Lindsay Stafford Mader 2014-04-28 07:19:46
Honoring and Growing a Legal Legacy In 1895, a young man from Guangzhou, China arrived in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. While Antonio Yee Chew—along with thousands of other Chinese men—ideally would have moved to the United States, Mexico was his next-best option. The Chinese Exclusion Act made it difficult for the majority of Chinese immigrants to enter the northern country due to a variety of tensions ranging from ethnic discrimination to the Chinese laborers’ willingness to accept lower wages than American workers. Antonio and his wife, Herlinda Wong Chew, had eight kids. The fourth-born, Wellington Yee Chew, was named after V.K. Wellington Koo, a Chinese lawyer and judge who was an ambassador to England, France, and the United States. Wellington Chew would someday achieve a similar destiny. The Chews eventually moved to the United States due to an exception in the Chinese Exclusion Act that permitted entrance for merchants. Though they had to immigrate to the U.S. in Calexico, Calif., they ended up less than 10 blocks from their Ciudad Juárez home in the neighboring border town of El Paso, where they opened several Chinese grocery stores. Wellington graduated from El Paso High School and then went on to Texas A&M University. During World War II, he was drafted into the Army and fought as an infantryman at Normandy, in the Battle for Paris, and the Battle of the Bulge. According to his son David Wellington Chew, Wellington was naturalized under a special provision of the Nationality Act, which allowed military service to serve as a qualifier for citizenship. “Although it very well may have been a questionable interpretation because the Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until another three months,” said David. “There’s a good chance he was one of the very first naturalized Chinese-Americans.” Upon returning home from the war, Wellington quickly decided not to pursue engineering school and instead chose to focus on becoming a lawyer. “I think the war changed his perspective of what he needed to do going forward,” said David. “Like many veterans, he never really talked about the war. But it was a life changing experience— both good and bad.” Under the GI Bill, Wellington received his degree from Southern Methodist University law school in Dallas and was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1951. He is currently thought to be the first Chinese-American licensed by the bar. Wellington returned to El Paso and worked as a solo practitioner in the areas of criminal and immigration law. “He was a well-regarded attorney,” said David. “He broke a lot of ground and did much for the community. There’s a senior citizen center named after him. He was active in the Democratic Party. He was a very good lawyer.” Wellington’s children worked in their father’s law office during the summer, and at home they were invited to participate in conversations about the death penalty and legal representation of alleged criminals. Their mother, Patricia Mary Chew, also was a role model, having obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees when her oldest child was in high school and having gone on to become one of the first woman principals in El Paso County. The Chew children grew up surrounded by familiarity with the life of an attorney and with intellectual and educational encouragement. “I remember my father saying to me that if I wanted to be a teacher, that would be good, but that I needed to prepare and train myself to be the superintendent,” said Linda Yee Chew, the second oldest child in the family. “And if I wanted to be a lawyer, that was great, but I needed to prepare and train myself to be the judge. And I think all of us have that sense—you don’t just reach a goal and then that’s it. You always have one more goal that you have to set.” David, Linda, and Patricia B. Chew—three of Wellington’s four children—had successful careers before all found themselves on a similar path as their father. David was the first, having realized that his naval career was not the best fit. Like his father, he entered SMU on the GI Bill. But when David was in his second year at law school, his father died of cancer at the age of 55. “I didn’t make it home in time to practice with him,” said David. “But, it was expected that I would carry on. Judges continued my father’s cases because they knew I was coming to El Paso and could take them over.” In 1979, David joined his father’s old practice with partner Paul Douglass. Not long after that, Linda was at a crossroads. She had been an elementary school teacher for several years, had obtained her master’s degree in education, and was trying to decide whether to get her doctorate or to go to law school. “And I decided that I should go to law school—that it had a lot more prospects for me coming back to El Paso,” said Linda. “David was here, and it made sense to come back and practice with my brother.” She joined David at Douglass, Chew & Chew in 1986. Soon, David and Linda’s younger sister, Patricia, was experiencing a turning point in her own career. She was in Houston playing volleyball for the women’s nationals team when the coaches told her she would have to quit college to train for the Olympics. “My choice was to leave the team to continue my education because it was just engrained in us that education was the most important thing,” said Patricia. Patricia graduated from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and practiced for a short period at a Houston firm. When David was elected to the 8th Court of Appeals in 1994, Patricia joined her sister in El Paso. In 2002, Linda was elected judge of the 327th District Court, at which point Patricia took over the practice. Then in 2010, Patricia was elected judge of the El Paso County Probate Court No. 1. Now that the three oldest Chews are judges, the siblings focus on supporting each other and sharing advice on how to deal with difficult courtroom situations without discussing case specifics. One of their most important guiding lights is the legacy established by their parents. “We feel a real obligation to make sure that we never defile the work of our parents,” said Linda. “That’s our obligation to their memory. That’s a real big deal to us. It’s a big factor in how we conduct ourselves and what we do in the community. We just can’t let our parents down.”
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
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