First Asian American Woman U.S. Attorney, Los Angeles
Do not judge U.S. Attorney Debra Yang by her petite stature. Instead, as the United States Attorney for the Southern California district, she is responsible for managing 260 federal prosecutors, where in this position, she often leads legal confrontations that have great intellectual, social and financial stakes and rewards.
"As with many Asian Americans, I wasn't raised to be outspoken. I had to work hard to overcome inhibitions." However, a few events in Yang's youth empowered her to seek a path beyond cultural stereotypes. "I had a very inspirational father who had a very strong, tough character, very high ethical standards and a core of great integrity. But most importantly, he didn't feel women and girls should be limited in any way."
Working and studying for a year in Taiwan allowed Yang "to really understand my heritage. In Taiwan, I didn't feel like I was an aberration. I felt great pride being there and having a sense of belonging. This evolved my identity as a Chinese American and strengthened my ties to the community, leading me to public service."
When she was in college, Yang used her spare time in volunteering for community work in L.A.'s Chinatown. "I helped people fill out immigration application forms. I could relate to them, due to my heritage. That work gave me great pleasure, giving 'voice' to people who couldn't speak for themselves."
Yang also cites Stewart Kwoh and Diane Tan of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center as inspirational forces for furthering her interest in law and public service.
From what other sources does Ms. Yang get answers to difficult questions? Perhaps from her cultural roots? She gives the following example of how she uses some of her cultural heritage in her legal thinking and strategies, by quoting Sun-Tzu's 'Art of War': 'A direct attack may not be the best.'
She further describes some other principles to guide her: "My work is like a real life chess game; I have to be thinking five moves ahead of the other side."
Ms. Yang uses another thought, especially when dealing with the gray areas of law: "Indecision equals no decision. No decision equals failure." Perhaps more pragmatically, she adds, "Perfection is the enemy of good enough."
What other methods does she use to find answers to difficult problems? She offers another analogy, ?Life is like a prism... turn it and it refracts light differently, showing another color and aspect to the challenge. That?s how I solve problems, by examining the problem from all the different angles, to find the solution. Or to find another way around the problem.?
Future of Asian Americans in Law and Politics Historically, not many Asian Americans have participated in the legal and political fields. Ms. Yang offers this advice, "Do volunteer work. Donate money. Participate!" (Courtesy of Jason Jem.)