Founded in 1992, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago (formerly Asian American Institute) is a pan-Asian, non-partisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose mission is to empower the Asian American (AA) community through advocacy by utilizing research, education, and coalition-building. Advancing Justice-Chicago is the only multi-issue pan-Asian organization advocating for civil rights and social justice for Asian Americans (AA) in Chicago, Illinois and the Midwest.
Asian Americans began to reside in Chicago as early as the late 1800s. Prior to 1970, the majority of AAs living in Chicago were Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino. As a result of the 1965 immigration law, the Asian American population increased rapidly, and by 1990, there were 292,421 Asian Americans in Illinois. This population had become increasingly diverse in terms of ethnicity, immigration history, and socio-economic status. At that time, while there were several ethnic specific social service agencies serving the needs of Asian Americans, the community did not have an organization that was dedicated to pan-Asian policy advocacy. The call for a pan-Asian policy voice became more urgent as the Asian American population continued to grow.
To address this need, a group of visionary Chicago community activists, academicians, and business leaders founded Advancing Justice-Chicago in 1992 in order to help the Asian American community build positive interracial and interethnic relations, develop and advocate for a cohesive pan-Asian policy agenda, and counter systemic discrimination.
Early Advancing Justice-Chicago programs included conferences, forums, and publications on Asian American education and political empowerment and an Asian American Film Festival. In 1998, Advancing Justice-Chicago held its first Milestone Awards Benefit to honor the successes of community members: “each milestone achieved by an individual Asian American is a step for the whole community”. In 2000, Advancing Justice-Chicago expanded its work to include Census outreach, publication of the first edition of “A Comprehensive Guide to the Asian American Community,” as well as a public accountability report card for key elected officials. In the following year, Advancing Justice-Chicago formed the Asian American Redistricting Coalition (AARC), which used redistricting as a strategy to increase the community’s political influence and representation. Over the next decade, Advancing Justice-Chicago continued to issue policy reports and publications and to advocate for Asian Americans on issues including affirmative action, hate crimes and discrimination, immigration, and voting rights.
In 2003 the issue of affirmative action in public contracting came to the forefront locally, when the City of Chicago’s Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program for construction contracting (“MBE Program”) came under fire. In response to a federal court’s ruling on a lawsuit that challenged this affirmative action program, the City Council removed Asian Americans from the list of presumptive classes in the MBE Program. Advancing Justice-Chicago led the fight for re-inclusion of Asian Americans, along with the Asian American Alliance and the Association of Asian Construction Enterprises (AACE), by organizing media conferences, testimonies, rallies, and other high-profile public actions to influence the Mayor and key City Council members. While Asian Americans were removed from the City’s program in 2004 Advancing Justice-Chicago and its advocates won increased city funding for Asian American community-based organizations as well as meetings with several City department heads. In addition, Advancing Justice-Chicago ensured that Asian Americans were in the spotlight as a political force to be reckoned with. Subsequently, in 2007 and 2009, with testimony from Advancing Justice-Chicago, Asian American contractors, and other allies, the Chicago City Council voted to re-include Asian Americans in the MBE Program. These events highlighted the pervasiveness of the model minority myth and the need for more thorough research about Asian Americans.
In 2005, Advancing Justice-Chicago (then AAI) became an affiliate of the Asian American Justice Center (then known as the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium), joining the Asian Law Caucus and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and providing a Midwestern perspective in shaping the national Asian American policy agenda. This key partnership enabled Advancing Justice-Chicago to hire its first attorney in 2006 to formally establish its legal and policy advocacy program. In 2007, support from the Woods Fund allowed Advancing Justice-Chicago to hire its first community organizer, a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services enabled the creation the Impact Fellows Program for youth leadership development, and support from The Chicago Community Trust gave Advancing Justice-Chicago the means to launch a leadership program to expand Asian American participation in civic boards and commissions.
Today, Advancing Justice-Chicago has grown to include 10 full-time staff in addition to AmeriCorps VISTA members, its Judge Sandra R. Otaka Legal Fellow, Title V Senior Aides, part-time project staff, and interns.
Advancing Justice-Chicago is indebted to its founding co-chairs, Ngoan Le and Bill Taki, for their vision, leadership, and continuing generous support; to former Executive Director Juju Lien, who created the Milestone Awards Benefit; and to Tuyet Le, who has served as Executive Director for the past 10 years, leading Advancing Justice-Chicago’s tremendous growth during the last decade and establishing the Institute as an award-winning and powerful advocacy voice in Chicago and on the national level.