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In 1975, several of the founding members of the ALA began to investigate the possibility of starting a community law office similar to the Asian Law Caucus which had been founded in Oakland in 1972. Our main challenge was convincing people that there was a significant Asian/Pacific Islander community in need of legal services. Two roadblocks stood in our way. The first was the dearth of research statistics to prove that an identifiable Asian/Pacific community existed. The second was the popular stereotype that Asian-Americans were a "model minority" who did not need social assistance.

We determined that we had to gather evidence to support the contention that the "model minority" stereotype had overshadowed the existence of a sizable Asian Pacific population that did not have access to the legal system. As volunteers, we conducted extensive outreach by speaking with many community leaders, human service providers, and members of the Asian American community itself who needed our services. Staffing the Information and Referral Project that had just been initiated by the San Jose Japanese American Citizens League provided us with a base from which to conduct our research.

We quickly discovered that a silently growing Asian Pacific American community had been developing in several areas of Santa Clara county. Overcrowded conditions in San Francisco and Oakland and the lure of job opportunities in Silicon Valley had brought Asian families and immigrants to the South Bay. Working through the Information and Referral Services of the Japanese American Citizens League, we soon encountered a whole range of legal needs that were not being addressed in this newly growing Asian Pacific American community.

With this evidence in hand, a consensus was quickly reached among the founding members that it was necessary to establish a community law office to provide individual legal assistance, community legal education, and community advocacy. Office space was donated by the San Jose JACL and with the help of two young attorneys, Brad Yamauchi and Don Tamaki, the Asian Law Alliance began taking its own cases in January 1977.

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Over the past 25 years as a nonprofit corporation, the Asian Law Alliance has helped tens of thousands of people in obtaining decent housing, justice in the immigration process, and access to basic human and legal rights.

Today, Asian/Pacific Islanders continue to be denied fundamental rights. ALA continues to keep its doors open for those individuals who are limited in English, who do not understand the legal system, who cannot afford legal fees and who face the reality of discrimination.

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ALA programs are designed to make legal services accessible to Asian/Pacific Islanders and low-income people in several ways:

* Delivering services in Asian/Pacific Islander languages.
* Providing consultation and legal representation on a free or low-cost basis.
* Doing extensive outreach and preventative education on basic legal rights and obligations.

Services are provided by staff attorneys, support staff, and volunteers who are multilingual in various Asian languages.

Housing: Ensuring access to decent housing, preventing and combating against illegal and discriminatory housing practices.

Public Benefits: Assisting the elderly, families, and disabled individuals in ensuring their opportunities for Social Security, family maintenance and disability benefits.

Employment: Educating workers on minimum wage, overtime, and unemployment insurance rights and regulations.

Immigration: Reuniting families, informing new citizens and recent immigrants of their legal rights and responsibilities.

Domestic Violence: Aiding battered women and their children in escaping physical and emotional abuse in both the civil and immigration arenas.

Civil Rights: Defending and promoting laws that afford Asian/Pacific Islanders full rights and opportunities. The passage of regressive laws in recent years has threatened these ideals. In response, ALA has worked with diverse community groups to protect the rights of the immigrant, the family and the poor.

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In the past 25 years, ALA has addressed a number of significant issues through its community organizing and educational programs, including:

* Participating in efforts to address the issues of decent affordable housing and housing discrimination through the Fair Housing Consortium, San Jose Residents for Rent Relief, the formation of tenant associations, and by providing community education classes and lectures.

* Preserving multilingual services in the County Department of Social Services by filing a joint lawsuit with the Mexican American Legal Education and Defense Fund (MALDEF) in 1982. In 1987, ALA participated in efforts by the community to again uphold those services.

* In 1988, ALA helped to successfully contest a ten minute voting rule as a violation of the constitutional and federal voting rights laws due to the rule's discriminatory impact on language minorities.

* Participating in the redress campaign for Japanese Americans incarcerated by the U.S. Government during World War II.

* Collaborating with the Public Interest Law Foundation and the law firm of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati in representing low income residents who brought a lawsuit against their landlord after enduring years of inhabitable living conditions.

* Working with other community organizations to take a stand against the use of a Vietnamese "mug book" by the San Jose Police Department, thereby preventing this discriminatory practice.

* Leading the initiative, with the assistance of the Chinese and Vietnamese communities, that convinced the County Board of Supervisors to adopt bilingual assistance and ballot programs.

* Participating with the Santa Clara County campaign to oppose Proposition 187; the initiative was defeated locally 52% to 48%.

* Arguing for "fair" welfare reform from 1994-1996 along with local and national coalitions. The devastating impact of the 1996 Welfare Reform law on seniors and the disabled continues to be a major concern.

* Expanding efforts within various Asian language groups to further discussion on domestic violence in those communities following the release of statistics that Asians were overrepresented in the total of domestic violence related deaths in Santa Clara County.

* Broadening the coalition of agencies and organizations in the community in an effort to step up the process of citizenship for thousands of applicants throughout the county.

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As we look to the future, we will continue to provide quality legal services for the Asian/Pacific Islander community of Santa Clara County. We realize that the diversifying population which we serve and the technologically flourishing environment in which we operate offer numerous challenges. 

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