Hometown: Monterey Park
Profession: Vice-President of Programs and Communications for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center
“My name is Karin Wang, and I think lawyers are very privileged in terms of the power acquired with a law degree. It's important to use that privilege for a greater good.”
Wang was born in Michigan and grew up in the American Midwest. As a child of Taiwanese descent, she became aware that she was “kind of different” from other youngsters around her. Then came the 1982 murder case of Vincent Chin in Highland Park, Mich. He was beaten to death by two men who blamed him for losing their autoworker jobs to foreign car competitors. The shocking killing united the Asian American community in the cause of justice and anti-discrimination. The two men, however, never served a day in prison. Wang said, “I realized the legal system's not always just.”
Those early experiences sparked her interest in civil rights and fairness and, ultimately, spurred Wang to earn a law degree. She has dedicated her efforts to fighting for justice and is involved in a variety of organizations working to improve life for immigrants, the poor, the disenfranchised and others whose voices are not heard.
Before her current position at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center based in Los Angeles, for example, Wang oversaw the center's immigrant rights project. She helped file a landmark civil rights complaint against Los Angeles County on behalf of welfare recipients who had limited English speaking skills. The result was a $1.7 million payment in back benefits and major reforms in immigrant services.
Wang also said that one effort “that I am most proud of is working within the Asian American community to challenge homophobia and being able to see the fruits of that labor in the 2008 election.” Most Asian Americans, like the rest of Californians, voted slightly in favor of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. But Wang said Asian Americans made the biggest shift in how they viewed marriage equality. This was due in large part to significant educational work by APALC and API Equality-LA.
“It was an effort of a large coalition of amazing and inspired activists,” Wang said. “I was privileged to play a role in organizing the media campaign in the Asian American community to oppose Prop. 8 and support the freedom to marry.”