Kent Wong: APALC's First Staff Attorney

As part of our 30 Stories for 30 Years retrospective series, we are excited to include important voices from our past.  These alumni -- staff, board, volunteers -- helped build the organization into what it is today, a respected force for civil rights and social justice.  Here's the story of our first staff attorney, Kent Wong, a powerful and impactful labor and immigrant rights leader and director of the UCLA Labor Center.

Kent Wong
Director, Center for Labor Research and Education
University of California, Los Angeles

The UCLA Labor Center promotes worker rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights.  I teach Labor Studies and Asian American Studies at UCLA, and I have published many books on the labor movement, immigrant workers, and immigrant students.  The Labor Center is engaged in building labor, community, and student alliances for social justice.  We sponsor 300 student internships each year, including “Dream Summer” to advance the immigrant youth movement. 

I was recruited as the first staff attorney of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) in 1985 shortly after graduating from law school.  I was paid the fabulous salary of $1100/month, and along with Stewart Kwoh recruited volunteer attorneys and law students, developed educational programs on worker rights and immigrant rights, and set up legal clinics to assist the Asian American community. 

I have been inspired to see the work of APALC develop over the years, and how it has emerged as the largest Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) civil rights institution in the country.  Through my work at APALC, I saw first hand the exploitation and abuse suffered by Asian immigrant workers.  I was so proud that APALC took on the fight for the El Monte workers who were held in slavery, and brought national attention to the shameful sweatshop conditions facing immigrant workers in modern times. 

My work at APALC encouraged me to help launch the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the first national organization of workers and union members in the country.  APALA celebrated our 20th anniversary last year, and we are continuing to work with APALC/Advancing Justice-Los Angeles on many issues.  

The challenges we have been addressing for the last 30 years will likely continue into the next 30 years.  APALC should continue to work to fully integrate immigrants into our society, to advance civil and human rights, and to forge multi-racial coalitions for economic and social justice.

My time with the APALC taught me the importance of public interest law.  It taught me that progressive legal work must be skillfully combined with grass roots organizing, policy development, and mobilizing broad coalitions for social change.  My experience with APALC was also humbling, for I learned that the most important change agents in the AAPI community are not attorneys and professionals, they are working people who struggle each day for a better life for themselves and for their children.


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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.