ALC Co-Founders, Alumni Reflect on 50 Years of History

November 16, 2022 Perspective

This year is ALC’s 50th anniversary. Our celebration takes its theme from Yuri Kochiyama’s powerful call to action - “Tomorrow’s World Is Ours to Build.” On November 18, we’ll be gathering virtually and in-person with ALC’s close supporters and alumni to celebrate this milestone year. Learn more about our 50th Anniversary Gala on November 18, 2022 and how to get involved

At our celebration, we’ll be honoring Dale Minami, Don Tamaki, and Peggy Saika for all they’ve done to shape ALC in its early days and exemplify the spirit of compassionate community lawyering that continues to inspire so many today.

ALC Co-Founders Share Stories from the Early Years, Their Advice Today

At a recent reunion of ALC alumni, Peggy and Bill Tamayo moderated a conversation with ALC’s founders - Dale, Gene Lam, and Mike Lee.

  • Bill Tamayo began his legal career as a law clerk at the Asian Law Caucus in 1976. He served on the ALC Board from 1977 to 78 as a law student representative and volunteer, and became a Staff Attorney in 1979 and then Managing Attorney in 1978 through 1995. From 1995 to his retirement in 2021, Bill served as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Regional Attorney and as the EEOC District Director.
  • Dale Minami is Senior Counsel at Minami Tamaki LP, as well as co-founder of the Asian Law Caucus. In addition to being a co-founder, he was our organization’s first attorney and executive director (1972-1974). He also co-founded the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area.
  • Gene Lam is the Presiding Judge of the Oakland Workers’ Compensation Appeals board and was a co-founder of ALC, along with serving as a staff attorney and managing attorney from 1973 to 1977 and a board member from the late 1970s to 1997.
  • Mike Lee is an attorney in private practice and was a co-founder and staff attorney at ALC until 1973. He was also a co-founder of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area and the first Asian American and person of color to become president of the association.
  • Peggy Saika is Executive Director of Common Counsel Foundation since 2019. She served as ALC’s executive director from 1983 to 1991 and was the founding executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and served as the CEO of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy from 2002 to 2015.

You can watch their conversation on what led them to create ALC in 1972, how they grappled with building an organization with the infrastructure and funding to survive and last, and their vision for community lawyering that strengthens organizing and movement building. As Gene shared “there was no blueprint for us to follow. There [were] just young students and young lawyers trying to figure out how we can be effective and true to our beliefs.”

Economic Security Is Ours To Build

Earlier this summer, former and current staff of ALC’s Workers’ Rights team met in Oakland to discuss their work and partnerships across the Bay Area, California, and beyond, from the 1980s to today. Moderated by Ling Woo Liu, who served as ALC’s director of external relations from 2010 to 2015 and is now at the San Francisco Foundation, the panel included:

  • Lora Jo Foo, who was an ALC summer law clerk in 1983 and then came on board as a staff attorney and managing attorney from 1992 to 2000. She is the co-founder of Sweatshop Watch and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.
  • Hina Shah, who served as an ALC staff attorney from 1998 to 2001, and then as a board member from 2010 to 2013. Hina is a professor of law at Golden Gate University and serves as director of the university’s Women’s Employment Rights Clinic.
  • Helen Chen was an ALC law clerk in 2000, Equal Justice Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and staff attorney from 2003 to 2007. Helen is currently a mediator specializing in workplace conflicts, and has previously volunteered as a mediator for The Congress of Neutrals and SEEDS Community Resolution Center.
  • Winnie Kao, who has worked at ALC since 2011, is currently senior counsel for impact litigation and manages our Workers’ Rights Program.

The group shared their deep and collective appreciation for Joannie Chang, who led ALC’s Workers’ Rights team and then worked at San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement from 2007 to 2010. Joannie died of cancer in the summer of 2010 at the age of 41.

Reflecting on all the connections between the panelists and how each woman has supported the careers of the people who next joined ALC, Helen shared that Joannie is “really the one who was the employment labor attorney at the Caucus and is the through line between Lora Jo’s work and Hina’s work all the way through to Winnie’s and Palyn’s work. She isn’t here today but I think in some ways she is because she really carried through the work that was so essential to the workers’ rights agenda around wage and hour and employment discrimination. And she brought her own work too around paid family leave. It’s good to remember her today on a day like this.”

Watch their conversation, including how their personal experiences growing up shaped how each became politically engaged and how all the different cases and campaigns they brought have affirmed and protected the rights of garment workers, restaurant workers, airport workers, and so many more.

Justice Is Ours to Build

This fall, current and former ALC staff and partners explored our work litigating the 1983 Coram Nobis case and seeking reparations for incarcerated Japanese Americans. The group connected this legacy to our present-day work defending Black, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian, and Chinese communities from intensified racial targeting and surveillance post-9/11 under the pretext of national security.

Watch the panel conversation, featuring:

  • Don Tamaki, who was ALC's executive director in the 1980s and served on the Coram Nobis legal team. Today, Don is Senior Counsel at Minami Tamaki LLP.
  • Eric Yamamoto, who was a member of the Coram Nobis legal team and is the Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai'i.
  • Shirin Sinnar, who was an ALC staff attorney from 2006 to 2009 and is now the William W. and Gertrude H. Saunders Professor of Law at Stanford.
  • Hammad Alam, who is an ALC staff attorney and serves as program manager of our National Security & Civil Rights Program.