Vivian Cheng-Khanna had an intellect refined at a top college and law school,
but the easygoing manner of a friend who had all afternoon to hear what was on
your mind. While practicing law in some of the most competitive arenas, Vivian
always found time for family, friends, and community service. She passed away on
November 24 at age 62, but the joy she brought to so many people lives on in
While her Columbia Law School classmates took summer jobs at prestigious law
firms, Vivian served as an intern in 1979 at the crowded New York City Chinatown
office of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). Hearing
the stories of waiters, garment workers, and others striving to gain a foothold
in a world that had been profoundly changed by immigration law changes a decade
before, Vivian provided them with legal assistance and also committed herself to
addressing the broader issues of racial and economic inequality. She followed
through by serving for 20 years on the AALDEF Board of Directors, looking for
ways to bring law firm resources to challenge the injustice faced by low-income
and disenfranchised people.
“Vivian was a bridge-builder for AALDEF and the community,” said fellow AALDEF
Board member and prominent attorney Nicholas Chen. “When we formed the National
Asian Pacific American Law Students Association in the early 1980s, Vivian
served as chair of the Columbia Law Students group and worked tirelessly to make
our early conferences and events succeed. She was determined to make sure that
others had access to legal rights and legal education.
Vivian’s professional career included work as a mergers and acquisitions
attorney, a municipal bond attorney at leading New York-based law firms, a real
estate attorney and immigration attorney in her own firm, and pro bono work for
One notable example of Vivian bringing her legal skills and deep sense of
compassion to the cause of justice occurred right after the events of 9/11/2001.
Vivian was outraged that South Asians and Muslims were being targeted for hate
violence and religious profiling, so she volunteered to help at an AALDEF clinic
in Jersey City, N.J. By counseling individuals and families fearful of detention
and removal (deportation), she showed that she had learned from the tragic
experiences of Japanese Americans rounded up during World War II, and was doing
her best to make sure that other groups of Asian immigrants would not suffer a
“Vivian was a brilliant and dedicated legal intern and a committed board
member,” said AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung. “She was a wonderful
ambassador for AALDEF over several decades, and we will miss her deeply.”
Vivian is survived by her husband Rajiv Khanna and siblings Noland (also a
former AALDEF board member), Lana. and Julia. A Celebration of Life service is
planned for early next year in New York City.
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