New York, NY—In the company of more than 900 guests, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) honored Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, former Attorney General of the United States, Javade Chaudhri, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Sempra Energy, and Helen Zia, author and activist, with Justice in Action Awards at its annual Lunar New Year Gala at PIER SIXTY, Chelsea Piers in New York City.
AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung said, “AALDEF is proud to honor three individuals whose outstanding achievements in business, journalism, and the law have advanced social justice and created lasting change for generations to come.”
Javade Chaudhri, one of the few South Asian American attorneys to serve as general counsel of a Fortune 500 company, spoke of the challenges faced by attorneys of color in corporate America. “I have fought stereotypes all my life, and we all have to continue to fight them. Who we are ethnically is only the beginning of the foundations of who we are. It doesnt limit our destinations or our destiny. As Asian Americans, we have a unique cultural background and history that permit us to play a unique role in the life of our nation and in the larger global context. We can and must build the bridges over the political, social, and ethnic divides that create the kinds of stereotypes that result in injustice.” Chaudhri accepted his award from friend and former California Court of Appeal judge Elwood Lui, a partner of Jones Day in Los Angeles.
Helen Zia, one of the Asian American community’s most influential voices for social justice, recounted her experiences leading a civil rights campaign in response to the racist murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, almost 25 years ago. “He would today have been 52 years old had he not had his life snuffed out in Detroit, Zia said. But to Vincents killers, this young Asian American man was not really humanand that’s how they were able to kill him so brutally and so nonchalantly. The national civil rights campaign for Vincent Chin, which I was privileged to be a part of, really was about humanizing Asian Americans, Vincent Chin, and people who are like himAs an activist and a writer, I see it as my responsibility to bring humanity and human dignity into the forefront, especially when they are hidden and trampled on.” Zia accepted her award from Carol Jenkins, veteran journalist and President of the Womens Media Center.
Nicholas deB. Katzenbach received a standing ovation after a stirring introduction by Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh, a 1993 AALDEF Justice in Action Award recipient. As Deputy Attorney General under President John F. Kennedy, Katzenbach enforced desegregation orders at the height of the 1960’s civil rights movement. As Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson, he helped bring about the passage of the most successful civil rights laws in American history: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Katzenbach said: “The essential foundation for our democracy lies not only in the ballot box but at least as importantly in a governmental structure that insists that all government officials from the President or Governor to the policeman on the beat must act in accordance with law, that his or her power, great or small, is constrained by law as interpreted and enforced by independent judges…Because we are understandably focused on the rights of Asian Americans, we may not appreciate that the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund is vindicating the important rights of all Americans. Each victory enlarges the sphere of freedom and equality for all of us. And each victory is a testimonial to the essential worth of a government restrained by lawa system that requires every end, however worthy, to be attained only by lawful means.”
Alice Young, a partner at Kaye Scholer and 2004 AALDEF Justice in Action Award recipient, delivered a special message. ABC News Correspondent Juju Chang hosted the evening’s festivities, one of the largest AALDEF gatherings ever. Proceeds from the Lunar New Year Gala will benefit AALDEF’s legal and educational programs in immigrant rights, economic justice for workers, voting rights and civic participation, affirmative action, language access to services, youth rights and educational equality, and the elimination of hate violence, police misconduct, and human trafficking.