Jane Aoyama-Martin, 62, has been an attorney for 38 years. Born in Hawaii, she attended college and law school in California and has lived in New York since 1980. Aoyama-Martin began her career as an attorney in upstate New York and went on to work for Bronx Legal Services, private law offices, the Legal Aid Society and Pace University. In 2015, she returned to the Bronx to become the project director at Bronx Legal Services, a non-profit organization serving low-income people. Aoyama-Martin is one of the founding members of Womankind (formerly New York Asian Women’s Center), which provides counseling services to survivors of domestic violence.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR TYPICAL WORK DAY?
No day is really typical … because it’s a big office. … I get emergency this email, emergency that email, emergency like personnel issues or something happened.
WHY DID YOU ENTER THE FIELD OF PUBLIC SERVICE?
My interest has always been in public service. … I worked in a corporate sector. One job I had for … less than two years, I did not like it. … All you have to do with money. It had nothing to do with the human condition at all. … It wasn’t the path for me.
DO YOU MISS WORKING DIRECTLY WITH PEOPLE NOW THAT YOU ARE AN ADMINISTRATOR?
I do miss that somewhat. … Back then it was a stress …You feel responsible for other people’s lives. You’re the only person standing between them and abuser, or them and eviction, or them and survival. So, that kind of stress was hard for me but I did get a lot at the same time. You helped people; you felt really good.
Now it’s different. … I help people in their personnel stuff. … I don’t like handling the bad personnel stuff but that is part of the job. I like mentoring people. … It’s not quite the same as client services or anything but it’s a different kind of rewarding I guess.
WHAT ARE YOUR HAPPIEST MEMORIES IN YOUR CAREER?
Looking back at all of my work, there are individual case victories that I really enjoyed on a personal level because it was rewarding for me to do the work, help people move forward with their lives saved in case of domestic violence.
I have one attorney that I supervised and mentored when I was at Legal Aid Society. … And she had handled a big case that went on with the Supreme Court. Her case was so big that she was interviewed by some journal or newspaper in London. … In the interview she mentioned two people that made a difference in her life. One was me. I didn’t expect that.
WHY DID YOU AND OTHER VOLUNTEERS DECIDE TO FOUND THE NEW YORK ASIAN WOMEN’S CENTER?
It was the early 80s. … We’re all at a little activist group … and all of my friends are similarly situated, Asian-American women. We’re all doing social services. … We’d sit down, we’d chat about issues affecting Asian women. … Everyone gets restless and they go: what are we going to do about it? …We came up with a plan and an idea. And the idea was to form a … center for Asian women.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO WOMEN’S ISSUES?
I was in the early years … with my colleagues, that group we had started with the New York Asian Women’s Center. … Your work colleagues are huge influence on career choices.
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN THE PAST 38 YEARS?
I’ve seen through the years a lot of improvement. … There’ve been a lot of legislation passed, a lot more rights, a lot of recognition, a recognition that domestic violence is a crime.
What brings me back to reality [is] sometimes you step outside of the metropolitan area or you go even in New York, you go upstate. The awareness is not at the same level as in the urban areas. That’s clear. But generally, people know that … you’re not supposed to hit your partner.