Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Women’s Bar hosts its first Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage celebration

May 14, 2019 Rob Abruzzese

The Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association hosted its first-ever Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage celebration at which it honored Judge Pamela Chen, a U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of New York.

The event was co-chaired by Hon. Lillian Wan, the president of the Asian American Judges Association of New York (AAJANY), Hemalee Patel and Laura Ashikaga. It was co-sponsored by the AAJANYS, the Asian American Bar Association of New York and the South Asian Bar Association of New York.

“This is the first time the BWBA, the AAJANY, the SABANY and the AABANY have co-sponsored an event to celebrate the culture, traditions and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” said Judge Wan. “The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.”

From left: Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Hon. Michael Yavinsky and Hon. Wendy Li feeding lettuce to the lion during the lion dance.

The event began with a lion dance. As two orange lions marched around the room at the Brooklyn Bar Association, Ashikaga, Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Hon. Wendy Li, Hon. Michael Yavinsky, Hon. Amanda White and Judge Chen helped to feed the lions lettuce as a peace offering.

“It is believed that the Lion Dance dates all the way back to the third century,” Judge Wan explained. “It comes from an ancient Chinese tale about a village terrorized by a mythical monster. One day, the villagers banded together and scared the monster away with their own beast, loud firecrackers and drums. Today, the Lion Dance symbolizes good luck and fortune and is usually performed during the Lunar New Year and other traditional cultural festivals, celebrations and inductions.”

BWBA President Carrie Anne Cavallo marveled at the packed room of people and explained that Judge Wan’s enthusiasm for organizing the event was a clear indication to her that it would be successful.

Members of the bench and bar got a kick out of watching the lions parade around the Brooklyn Bar Association as part of the traditional lion dance. Pictured front row from left: Hon. Alicea Elloras-Ally, Hon. Shahabuddeen Ally and Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson.

“I’m honored to end this year with an event that brings the BWBA and the Asian American community so close together,” Cavallo said. “One of my goals as president has been to reach the broader legal community and with tonight’s event, I think we have demonstrated that by focusing on our similarities we can come together to reach common goals.”

Before Judge Chen was presented with a plaque by Cavallo, Judge Wan and Patel, the president of SABANY; Ryan Budhu and the executive director of AABANY, Yang Chen; each spoke briefly.

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Yang Chen reflected on the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which took place on May 10, and the many Asian Americans who helped to build it and those who died along the way. He mentioned Corky Lee, a Queens-born photographer who chose that career partially because he grew up disappointed that there were no Asian Americans pictured at the completion of the railroad.

Pictured from left: District Leader Nancy Tong, Hemalee Patel, BWBA President Carrie Anne Cavallo, Hon. Lillian Wan, Hon. Pamela Chen, SABANY President Ryan Budhu, AABANY Executive Director Yang Chen, Austin Li and David Li.

Budhu shared a story about Judge Chen that he felt, “best exemplified her excellence,” involving a case the judge handled in which the Muslim community had sued the NYPD for an alleged pattern of illegal domestic surveillance. Budhu explained how Judge Chen handled the case so well that her reputation spread through the community.

“What was unanimous in the Muslim community was the fair and equitable treatment that all of the litigants received in Judge Chen’s courtroom,” Budhu said. “Don’t just take my word for it. I got that from my mom who heard it in her local mosque in Queens.

“It really demonstrated that in Judge Chen’s courtroom the litigants felt like they were able to get a fair shake,” Budhu continued. “It’s often small acts that can impact the perceived legitimacy of our shared institutions. Diversity does matter to the litigants and the community that appears before the bench.”

From left: Natoya McGhie, Carrie Anne Cavallo and Laura Ashikaga.

After being introduced by Judge Wan, Judge Chen spoke mostly about her mother, who came to the United States as a student in 1941 and stayed after the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949.

“First of all, my mother is certainly responsible for me being Asian, and second she’s mostly responsible for me being a lawyer, but that’s mostly because she really wanted me to be a doctor,” Judge Chen joked. “Third, my mother’s life is a remarkable example of courage, sacrifice and perseverance which has shaped who I am and has contributed to whatever successes I can claim.”

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