APALSA conference) about? Well, Yuri Kochiyama was speaking there, and that was all I knew about it before I arrived, and it made me feel a little uneasy. After my partner and I received our very classy name tags (“William Phan”, “Victoria Bartolome”, Boston Latin School), I knew this was a real conference, and all these dressy Harvard Law Students would ferret us pretentious high schoolers out in no time: We would have to contribute, and have nothing to say, or the talk would go all over our heads! Despite my worries Victoria and I somehow ended up in the front row, and I pulled out my camera – the obvious tourist - waiting for the plenary discussion panel to begin. At this moment, Ms. Kochiyama appeared, being helped into her seat from her walker, and a very peculiar thing happened. Rationally, I knew I was about to see Yuri Kochiyama, we had marked the day in our calendar weeks ahead of time. When I actually saw Ms. Kochiyama I became a gibbering fool. “Vikki! Vikki! Look there she is!” Nothing could have convinced me then that I should not have come or that this would not be a worthwhile experience, I felt so pleased.
When the panel began, Yuri Kochiyama was the first speaker. Before giving her speech she told us the story of a friend and fellow activist, Chris Iijima, who was ill and asked us all to send him get-well cards. She then told her own personal story of Japanese Internment, how it related to the injustices she sees today and is fighting, and moved on to why the Asian community needs Asian Law Students who could speak their language, and speak and fight for them. She ended by saying, “We need you Asian lawyers. Be a life-line in the courtroom and leave an APALSA legacy to the next generation Asian American lawyers to inspire them to fight for justice… for all,” and was greeted by a standing ovation.
After hearing Yuri Kochiyama – all I had meant to do – I was treated to my second surprise at the APALSA conference, because I sat down and listened to the other four speakers. I didn’t know their story at all, I had no idea what kind of work they did, but in hindsight I realize that is what they were there to tell you. Dr. Peter Kiang talked about his research into race related, post traumatic stress after WWII and it’s causes. Kareem Shora spoke about unjust deportation of Arabs, especially post 9-11, with a memorable line including, “After all, if you catch a terrorist, do you want to deport him? They tend to regroup.” It was very fun to listen to these people talk about topics they believed so strongly in, and perhaps I did not retain all the information I heard, but it was a glimpse into a bigger world of sorts; while I was busy grinding through high school, there are these big people working on the problems of the world!
The youth panel, which was the next and last panel Victoria and I went to, had speakers who all worked in Boston, and was as fascinating as the first panel. Tri Mac Phuong and Daniel Koo led the discussion and also talked about their work with Tieng Xanh-Voice and its Examined Life Project for Boys, which works to reach out to high-risk Vietnamese, Black, and Latino youth together in Dorchester, a strongly segregated area of Boston. They had with them four other speakers who gave what Tri Phuong described as “ground level stories” or accounts of what was going on in Dorchester, from gang groups in Dorchester and the reasons for their inception, and cases at South Cove Community Health Center of immigrated Vietnamese families.
So for a silly high school student who went to Harvard just to see a celebrity, I came out with more than I thought I would have. I had been studying Yuri Kochiyama for the work she was doing, and it was 1) amazing to be able to meet her, and 2) suddenly I had seen a plethora of people working just as hard as her! I had always imagined activism and community work as something you watched and studied other famous people do, but suddenly that pedestal was kicked down and I saw that this kind of work is happening everywhere, even right in Boston. I had also thought these people were big and important (and they are!), but I can see that they work hard to bring their enthusiasm to other people, as well. Yuri Kochiyama often quotes revolutionary Franz Fanon, saying, “Each generation must out of its relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill or betray it.” She then asks, “what is our mission?” Tri Phuong had said something similar, “What now? You have this information, will you just let it die and go away, or will you think, where do I fit into the bigger picture? What can I do to help?” I am not sure how to answer that yet, but I find it very neat that a research project brought me to attend such a conference.