Chris Zhang: Is­sues of piv­otal im­por­tance BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHANG JUN junechang@chi­nadai­

While his wife Fu Rong was de­liv­er­ing their sec­ond child on Feb 23, Chris Zhang, founder of United Asian Amer­i­cans for Ac­tivism (UAAFA), would pe­ri­od­i­cally step out of the ma­ter­nity ward to man­age a bom­bard­ment of emails and phone calls he called “of piv­otal im­por­tance”.

Zhang and his fel­low UAAFA mem­bers were mak­ing last minute ar­range­ments for a March 2 town hall meet­ing on a sub­ject that many Asian- Amer­i­can fam­i­lies re­gard as racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and un­fair­ness for ev­ery stu­dent in Cal­i­for­nia: Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment No 5, bet­ter known as SCA-5.

The pro­posed amend­ment was passed by the state se­nate on Jan 30 by a two-thirds ma­jor­ity. Writ­ten by Se­na­tor Ed Her­nan­dez, the bill would al­low pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions such as the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) and the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity (CSU) sys­tems, as well as K-12 schools, to use race, sex, color, eth­nic­ity or na­tional ori­gin as a con­sid­er­a­tion for ad­mit­ting stu­dents or hir­ing em­ploy­ees.

Zhang shared many par­ents’ con­cerns that the pro­posed amend­ment would pro­foundly shake the foun­da­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion in Cal­i­for­nia and cast a shadow on the fu­tures of thou­sands of Asian-Amer­i­can school­go­ers.

“Our Asian fam­i­lies value the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion, so I felt the UAAFA needed to stand up and do some­thing,” said Zhang, by pro­fes­sion a patent law at­tor­ney based in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area.

The town hall meet­ing, fea­tur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion among op­po­nents and sup­port­ers, drew an au­di­ence of around 300 and cre­ated a rip­ple ef­fect though the lo­cal Asian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

“We’ve never seen a turnout like this in the 14-year his­tory of APAPA,” said Al­bert Wang, mod­er­a­tor of panel and Bay Area chair­man of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der Amer­i­can Pub­lic Af­fairs As­so­ci­a­tion (APAPA), an­other or­ga­nizer of the meet­ing.

The SCA-5 is­sue not only in­spired Asian Amer­i­cans in Cal­i­for­nia to take to the streets to ex­press their ob­jec­tions, but it also helped ac­cel­er­ate a po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing among lo­cal Chi­nese Amer­i­cans and got them to re­con­sider the im­por­tance of pub­lic and civic af­fairs, said Zhang.

On March 17, State As­sem­bly Speaker John Pérez re­turned SCA-5 to the Se­nate, mean­ing the bill “is dead at least for the year”. Hail­ing the out­come as a tem­po­rary vic­tory, Zhang said the Chi­nese com­mu­nity should still pre­pare for more ar­du­ous bat­tles against dis­crim­i­na­tion and prej­u­dice down the road.

Asian Amer­i­cans, es­pe­cially Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, are tra­di­tion­ally por­trayed as a silent and obe­di­ent mi­nor­ity, said Zhang, “we usu­ally don’t com­plain. We tend to abide by the rules and fore­bear our anger and com­plaints as for­eign im­mi­grants in the United States.”

Chi­nese Amer­i­cans eas­ily fall vic­tim to racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, said Zhang, cit­ing the of­fen­sive re­marks of “kill ev­ery­one in China” on ABC’s Jimmy Kim­mel talk show aired on Oct 16, 2013.

In the show, Kim­mel was speak­ing with a group of chil­dren, aged 5 and 6, about how the US govern­ment should pay back the $1.3 tril­lion debt owed to China, “Kill ev­ery­one in China,” one boy said.

“Kill ev­ery­one in China? OK, that’s an in­ter­est­ing idea,” Kim­mel said. He then posed the ques­tion: “Should we al­low the Chi­nese to live?”

