is proud to present the adventures of Ben
Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster,
and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This
guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost
Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron
Now, I know
that’s a generality, and, knowing lawyers, I’ll get sued for saying
it. But it wasn’t me who made that observation. It was Arista, the
New York City actor and writer, sitting at the Infinity, a dance
club in Boston’s Chinatown. We’d just come from the banquet at Chau
Chow City that had closed out the 7th National Asian Pacific American
Conference on Law and Public Policy, organized by the APA Law Students
Association (from Harvard Law School) and the Asian American
I know, and most of the day-long conference at the John F. Kennedy
School of Government in Cambridge was dedicated to serious matters,
like the Wen Ho Lee case and issues facing APAs: labor challenges,
technology, immigration, and politics.
Henry Hwang delivering his keynote.
Photo credit: Arista
But the organizers
wisely included arts in the mix. The banquet keynote speaker was
David Henry Hwang, the noted playwright. And one of the best-attended
panels was “Escaping the Shadow of Fu Manchu: The Struggle to Reconcile
Professional and Social Duty in the Arts," which I had the
pleasure of moderating.
And then there
was the dance. Time to break it down and bust a few moves, hey?
Maybe not. A
half hour after people, most of them Harvard and other area students,
had arrived, not one foot had yet been set on the dance floor, despite
booming techno and dance music washing over all of us.
been on my panel, said she’d appeared at another lawyers function
in New York. It was the same thing. Lots of great music; no dancing.
to R): Shan Chang (APALSA Co-Chair), Stephanie Wang (APALSA
Political Chair), Theresa Chung (Conference Co-Chair), Laura
Kim and Adam Nguyen (APALSA members)
Photo credit: Arista
Could it be
that the only booty-shaking Asian attorney on earth is Ling, on
It wasn’t as
if lawyers and law students weren’t expressive. Organizers were
screeching in joy at the successful end to a year of labor, putting
this conference together for more than 300 attendees from around
the country. They drank, dashed around to chat and take pictures.
Lotsa hugs and kisses.
But, as Sinatra
put it, the dance floor is empty.
What was it?
Are lawyers just too uptight to strike a pose? Or to shake their
groove things in front of peers? Is it a lawyer thing or an Asian
Photo credit: Arista
did change after another hour. Upstairs, a band began playing, and
couples began taking the floor. But I couldn’t help noticing that
one of the first was Esther Hwang, the model-actress who’s no stranger
to AsianConnections, and who was also on our panel, and her beau,
John. Soon, up on the stage, there were four of the conference organizers,
all women, most of them law students, working out with abandon.
There may be
hope for Asian American attorneys yet.
was called "3 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," the title
of a poem and an acknowledgment of the diversity that exists under
the APA designation. Which brings us back to Esther, whose swimsuit
calendar offers 12 ways of looking at this intriguing blend of vivacious
sex kitten and city government staffer, film producer and entrepreneur.
Along with Esther,
filmmaker Greg Pak (Asian Pride Porn), actor and activist
Christine Toy Johnson (a regular on One Life to Live) and
Arista made up what I told our packed room was “the best-looking
damned panel at this conference."
It was also
one of the best spoken, as the group tackled the questions many
APA artists face: Is it their duty to represent their community
in a positive light? [For a report on who said what, check out the
article by my friend Kathleen Mackay.]
The panel agreed
that artists do have a responsibility to their community and their
culture. They articulated the difficulties they faced in a competitive,
bottom-line industry. And when I asked for solutions, they gamely
tried to come up with a few. Greg Pak said the audience had to be
there to support Asian American works. Those in power-as directors
and producers-have to employ fellow Asian Americans, both in the
cast and crew. Faced with demeaning roles and requests, artists
have to listen to their hearts.
As David Henry
Hwang later noted in his talk, it’s not stereotypes that are the
problem. It’s the very idea of stereotyping people.
Like, for example,
saying that Asian lawyers don’t dance.
Am I glad that
I was proven wrong on that one. I mean, Arista.