Fordham Law’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) hit the pavement over Labor Day weekend, providing low-income Asian American residents and small business owners with information on how to access Asian American Bar Association (AABANY)’s pro-bono legal clinic and other resources to address housing issues, anti-Asian violence, and the impact of COVID-19. The poster campaign event was co-sponsored by AABANY’s Pro Bono Community Services Committee, its Young Lawyers Committee, Asian Americans for Equality, and law firm Mayer Brown.
More than 40 volunteers—made up of Fordham Law students, Asian American Bar Association (AABANY), and APALSA law students from the New York-New Jersey area—split up to walk around Manhattan’s Chinatown and Koreatown as well as Brooklyn’s Chinatown in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst. Students translated and distributed more than 1,000 flyers from English to Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.
“We realized just how much of an unmet need this is. So many people in these communities want legal services and simply don’t know where to turn, or are worried about incurring costs when they reach out for help. It’s a small lift to help direct them and provide information about COVID-19, employment liability, and rent and housing relief,” said Melissa Dzenis-Garcia ’23, president of Fordham Law’s APALSA. “Asian business owners felt comfortable speaking with us and we, in turn, were able to make those personal connections.”
Working Towards a Better Future
APALSA was inspired to engage in the event at the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester after 11 law students and volunteer attorneys had launched a poster campaign over the July 4 holiday weekend last year.
“One major difference we noticed this year was the willingness of business owners who were willing to receive our flyers and allowed for it to be posted on their storefront,” said Dianna Lam ’22, co-chair of the AABANY Student Outreach Committee and co-president of the Fordham Evening Division Society. “It was a complete change from the year prior when local business owners were quick to turn us away.”
Students who walked around Koreatown specifically noted that many non-Asian businesses were receptive to displaying their flyers inside their establishments, where all community members visit frequently.
“Our experience showed us that the whole community is eager to support each other, regardless of whether the business is Asian-owned or not,” explained Lauren Kim ’23, co-vice president of Fordham Law’s APALSA. “After we explained the flyers to non-Asian business managers, they were very happy to help disseminate the information.”
“This opportunity allowed both [types of]businesses in the Asian community to see that we are all in this together,” Lam added. “It also allowed the students to experience and see the impact they have on the community—where one simple idea can really turn into something so meaningful.”
Community Building while Building Community
After handing out 1,400 flyers, Fordham Law students said the event helped bring the Law School community closer to the Asian community citywide.
“It was meaningful to provide ‘know your rights’ resources in writing to small business owners, who have faced a wave of anti-Asian violence after barely surviving the impacts of COVID-19 and the specific loss of business faced by Asian businesses stemming from bias and hate,” added Nick Loh ’22, Fordham Law APALSA member, project coordinator, and pro-bono chair of AABANY Student Outreach Committee.
Upcoming APALSA Events for the Fall ’21 Semester
APALSA will be hosting a fireside chat with Visiting Professor of Law Sanjukta Paul on September 24, during which time she will discuss her recent work on antitrust and workers rights in the platform economy. The event will kick off a new APALSA speaker series that seeks to elevate diverse voices in the law, expose students to new and cutting-edge scholarship in areas that directly impact communities of color, and help Asian American and Pacific Islander students see themselves in academia.
APALSA is also preparing for a trial re-enactment of the Vincent Chin case with Judge Denny Chin ’78, Fordham Law’s Lawrence W. Pierce ’51 Distinguished Jurist in Residence, presiding this November. The murder of 27-year-old Chin—a Chinese man who was beaten to death by two white auto workers during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment in Detroit in 1982—was the first federal civil rights trial for an Asian American where Asian Americans’ civil rights were protected.