It’s hard to be­lieve that ABC and Kim­mel would have at­tempted to raise the same kind of ques­tion with any eth­nic groups other than the Chi­nese, said Zhang.

“Would ABC air a pro­gram say­ing ‘Should we al­low the Lati­nos to live?’ or ‘Should we al­low the African Amer­i­cans to live’?” asked Zhang. “Of course they dare not.”

How­ever, they can, with­out even a sec­ond thought from even one in­di­vid­ual on the whole pro­duc­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tive ABC team, said Zhang. “Why? They have long known it’s safe to joke about Chi­nese people.”

Since Oc­to­ber, ABC and Kim­mel have come un­der a firestorm of crit­i­cism from Chi­nese-Amer­i­can groups, in­clud­ing protests and pe­ti­tion


Founder of United Asian Amer­i­cans for Ac­tivism Age: 35 Univer­sity of Vir­ginia School of Law, JD, (2007) San Jose State Univer­sity, BS, Com­puter Sci­ence, (2004) Patent at­tor­ney, (2007–present) Mem­ber: Cal­i­for­nia Bar, USPTO (Patent Bar), and Asian Pa­cific Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley drives. In San Fran­cisco, which has the most con­cen­trated Chi­nese- Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion in the US, Zhang could not find an or­ga­ni­za­tion that fo­cused on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns or or­ga­nized protests.

“Chi­nese in the Bay Area would join pro­fes­sional net­works, school or univer­sity alumni as­so­ci­a­tions or town fel­low­ship or­ga­ni­za­tions,” said Zhang.

Lev­er­ag­ing his law back­ground, Zhang learned about civic and civil codes, and even­tu­ally launched UAAFA in late Oc­to­ber.

In re­sponse to the Kim­mel con­tro­versy, UAAFA or­ches­trated three large-scale protests in down­town San Fran­cisco and San Jose, join­ing a na­tional move­ment on Nov 9 when Chi­nese Amer­i­cans in ma­jor US cities took to the street si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“On that day, we marched around the Civil Cen­ter shout­ing slo­gans,” said Zhang. “We wanted our voices to be heard that we are good and re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens. We are Chi­nese and at the same time we are Amer­i­cans.”

Zhang’s in­ter­est with pub­lic and civic af­fairs comes from his law school days at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia. An LLM Buddy co­or­di­na­tor with the JB Moore In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety, Zhang vol­un­teered to as­sist in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in adapt­ing to the new en­vi­ron­ment through ori­en­ta­tions.

When he re­turned to the Bay Area in 2007 and started to prac­tice patent law in Cu­per­tino, he joined sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions con­cerned with pub­lic and civil af­fairs. “I wanted to learn from these pi­o­neers and work on good causes,” said Zhang.

He joined Shin Shin Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, as a coun­sel, to learn how the grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion had in­te­grated re­sources since 1997 in or­der to ful­fill a long-cher­ished goal of im­prov­ing the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment for chil­dren in some of the re­mote and im­pov­er­ished re­gions of ru­ral China.

Al­bert Wang from APAPA told Zhang to “be a man of in­tegrity first be­fore suc­cess”, which be­came Zhang’s guid­ing light.

“I’ve ben­e­fited so much from these people with big hearts,” said Zhang. “They never cared about per­sonal loss or gain.”

Hav­ing re­lo­cated to the US in his high school years from China’s Liaon­ing prov­ince, Zhang still speaks his home­town di­alect and said he would “force” his two-yearold daugh­ter and his son to learn Chi­nese. “They should feel proud to be Chi­nese and in­herit our pro­found Chi­nese cul­ture when they grow up,” said Zhang.

As a fa­ther, “I’m proud that I’ve been fight­ing for a bet­ter world for my chil­dren to live in”, he added.


Chris Zhang said he’s proud that he has been fight­ing for a bet­ter world for chil­dren to live in.

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