Progress Is Not a Straight Line: Michelle Park Chiu Reflects on Her Time as AABA President

Monday, May 9, 2022
Michelle Park Chiu

When Michelle Park Chiu first joined the board of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area (AABA), long before taking the role of president in 2021, she never could have predicted the challenges that would face the group—and the world.

The AABA is one of the largest Asian American bar associations in the United States and one of the largest minority bar associations in California, with approximately 1,000 members. Michelle was tasked with helping guide the group through one history-making event after the other.

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to address during your term as AABA president?

When I began my term in January 2021, the first message I wrote to the organization was in response to the terrible Capitol insurrection merely days into the new year. A few months later, we saw the horrific murders of six Asian American women in Atlanta, part of the alarming increase in anti-Asian hate in the Bay Area and beyond. And that was on top of having endured a full 12 months of an unpredictable global pandemic that continues to disrupt our lives.

How did you help the group deal with those heavy events?

Many times in the year, the sheer enormity of the challenges facing us—whether the ongoing struggle to achieve racial equality or the seemingly unchecked polarization and divisiveness plaguing our nation—left me feeling hopeless and helpless. What chance did I have, as one person, to make a difference? And what progress could we make, as just one organization, in solving problems that existed for decades, if not centuries? I found the answers to those questions in an unlikely place—the Conan O’Brien podcast.

President Barack Obama and Conan were reflecting on these challenges and if they’d ever seen anything worse, and President Obama wisely observed: “We don’t make progress in a straight line…part of being resilient is recognizing where progress is made.” So I took that advice to heart, and as President Obama observed, “better is good—I’ll take better every time.”

What were some of your proudest accomplishments as AABA president?

We may not have solved all the great problems facing us, but we did have the power to make the world a little better than before. AABA organized programming to empower our community in the face of rising anti-Asian hate, including a bystander intervention training, a know-your-rights event, a CLE on hate crimes prosecution, and the development of an AAPI anti-hate guide.

But part of making the world better involves celebrating what is already good, so we also supported our members’ professional development and recognized their huge professional milestones. We also celebrated milestone events, like Rob Bonta, California’s first Filipino American Attorney General; David Chiu, San Francisco’s first Asian American City Attorney; and the confirmation of Judge Lucy Koh, the first female Korean-American federal appellate judge in the United States.

What parting thoughts did you leave for the organization?

Our work is not finished; there is much more to be done. But I know the members of the AABA and the larger Asian-American community are resilient, that we will recognize the progress we made, and will work to keep moving forward.

I hope we can all remember that better is good, and that we all keep striving to make next year better than the last.

Michelle Park Chiu and panda