Volume 8, No. 5 – May 2021
In this issue
• Honoring Laura Liu

• Next Steps Collaborative 3-Part Series
Chicago's First Life-Size Statue of a Real Woman:
Honoring Laura Liu  

By Helen Ramirez-Odell
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and WWHP celebrates the life of Laura Liu. A bronze statue of her was installed in Ping Tom Park in Chicago’s Chinatown along the Chicago River in 2017. Created by artist Eric Blome, who also created the Rosa Parks statue in Dallas, Texas, Liu’s is the first and only life-size statue of a woman outdoors in Chicago who is not a fictional or mythical character.
Laura Cha-Yu Liu (1966-2016) began school speaking little English but later became valedictorian of her high school class. She went to law school and practiced law in Chicago from 1991 to 2010 when she was appointed the first Chinese American woman judge to the Circuit Court of Cook County. Months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent treatment and was cancer free by July 2012. She won election to the 8th Judicial Subcircuit of Cook County in 2012 and became the co-chair of the Language Access Committee of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. Liu was greatly concerned about language barriers for non-English speaking litigants and worked to establish rules that courts must provide qualified interpreters and signage in different languages. Her colleagues said her greatest impact on the law was her work in breaking down language barriers.

In 2014 Liu became the first Chinese American to be appointed to the Illinois Appellate Court. Her cancer returned but family and friends said that “stop” was not in her vocabulary. Her most famous case was about a woman who wanted to conceive with frozen eggs fertilized by a man who later decided he did not want his ex-girl-friend to become pregnant with them. Justice Liu wrote that the woman was entitled to the eggs since he had not expressed reservations during the process. 

Liu’s husband, Michael J. Kasper, said she never let her illness interfere with her being a mother. “No matter what accolades people have given her about her professional  accomplishments, they pale in comparison to how she was as a mom.” She frequently attended community events, spoke with school children and showed them that a woman of Chinese descent can be a judge.

Laura Liu was only 49 when she died of breast cancer on April 15, 2016. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that “as the first Asian-American justice to serve on the Illinois Appellate Court, Judge Liu broke barriers and blazed new trails of opportunity…The courage, grace, and dignity with which she faced her illness served as a true inspiration.” 
Next Steps Collaborative Launches 3-Part Series
By Amy Laiken

A 3-part series, titled Exploring Progressive Women & Political Values, began on May 5th, with its first program, The 2020 Election: Successes and Setbacks. The programs are presented by the Next Steps Collaborative, a group representing Working Women’s History Project; Hairpin Arts Center; Ida’s Legacy; Vivian G. Harsh Society; American Association of University Women; and the League of Women Voters. Women, especially African American women, were heavily instrumental in the triumph of progressive candidates in many races. 

We wanted to explore reactions of women from different professional backgrounds to the elections. The May 5thprogram, a Zoom webinar, featured moderator CM! Winters-Palacio, Executive Board Grievance Chairwoman for Local 1600 Cook County College Teachers Union and retired library professor. Panelists were Rep. Robin Kelly, who is also Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois; Jennifer T. Watson, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at Kennedy-King College; and Kimberley Egonmwan, Attorney, and Host and Commentator at WVON 1690 AM.

The discussion began with the panelists’ assessments of the successes of the 2020 election. Rep. Kelly thought that the successes included the election of the president and vice-president, and victories in the House and Senate. She added that there is a great opportunity to get things accomplished, but also cautioned that nothing should be taken for granted.  Prof. Watson felt that mail-in balloting was successful in determining the results of the election, despite the pandemic. She credited Stacy Abrams with organizing in Georgia, and cited the role of women and Democrats in the Georgia runoff Senate races.  Watson added that considering that vacancies on the courts had been filled by the prior president, it was a positive thing that his appointees didn’t “just do his bidding.” She was also impressed by how much people of color, particularly women, were involved in the electoral process. Ms. Egonmwan echoed her co-panelists’ assessments, adding that she credited women who organized and turned out for the Women’s Marches in 2017 and beyond with engendering enthusiasm for political participation.  

As setbacks, Prof. Watson mentioned voter suppression bills advanced by Republicans, and the riots that took place at the U. S. Capitol in Washington. Rep. Kelly said that Democrats didn’t win as many races as they had anticipated. Ms. Egonmwan voiced disappointment that a Black woman was not named by California Governor Gavin Newsom to replace Vice President Harris in the Senate, although the governor will need to depend on Black women voters to keep him in office as he faces a likely recall.  Rep. Kelly responded that she thought that the governor was responding to California’s demographics in that 40% of California’s population is Latinx, while 6% to 7% is Black. However, she voiced admiration for two Black congresswomen who had been considered to replace Vice President Harris. Panelists raised ideas about insufficient socioeconomic diversity among elected officials, and Rep. Kelly mentioned the need to get money out of politics.  

Other Thoughts
Some other ideas/thoughts shared were the need to pay attention to local elections in addition to federal races and to embrace non-partisan ways of involving people. Rep. Kelly mentioned the high level of involvement of African American women in the 2017 special Senatorial election in Alabama, and how Black women have continued to be energized through subsequent elections. One panelist shared that the standard of living often rises for everyone when African American women are in leadership positions, and that an increased level of participation is expected. 

During the question and answer period, attendees asked about issues such as voting rights, and how best to inspire voter turnout for the midterms. Responding to the question about voting rights, one panelist urged people to support the two bills before Congress which would restore those rights.  In response to the question about motivating voters, Prof. Watson emphasized the need to start right now, and Ms. Egonmwan spoke of the need to make sure that voters can see themselves in public policy.
The program ended by sincerely thanking the participants, and reminding attendees of the two other events that will be presented by the Next Steps Collaborative on Wednesdays: June 2nd,  
The 2022 Midterms: Defying Expectations, and on June 23rdProgressive Women: Different Perspectives, Common Purpose. 

Those who missed the May 5th program can view it at: https://youtu.be/a6xMgm8hCjI
Rep. Robin Kelly
CM! Winters-Palacio
Kimberley Egonmwan
Jennifer T. Watson
Working Women's History Project

Please contact us through Amy Laiken