Hon. Denny Chin ’71 is a United States Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was sworn in on April 26, 2010.
From September 13, 1994, through April 23, 2010, Denny served as a United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. He presided over both civil and criminal cases including the trial of an Afghan warlord charged with conspiring to import heroin and the guilty plea and sentencing of financier Bernard L. Madoff.
Denny graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1971, from Princeton University magna cum laude in 1975, and Fordham Law School in 1978. He was born in Hong Kong. Denny was the first Asian American appointed a United States District Judge outside the Ninth Circuit.
The following is excerpted from Judge Chin’s address to the Stuyvesant High School Class of 2019 at their commencement ceremony on June 26, 2019.
“My grandfather was born in China in 1896. He came to the United States he was 20 years old, illegally because of Chinese exclusion laws. He returned to China only twice–once in the 1920s when he got married, and once in the 1930s when my father was born–and both times he had to leave his family behind in China when he returned to the United States because of the immigration laws. He could not bring his wife or his son to this country, but he could better support them here in America, working as a waiter in Chinese restaurants. He shared a railroad apartment in Chinatown in New York with other Chinese men, and every month, like them, he would buy a money order from the Post Office and send it home to his family in China.
“In 1947, my grandfather became an American citizen. The ceremony was held, I believe, in my courthouse, where I now have his naturalization certificate hanging on the wall in my chambers. By becoming a citizen, my grandfather was able to bring his family here, including me, after the immigration laws were reformed. By then, my father was a young man in Hong Kong with a family of his own, and my parents’ original Chinese passports show that we entered as political refugees.
“After we arrived in New York, my parents worked hard to raise five kids. My mother was a seamstress in garment factories in Chinatown, and my father was a cook in Chinese restaurants. In 1965 my parents were naturalized, and thus I became an American citizen as well.
“My parents spoke no English, but they knew the importance of education and hard work, and so we did okay. When I became a judge, I was given this privilege of performing the naturalization ceremony myself, swearing in new American citizens, and each time I did that, I told the new citizens about my grandfather. I showed them my grandfather’s naturalization certificate, which I would take off the wall, frame and all, and each time I showed it to them, I thought about my grandfather, of how hard he worked for so many years waiting on tables, of how he became a citizen in 1947, of how he brought my parents to this country, of how they became citizens, and how I, the son of a seamstress and a cook, the grandson of a Chinese waiter, became a federal judge.
All of you have someone like my grandfather in your family, and I know that I would not be here today, that I would not have presided over these cases, that I would not now be a federal judge, if my grandfather, my parents, and others like them had not let the way for me, had they not overcome so many barriers. When I was your age, when my grandfather was alive, I did not think of him as a hero. After all, I thought, he was just a Chinese waiter. It was only later that I came to appreciate all he did, and it was only later that I came to understand how much of a hero that he really was, as he traveled to a strange country at the age of 20 with no money, speaking no English, and had to work so hard, day in and day out, to make a better life for his family.”