HomeBad Ass AsiansAALDEF co-founder Margaret Fung to retire after 50 years

AALDEF co-founder Margaret Fung to retire after 50 years

By Ti-Hua Chang

“Wow.”  That was the reaction of several Asian American community leaders when AsAmNews told them Margaret Fung would retire as the Executive Director of AALDEF, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  This is an understandable response since Fung co-founded this original Asian American civil rights organization 50 years ago and has been Executive Director for most of that time.

Fung will step down as Executive Director in October 2024 but remain on the board as an Emerita Director. The new Executive Director will be Bethany Li, who heads AALDEF’s legal department.

Since 1974, AALDEF has been at the forefront of fighting for Asian American civil rights.  Yang Chen, the executive director of the Asian American Bar Association of New York, said, “AALDEF is the NAACP of the Asian American community and has done a lot of great work in the last 50 years. Now that Margaret is stepping down, the big question is: will they be able to perpetuate that, continue that.”

AALDEF fighter for Asian Americans on worker rights, voting rights and fighting anti-Asian hate.

Over the past half-century, AALDEF has legally fought for the rights of domestic, garment, and restaurant workers. Its legal staff has filed lawsuits and advocated against police brutality and anti-Muslim hate after 9/11. Under Fung’s leadership, AALDEF pioneered national efforts for immigration, voting rights, Asian American exit polling and combatting recent Anti-Asian hate post the pandemic.

AALDEF Co-Presidents praise Fung’s service

On Monday, April 1, Richard Kim and Phil Tajitsu Nash, the current Co-Presidents of the AALDEF Board of Directors, issued a statement about Margaret Fung to members. In part it read: “She has expanded the voices that participate in our democracy and ensured that Asian Americans work with other communities of color to demand racial equity and human rights for all. Fifty years later, AALDEF would not be what it is today without Margaret’s leadership, wisdom, skills, passion, and commitment. We and the Asian American community we serve will be forever grateful to her.”

Community leaders praise Margaret Fung as a pioneer but worry about AALDEF’s future

Don Lee, a New York City community activist who founded Homecrest Community Services in Brooklyn, said AALDEF has been consistent in fighting for the working people of Chinatowns. Lee noted, ”Sadly they are the only one that really symbolizes fighting for civil rights for Asians at least during my lifetime.”

Doris Ling Cohan, a former New York Supreme Court judge, wondered whether AAALDEF would be able to continue on its present path. Cohan noted, “For any organization, raising money is very difficult, especially because these are not very popular causes even in our own community. Fundraising…you have to use your contacts. So to the extent the contacts are personal to Margaret, I do have some concern.”  Cohan did note in a statement to AsAmNews that Fung “will leave a legacy in the fields of voting rights, anti-discrimination, immigration and many areas of the law as it affects APAI.”

Some community members, who did not wish to be identified, said AALDEF has been viewed as more progressive and to the left of some older and recent immigrant Asian American communities. One example is when AALDEF sued to retrieve portions of tips Asian restaurant owners had taken from restaurant workers.

New York State Senator John Liu, the former New York City comptroller, called Margaret Fung “a pioneer in the legal sense for Asian Americans and a pioneer in a male-dominated world.” He addressed some detractors who said Fung and AALDEF were sometimes more progressive than other Asian American organizations and more supportive of all communities of Color rather than only Asian American communities.  He told AsAmNews, “Anyone who has been doing this work for 50 years … in such a prominent role, is going to piss some people off.”

AsAmNews reached out to Margaret Fung, but did not receive a response.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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