This article was submitted by Rebecca Han, 2011 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (College of Arts & Sciences). Fernando Chang-Muy received his J.D. in 1982 from the Antioch School of Law.
Chang-Muy is the Thomas O’Boyle Lecturer in Law at the
University of Pennsylvania School Of Law. This title is awarded to lawyers who
incorporate their experiences into their students’ legal education. Chang-Muy
serves as a leader in countless groups, ranging from work in human rights to
facilitating organizations. His contributions and active roles derive inspiration
from his identity, or rather, his identities: Cuban, Chinese, gay, immigrant. Chang-Muy,
a Cuban immigrant, dedicates much of his work to minority groups, mainly
immigrants. And to better understand the mistreatment and iniquities of all
minority groups, he empathizes with being a racial and sexual minority.
has participated in and led, including the Liberty Center for Survivors of
Torture and the Southeast Asian Refugee Project, lend aid to those in need,
particularly the impoverished and those who have experienced human rights
violations. As former Director of the Center for Survivors of Torture,
Chang-Muy gave survivors medical treatment, and offered a space for mental rejuvenation
and hope. The latter organization specifically aims to help the Asian
community, primarily Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants, who struggle with
learning English, and therefore, cannot report crimes committed by gang
members. Chang-Muy played an integral role as Director, stressing the
importance of proper communication among victims and ending the suffocating silence
that consumed them.
However, I quickly
learned that Chang-Muy’s efforts included other
groups that are also marginalized. By practicing and teaching
immigration law, he hoped to inspire others to
help immigrants and the larger society. Chang-Muy talks about how
blue-collar workers, specifically Mexican laborers, are often taken for
granted. They work hard for low wages, which allows for goods, like
lettuce, to sell at inexpensive prices. Here Chang-Muy says there is
both Mexican workers and the "wider”, or "whiter” (his playful pun),
to learn from one another. Just as the former must adapt and learn
latter should adopt an open mind and greater appreciation for their
work. Education is necessary for both parties to arrive at a greater
understanding of each others' experiences.
Many of the
organizations Chang-Muy participated in or led revolve around immigrants in
need and other minorities who struggled against adversity. But Chang-Muy offers
a different and enlightening way of viewing immigrants. Rather than feeling
pity for their situations as they dealt with an unfamiliar lifestyle, Chang-Muy discussed a strengths-based approach in which
immigrants provide a bridge to other cultures and put forth their own identity.
He stressed the importance of gaining knowledge and an appreciation of various
cultures, for this is what makes an individual "richer.” While he acknowledges
the challenges that immigrants have faced, Chang-Muy looks for the good and
places significance on immigrants’ unique contributions to society, offering a
hopeful outlook on the assimilation process.
Also, Chang-Muy has focused on helping victims who had
been wronged by their native
governments or had been rejected by mainstream society. He used his
legal services to help abused
women and immigrants who had experienced injustice. Chang-Muy also
helped the less fortunate by consulting and advising organizations at
the managerial level to be efficient and strengthen group dynamics. As a
consultant he helps organizations in 3
different ways: (1) working with nonprofits and their management issues,
dealing with "industrial psychology” or organizational problems, and (3)
assessing a nonprofit's affiliations. Developing and training
organizations also includes ways to raise funds, how to run a meeting or
learning to become a better leader.
As the Human
Rights Legal Officer of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Chang-Muy
concentrated on international human rights and public health laws. He trained
government officials and the ministries of health not to discriminate against
those with AIDS. In addition, he served as the Senior Legal Officer of the UN
Refugee Agency (UNHCR), a role that helped displaced people
apply for asylum. In all of these
organizations he had an impact.
In talking with Professor Chang-Muy’s about his career and passion for helping immigrants I realized my
initial thoughts about immigrants were inaccurate and pessimistic. Prior to his
explanation of his strengths-based theory about immigrants, I believed that
in order to be genuinely passionate about a cause one must personally
experience some catastrophic event. I assumed that trauma holds more power than
idealism. Now my views have changed.
So, I asked,
"What are some personal experiences that led you to [immigration
and refugee law]?” I anticipated painful stories of refugees fleeing Cuba during
the Cuban Revolution. Yet Chang-Muy challenged my views once again.
Because he grew up in a predominantly Cuban community, Chang-Muy didn’t
experience discrimination growing up; finding a table at school was
no problem. And even then he was exposed to immigration law, with
Chang-Muy translating to his parents during interactions with lawyers.
Chang-Muy did mention
that he had felt marginalized because of his homosexuality. Beginning in
graduate school, when he initially set out to attain his Ph.D. in English, he
wrote a dissertation on analyzing literature through Marxism, Formalism, and
the Lesbian/Gay perspective. The committee rejected his proposal. This event
led him to law school, where he believed he could confront the marginalization
he had felt having his work rejected by an academic committee.
Looking back, Chang-Muy said
that not much has changed regarding U.S. refugee policies. If anything,
worsened, especially after the 9/11 attacks. Also, he acknowledges that
struggle for equality regardless of sexual orientation has remained
stagnant. Despite this, he still believes that the goodness within an
can be a driving force toward helping others.