First National Civil Rights Group for Asian-Americans Organized


The first national civil rights group for Asian-Americans will open its doors today in Washington.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium will be the first Pan-Asian endeavor to bring national attention to the civil rights and legal needs of the nation’s fastest growing minority.

“It’s about time,”said attorney Benjamin Gim, 70, who, in the late 1940s, was one of the first Asian-Americans to practice law on the East Coast. “What makes this group meaningful is that it encompasses all Asians. After all, we all face common problems.”


Two top issues the consortium will address are voting rights and the growing tide of anti-Asian violence, said Stewart Kwoh, president of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, and a consortium founder.

“If we had an organization like this 50 years ago, Japanese-Americans would not have been sent to internment camps,” said Philip Tajitsu Nash, a third-generation Japanese-American law professor who is executive director of the consortium.

Another aim of the group is to ensure that Asian legal and civil rights perspectives are considered in the development of national public policy, said Stan Mark, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York.

The consortium is made up of the nation’s three oldest and largest Asian-American legal groups: the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York.

Almost two years in the planning, the group received $350,000 in seed money from the Ford Foundation, the Anheuser-Busch Cos., AT&T; Foundation, the Carnegie Corp. of New York, Philip Morris Cos., and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The phenomenal growth of the Asian-American population means local “politicians and judges can’t ignore us” in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, said Paul Igasaki, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus. “But in Washington, we’re still ignored by Congress and the White House.”


The group also hopes to counter the mainstream tendency to view Asians as a monolithic group.