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May Spotlight: Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month

Congress designated May as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in 1990 as a time to celebrate Asians and Pacific Islanders in the country.

This is a particularly important time to recognize and honor AAPI Heritage Month. The recent wave of violence has led to a long overdue recognition of the contributions of the AAPI community to the country and to the legal community in particular.

Chris Ng (JD '01) is the first Asian American and minority managing partner at his firm, Gibbs Giden Locher Turner Senet & Wittbrodt, LLP. He says that he is proud to bring his experiences to the table and the courtroom, and represent his community in leadership positions. Yet he knows that it has been a journey for him to reach this position - and for the legal profession to accept him in this role. He has been a member of the American Bar Association Forum on Construction Law and ten years ago, he was one of just a handful of Asian members. Today, he notes, that representation has exploded and he is proud to serve on the DEI committee and lead national conversations on issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Allen Um, President of the Caruso Law Asian Pacific Islander American Law Student Association, says that "Many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have an understanding that no matter how hard we work, the fact that we are Asian or Pacific Islander means that we will never be fully accepted members of American society. Despite this, we still work tirelessly to try to fit in and be accepted, and we still do our part in contributing what we can for the betterment of this society. And for our efforts, we are labeled as nothing more than a 'model minority' and we are treated differently for it. This past year was a perfect example that highlights the struggles that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders face in this country. We experienced a dramatic increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes throughout our communities because a virus happened to stem from an Asian country on the other side of the world. This is why this year's AAPI Heritage Month is so important—that we are able to celebrate and recognize the great contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to this country. It is a chance to let them know that they are accepted as they are, that they do belong, and that they ARE American."

Both Ng and Um note that Caruso Law has the opportunity to be a leader in creating a place of belonging. Um says, "'fitting in' is not the same as 'belonging.'" Ng credits professors who take the time to get to know the individual students and train them to be incredible lawyers and human beings as one way Caruso Law can make a difference. "Professors like Harry Caldwell, Janet Kerr, and Tim Perrin always made me feel important because they knew my name and took the time to get to know me and train me to be an ethical and effective advocate."

Ng reminds us that "we all have stories and have to listen to the stories and humanize those we don't know and live with, be they a member of the LGBTQIA community, an African American, or an Asian American." Um reminds us that at its best, Caruso Law "is a community that encourages students of diversity to be themselves, promotes the importance of what people of diverse backgrounds bring to the community, and makes us all feel like we belong. I am proud to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month with Pepperdine and look forward to seeing what amazing things that our AAPI students will contribute to the world going forward."