Reflections on the 2015 NAPABA annual Convention

2015_convention_signby Vân Huynh, NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) kicked off its annual Convention in New Orleans on Nov. 5. As the 2015-2017 NAPABA Law Foundation’s Community Law Fellow, I was fortunate enough to attend the three-day extravaganza, rubbing elbows with some of the most brilliant attorneys in the United States who also happen to be Asian American.

As a budding attorney, I walked through the halls of the Convention in awe of all the great legal minds and pioneers in the Asian American legal community. I had the honor of meeting Judge Edward Chen, a federal judge in the Northern District of California and Senator Mazie Hirono, currently the only Asian American Senator in the U.S. Senate, just to name a few. And at one point, in a daze, I thought I saw California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu’s doppelgänger in the hotel lobby – turns out it was indeed the Justice himself. Maybe more important than fangirling at these people, I walked away from the Convention feeling inspired for the work I am embarking on.

When I applied for the NAPABA Law Foundation Fellowship, my proposal focused on legal advocacy around language access, voting rights, and immigration reform, the trifecta of what I deemed to be under the umbrella of protecting immigrants’ rights. One of the best sessions I attended at the Convention was on language access, led by attorneys at the DOJ, state judges, and private and public attorneys. The panelists and the audience shared best strategies to enforce the implementation of language assistance to limited English speakers in different states. One of the panelists was Paul Uyehara of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, known to be an expert in enforcing language access laws. The first time I met Paul was in Washington, D.C., and I asked him, in somewhat of an abstract manner: how do we know language access is a community issue? His answer to me, “People don’t know they need it, until they need it.”

My conversations with Paul and others reminded me of numerous incidents of limited-English speakers being turned away from government services and how these cases go undocumented. I cringe at the horror limited-English speakers face every day, especially when life-threatening situations arise. People in medical emergencies or seeking safety in intimate partnership violence are so often not able to access help. These situations are not made-up anecdotes or hypotheticals of worst-case scenarios. I often reflect on my own personal experiences, having to translate for my mother when I was as young as eight. It should never be acceptable for children to interpret legal and medical matters to their parents. Language assistance is the legal responsibility of the state, of the agencies providing services, an expectation we should hold all of our legislators accountable for.

Being at the NAPABA Convention, it was reassuring to know that there are many attorneys, in particular Asian American attorneys, who recognized that too; and they are actively working to protect that right. It helped rejuvenate me to get back to the work at hand and push for language access for all. Additionally, I also walked away feeling incredibly grateful to the NAPABA Law Foundation for the opportunity to engage in this work, to fight for access for the immigrant community.

Vân Huynh is the NAPABA Law Foundation Community Law Fellow with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. Contact Vân at