Professor 'Walks the Walk'

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Asian children being bullied at school can be a serious problem, and May Ying Chen wanted to let people know a federal-level bullying summit was to be held in New York City.

In October, Chen, a newly appointed member of the president's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, held a news conference to tell the media, especially ethnic newspapers, that the summit was coming up. The news conference was short and informal and mostly attended by Chinese media.

She was disappointed by the turnout. In the future, she says, she will hold a roundtable to bring a wider range of ethnic media, many of which are based in New York City, into the mix.

Many Asians are not getting information about federal programs and resources that can help them, and the ethnic media is key to getting the word out, she says.

"I want to be a link or bridge," says Chen, a former labor leader and an adjunct professor at the City University of New York's Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

This thinking is typical of her approach--practical and street smart, says Joyce Moy, who has known Chen for 30 years from community activities.

"Tweeting and Facebook are wonderful but not reaching a lot of people," says Moy, executive director of CUNY's Asian-American/Asian Research Institute. "May has been on the front lines. She knows who to reach, and how to do it."

Chen, 64, became familiar with the challenges facing Asian immigrants while working for unions representing garment workers in New York's Chinatown for nearly three decades.

Through the years, she taught immigrants English, citizenship and American history. She acted as a paralegal for workers and was a union organizer.

She rose in the administrative ranks of the union UNITE HERE's Chinatown local, which had 25,000 members during its peak in the mid-'90s, many of whom assembled women's sportswear.

By her retirement in 2009, she was one of the nation's highest-ranking Asian labor leaders, serving as vice president of the Workers United/Service Employees International Union.

Now, as one of 20 members of the unpaid panel advising the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Chen wants to put her experience to good use. …