Rabya Khan speaks at 2012 Asian American and Pacific Islander Advancing Justice Conference

By Dartunorro Clark, Communications Intern

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On September 28th, 2012, CAIR-Chicago Staff Attorney Rabya Khan was one of the panelists for the 2012 Advancing Justice Conference. The two-day conference this year was titled, “Asian American and Pacific Islander: Communities on the Rise.” It is a joint project by the Asian American Institute (Chicago), Asian American Justice Center (Washington, D.C.), Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco) and Asian Pacific American Legal Center (Los Angeles).

The conference itself is centered on the idea of civil rights issues and social justice, nationally and locally, for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This conference brings some of the most diverse and leading agents, stakeholders and voices together in one place to meet face-to-face for diverse conversations and workshops centered on a wide range of issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

The event took place in downtown Chicago at the Sheraton Hotel with a rousing, diverse, and engaging audience for the afternoon plenary. This plenary was focused on the sub-theme, “Vincent Chin—The Next 30 Years: Anti-Asian Violence Today,” mainly grappling onto the story of Vincent Chin a victim of a hate-crime that sparked outrage and discontent toward the American justice system and started a dialogue about hate-crime issue with minorities, especially the Asian American community.

During the afternoon plenary, Khan took part in a two-hour panel to address civil rights issues across communities and how to address them. The other panelist included: Curtis Chin – filmmaker, Meredith Higashi – Staff Attorney for the Asian American Justice Center, and Blawant Singh Hansra – Executive Committee member for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. The moderator for the plenary was Stewart Kwoh, the Executive Director for the Asian American Legal Center.

Each panelist spoke through a series of questions by Kwoh relating the rise of intolerance, hate crimes, biased legislation, against minority groups such as Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Muslim Americans, African Americans, as well as other groups.

Chin urged on the idea of collation building to promote cross-cultural understanding to combat the issue, Khan also expressed the idea of collation building, stating in the aftermath on 9/11, “[My community] found allies in the Asian American community” and Kahn urged that it’s time to start focusing on how we can try to educate and promote tolerance, and reduce the instances of bigotry, relying the anti-Muslim sentiment regarding the burning of a mosque in Missouri and similar instances.

Hansra focused on the idea religious tolerance and understanding differences, he stated “You cannot change your skin, you cannot change your features, and I cannot change my religion.” Higashi specifically noted the many instances of hate crimes within the U.S. military and the resulting death on an Asian American soldier at the hands of his fellow soldiers. Higashi urged tougher laws and reporting of these incidents to prevent the crimes from occurring.

After the speakers discussed further on those ideas, the floor opened up for a Q&A session. One attendee asked the panel about substantive ways to increase the images of Asian Americans in film and dispelling the stereotypes associated. Chin talked about how the idea will not change and “good luck” to get Hollywood to change its ways, but “discover[ing] new tools to get people involved” in today’s age by virtue of the internet and access to other communication technologies is just as good. Khan spoke on the recent change by DC comics to make the Green Lantern an Arab-American and this was a way of discovering that minds are opening up to promoting that type of tolerance.

This afternoon plenary was a stimulating amalgamation of the overall theme of this conference. It relied on the idea of galvanizing people to discuss civil rights issues and advancing justice.
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