Asian American Scholar Forum Appoints Gisela Perez Kusakawa as its First Executive Director

October 13, 2022

Mary Tablante, Associate Director of Strategic Communications,

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The Asian American Scholar Forum (AASF) is proud to announce it has welcomed Gisela Perez Kusakawa as its founding executive director to lead the organization in providing a voice for Asian American scientists, researchers, and scholars across the country. AASF endeavors to protect the rights of Asian Americans and immigrants and promote academic belonging, openness, freedom, and equality for all.

AASF was founded last year when MIT professor Dr. Gang Chen was among a number of Chinese American scientists and scholars in U.S. universities who were subjected to heightened scrutiny or targeted by the federal government. These injustices ushered in historic efforts to bring a unified voice to the many Asian American and immigrant scientists, researchers, and scholars impacted. AASF was established to combat these injustices against Asian Americans and immigrants, particularly at a time of increasing anti-Asian sentiment and targeting of scientists, researchers, and scholars of Asian descent.

Gisela Perez Kusakawa was most recently the director of the Anti-Profiling, Civil Rights & National Security program (formerly the Anti-Racial Profiling Project) at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, a national civil rights organization, where she led their advocacy on anti-profiling, civil rights, and national security. She acted as the supervising attorney for legal referrals and laid the groundwork for the program. Gisela’s successes include spearheading coalition work to end the U.S. Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” which raised serious concerns of profiling of Asian Americans and immigrants, particularly those of Chinese descent. Over the years, she has worked on the intersections of national security, technology, criminal law, and immigration, including Countering Violent Extremism programs, the Muslim Ban, Southeast Asian deportation, immigration enforcement, and surveillance. 

“Ms. Kusakawa is a strategic leader in the advocacy space and we are thrilled to have her take the helm at AASF at this important juncture for our communities,” said AASF Founder & President, Yasheng Huang. “Over a year ago, academic and scientific leaders nationwide came together with a deep calling to fight against injustices, discrimination, and the instilling of fear within our communities. Now more than ever, it is crucial that the Asian American scientific and academic community has a voice and a seat at the table.” 

“Her background as a civil rights attorney and proven leadership in both the Filipino American and Asian American legal communities puts her in the unique position to be a successful executive director,” said AASF Founding Vice President, Kai Li. “We are excited for what the future of AASF holds. We are committed to empowering our communities against future affronts and educating the public on the tremendous contributions of Asian American scientists, researchers, and scholars to our country.”

“I look forward to serving and leading AASF during this time of great need to elevate the voices of Asian Americans and immigrants,” Kusakawa said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to build the work of our leaders and academics who have remained resilient when faced with adversity and discrimination. I will grow AASF’s relationships with supporters and stakeholders in government and beyond because it will take a broad coalition to fight for justice for all.”

Kusakawa has been featured on multiple media outlets including NPR, CNBC, LA Times, and WTOP Podcast “Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.” Previously, Kusakawa worked with asylum seekers and detained immigrants, and successfully won a grant of asylum for a mother and daughter from Honduras. She served indigent immigrants under AmeriCorps in Ohio, and worked as a teacher in Ise City, Japan where she was also a disaster relief volunteer for the Tohoku tsunami. In her younger years, Gisela worked on business and job development in the rural villages of the Philippines, and was a former Rotary Scholar at Kofu City, Japan.

Her community involvement includes serving on the Board of Directors for the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Education Fund, the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, and as a Founder & Board of Governor of the Filipino American Lawyers Association of D.C. For her work in civil rights and public service, Gisela had the honor of receiving the Justice Thurgood Marshall Civil Liberties Award and was awarded the competitive National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) Law Foundation Community Law Fellowship, which seeks to develop public interest law leaders to advance Asian American civil rights. 

Kusakawa is a first-generation immigrant who hails from the Philippines and spent her childhood in Tondo, Manila before moving to Philadelphia, PA. She now resides in Washington, D.C. with her husband. Overcoming tremendous odds for a better life in America, Kusakawa became an attorney to dedicate her life to public service and help the many immigrants and families seeking safety and compassion in the United States. Kusakawa is admitted to practice law at the District of Columbia and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and received her J.D. from The George Washington University Law School.


Asian American Scholar Forum (AASF) promotes academic belonging, openness, freedom, and equality for all and represents more than 7,000 scientists, researchers, and scholars in the U.S.. In response to heightened anti-Asian sentiments in the U.S. and increasing profiling of Chinese Americans and immigrants in science, AASF has been a leading national voice fighting for the rights of Asian American and immigrant scientists, researchers, and scholars.

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