Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Statement on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 2024

Sanford Heisler Sharp would like to recognize and honor AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Heritage Month. This month provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the traditions, cultures, and achievements of AAPI communities. We take the time to reflect on their history — one that dates back even before the founding of the U.S., when Filipinos escaped Spanish enslavement and settled in Louisiana. Congress chose to designate May as AAPI Heritage Month to commemorate two important milestones: May 7, 1843, the first instance of Japanese immigration to America, and May 10, 1869, the completion of the transcontinental railroad with the predominant labor of Chinese Immigrants.

For this month, we celebrate some of the many contributions and achievements public servants in the AAPI community have made in the U.S. We recognize history makers like Kamala Harris, our first South Asian American Vice President; Yuri Kochiyama, a political activist dedicated to social justice and human rights; and Larry Itliong, a Filipino American labor leader who spearheaded the Delano grape strike, obtaining better pay and benefits for agricultural workers. In addition, we recognize the AAPI plaintiffs and attorneys who advocated for landmark decisions developing equal labor rights and fair immigration doctrines, including U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, which determined the citizenship of children born in the United States to non-citizens. Ensuring the legacies of AAPI people, the Biden Administration signed legislation that will bring to fruition a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture. President Biden also appointed 26 AAPI American judges to judicial positions. As we reflect on the milestones and achievements of AAPI Americans, let us reaffirm our commitment to uplifting their voices and to advocating for continued progress.

COVID-19 and Anti-AAPI Violence

This month also reminds us to acknowledge and critically reflect on the ongoing challenges and injustices that the AAPI community continues to face. The uptick in anti-AAPI violence we saw during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was no anomaly, but an extension of a long history of xenophobia in this country. In 1854, the California Supreme Court, through People v. Hall, issued a ruling that precluded Chinese Americans and Chinese immigrants from testifying against white citizens, ostensibly allowing individuals to get away with murder during a time when anti-AAPI violence was running rampant across the country. This violence came to a head on October 24, 1871, when 18 Chinese residents were targeted and killed during a mob attack in Los Angeles’ Chinatown — one of the largest mass lynchings in U.S. history. Although the ruling in People v. Hall was overridden in 1873, anti-AAPI sentiments had already become too deeply entrenched in the American psyche, and we continued to see blatant acts of discrimination and human rights violations throughout history (e.g., the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the internment of Japanese people during World War II). In this context, the uptick in anti-AAPI violence during the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a stark reminder that much work is still left to be done, and it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with the AAPI community against discrimination, racism, and violence.

In addition, stereotypes such as the “model minority,” the “perpetual foreigner,” and the monolith myth obscure the varied, complex history of the AAPI community in the United States and perpetuate its ongoing mistreatment and discrimination. It is absolutely imperative to abolish these prejudiced ideas about the AAPI community so that we may recognize and grapple with its fraught history, embrace its diversity (the AAPI community encompasses more than 50 different ethnic groups), and encourage solidarity.

Fighting Discrimination in the Workplace

Today in the workplace, Asian Americans continue to face discrimination and harassment. According to the Pew Research Center, about one in five Asian adults experienced some form of workplace discrimination due to race or ethnicity, such as being denied a promotion, being turned down for a job, or receiving a termination. Additionally, language barriers also create challenges for Asian Americans in the workplace. Many participants in a December 2022 report stated difficulties speaking English, resulting in many struggling in interviews, not receiving callbacks, or slowing down their professional success and advancement. Some participants also noticed that even their accents when speaking English affected how they were treated at work — having their co-workers and customers treat them differently or missing out on opportunities. Sanford Heisler Sharp is committed to supporting and helping Asian Americans who seek recourse from workplace mistreatment.

Our Asian American Litigation and Finance Practice Group, led by Managing Partner of the Palo Alto and San Francisco Offices Qiaojing Ella Zheng, has helped Asian Americans of various backgrounds, ranging from tech executives to immigrant warehouse workers, navigate our legal system and obtain awards and settlements they deserve.

As we continue our work holding employers and corporations accountable, we encourage everyone to take a moment to learn about the cultures of the AAPI communities, their history of resilience and perseverance, and their impact on America. For the rest of this month, let us celebrate the prosperity and progress within the AAPI communities by learning and engaging in activities to honor them.

Books to Read

  • “Crying in H Mart,” by Michelle Zauner: Better known as the singer-songwriter of the indie pop band Japanese Breakfast, Zauner recounts her path in forging her identity as a Korean American as she is faced with dealing with her mother’s terminal illness.
  • “Sour Heart,” by Jenny Zhang: Seven stories each narrated by the daughters of Chinese immigrants that describe the experience of growing up in New York City. Cutting across generations and continents like the fraught halls of public school in Flushing, Queens or the tumultuous streets of Shanghai, China during the 1960s, these narratives include stories about latchkey kids’ experiment gone wrong, an overbearing mother who abandoned her artistic aspirations reliving her glory days through karaoke, and a shy loner who struggles to master English in order to speak to God.
  • “The Leavers,” by Lisa Ko: Set in New York and China, Polly Guo, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes missing without a trace, leaving her eleven-year-old son, Deming, in the hands of two white college professors. Deming struggles to reconcile his new all-American life (moved out of the Bronx and renamed Daniel Wilkinson), with his mother’s disappearance.
  • “They Called Us Exceptional: And Other Lies That Raised Us,” by Prachi Gupta: Gupta’s memoir reveals how the model minority myth fractured her Indian family, articulating specifically the dissonance, shame, and isolation of being upheld as an American success story while privately navigating traumas invisible to the outside world.

TV Shows to Watch

  • “Warriors”: In the late 1800s, Ah Sahm, a martial artist from China, immigrates to San Francisco to reunite with his family; however, he finds himself in a violent turf war working as an assassin for the most powerful tongs in Chinatown.
  • “Never Have I Ever”: A coming-of-age series that follows Devi Vishwakumar, a first-generation Indian-American teenager who navigates high school while she and her mother deal with the sudden death of her father.
  • “Bad Ancestors”: A Pasifika-Australian mini-series that follows best friends Nora and Charli as they spend their afterlife providing ancestral guidance to young Black Pacific Islanders.
  • “We are Lady Parts”: A geeky PhD student, Amina Hussein, is recruited to be the lead guitarist for a Muslim female punk band, Lady Parts.

Movies to See

  • “Uproar”: A coming-of-age film set in early ’80s New Zealand focusing on a 17-year-old Maroi boy torn between his rugby-obsessed family’s expectations and his own personal aspirations in acting. As he deals with this internal dilemma, his community, who see parallels between the dispossession of Maori people and the plight of Black South Africans, engages in a series of protests against the 1981 Springboks rugby tour of New Zealand.
  • “Minari”: A Korean American family relocates from California to 1980s rural Arkansas, hoping to capture the American Dream by growing and selling Korean fruits and vegetables. Amid the challenges of a new life, they discover the resilience of family and what makes a home.
  • “Polite Society”: British-Pakistani teenager and aspiring movie stunt woman Ria Khan embarks on an audacious wedding heist with her schoolmate to save her older sister from a diabolical suitor.
  • “Next Goal Wins”: An American Samoa soccer team, who suffered the worst loss in World Cup history in 2001, recruits a down-on-his-luck maverick coach to help turn the tide.

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