The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide

Page 1

THE VINCENT CHIN LEGACY GUIDE

Asian Americans and Civil Rights

Helen Zia Vincent Chin Institute with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
SECOND EDITION
CONTENTS A LIVING LEGACY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 KEY LEARNINGS 2 RECOMMENDATIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 WHY REMEMBER VINCENT CHIN? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 WHO IS VINCENT CHIN? 6 TIMES OF CRISIS: WHO TO BLAME? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 THE HORRIFIC ENCOUNTER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 TURNING OUTRAGE INTO ACTION 14 LILY CHIN: A MOTHER’S COURAGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 FORGING PAN-ASIAN AMERICAN UNITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 FROM A MOMENT TO A MOVEMENT 23 THE JOURNEY TO SOLIDARITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 THE BATTLE IN THE COURTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 LEGAL MILESTONES 32 THE RIGHTEOUS FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 DEFEATING ANTI-ASIAN HATE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42 ASIAN AMERICANS FIGHTING THE FEAR 45 THE POWER OF EDUCATION: TEACHING THE FILM WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN? . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 KNOW THEM, KNOW THEIR NAMES: 1982-2022 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54 KEY DATES IN THE VINCENT CHIN MOVEMENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 RISING TOGETHER, STRONGER THAN EVER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Second Edition. Copyright © 2022-2023 by Helen Zia. CONVERSATION QUESTIONS: created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center for classroom and group discussions .

A LIVING LEGACY

In 1982, the horrific baseball bat slaying of Vincent Chin just days before his wedding gave a name to the systemic racism of anti-Asian hate. The miscarriage of justice that followed, allowing the two white killers to go free without spending a day in jail, ignited a new civil rights movement. Asian Americans rose up together with a multiracial, multicultural coalition united for equal justice and human dignity and still stands as a landmark of American history.

In 2022, 40 years later, the lessons of building solidarity and unity to obtain justice for Vincent Chin can inspire people to again rise to the challenge to come together to counter division and hate, to unite older and younger generations from all walks of life to link arms and work for positive change.

This Legacy Guide is meant to be a discussion and teaching tool. It is also a tribute to the individuals and communities who came together for justice for Vincent Chin and who are standing up today so that all communities may live without fear of violence, in safety and harmony.

Today’s pandemic of anti-Asian hate has unsettling parallels to the anti-Asian hate of the 1980s. When Detroit’s Asian American community organized American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) to fight the injustice of Vincent Chin’s case, we were establishing a movement with founding principles based on a clear commitment to seek justice for all and to stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. This is a core part of Vincent’s legacy. As Vincent’s mother Lily said on national television, “Our skin color may be different, but our blood is the same.”

Between March 20, 2020 through December 31, 2021, StopAAPIhate.org received nearly 11,000 reports of hate incidents to their single, community-based website. California State University Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported a 339 percent increase in anti-Asian violence between 2020 and 2021.

The Vincent and Lily Chin Estate, along with ACJ and the Planning Committee of the Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication, all firmly believe that Vincent Chin’s legacy continues to advance the ideals of equal justice and solidarity against the racism and hate that Lily Chin courageously addressed.

—HELEN ZIA AND THE VINCENT AND LILY CHIN ESTATE

MYTHS VERSUS FACTS: HONOR VINCENT CHIN’S LEGACY BY KNOWING THE FACTS

Understanding the legacy of Vincent Chin involves knowing the facts and not perpetuating myths and misinformation about this hate killing. Even recent publications contain factual errors about the location of the lounge where Vincent’s fateful encounter took place and misstating the city where he worked as a draftsman. Please use this guide as a reference for facts and photos.

» FALSE: Vincent Chin’s killers were unemployed. FACT: Both were employed, and one was a general foreman at a large factory.

» FALSE: This was a case of “mistaken identity” and the killers mistook him for Japanese. FACT: The murderers were told that Vincent was Chinese and they hired a bystander to help them “get the Chinese.” They also targeted Vincent’s Chinese buddy, not his white friends.

» FALSE: Vincent Chin was an engineer. FACT: Vincent worked two jobs and attended school part-time to become a draftsman. He planned to continue his studies to learn computer programming.

» FALSE: Vincent died from hitting his head on the ground. FACT: His murderer crushed Vincent’s skull with homerun swings of a baseball bat.

» FALSE: The killers apologized for killing Vincent Chin. FACT: The murderers never expressed remorse to Lily Chin or any of Vincent’s many family members or accepted responsibility for taking Vincent’s life. The Vincent and Lily Chin Estate remains open to this day so that Vincent’s killer will never be free of his debt to the family and society.

1

KEY LEARNINGS

Asian Americans are not a monolith. There is great diversity among Asian ethnicities. Before the Immigration Act of 1965 that equalized immigration beyond the longtime preferences for “Anglo” Europeans, many Chinese Americans came from southern China’s Pearl River delta region of Guangdong province, just as Vincent, Lily and C.W. Hing Chin had. After 1965, Asian Americans came as migrants and refugees from all over Asia and the Pacific. Yet many Americans know little about Asian Americans and lump them all together as though they are the same.

“Justice for all” is a lofty aspiration and not a fact. In Vincent Chin’s case the justice system failed at every level, with no police investigation; the white killers were significantly undercharged; the sentencing judge ignored pre-sentence recommendations for prison time and set the two white killers free on probation; and the prosecutors failed to show up at sentencing with no notification to the family. Though prosecutors represent “the People,” this case shows how advocates and watchdogs can help ensure that victims are considered. Our voices matter. Speaking up is our right and responsibility. Because society and the criminal justice system often ignore the experiences of Asian Americans and other marginalized people, it is necessary to speak out. Vincent Chin’s race was never considered in his case, as though it was invisible. In 1983, Asian Americans overcame their hesitation by organizing together as American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) to use their collective voices to speak out against injustice, to educate others and to build a multiracial, multicultural effort to break through the harmful invisibility and bring about changes that benefit all Americans.

“Asian American” is a term of empowerment that reflects pan-Asian coalition building. In 1968, student activists created the term “Asian American,” but even in the 1980s, it was not widely adopted by different Asian ethnic groups. ACJ and the campaign for justice for Vincent Chin brought the separate Asian American ethnic groups together, in spite of major differences in language, culture, religion, education, political orientation, income levels and more that exist, even within a single Asian ethnicity.

ACJ and the fight for Vincent Chin relied on cross-racial partnerships with key Black organizations and leaders in Detroit and nationally. Organized on the principle of justice for all, ACJ’s founders respectfully reached out to leaders of other communities, opening up communications for mutual support. Horace Sheffield Jr., the legendary civil rights and union leader activist who founded Detroit Area Black Organizations (DABO); Winston Lang, executive director of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP; and former presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson were instrumental in ACJ's multiracial, multicultural outreach efforts.

Anti-Asian hate is not new. In America, people of Asian descent have been scapegoats at times of domestic crisis, as though they cause America's problems. In the late 1800s, anti-Chinese hate led to ethnic cleansing massacres and such racist laws as the Chinese Exclusion Act. In the 1980s, anti-Asian anger blamed Japan for the auto industry’s collapse. After 9/11, South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans were targeted. Today, people of all Asian heritages are being blamed and attacked for the harms caused by COVID.

Institutionalized white supremacy has had an indelible impact on the Asian American community in the US. Early Asian migrants were brought to the Americas in large numbers as chattel; indentured workers served as auxiliary and replacement labor for enslaved people, becoming part of an economy built on white supremacy. Asians and Asian Americans have been historically restricted to low-income service work; politically their status “between” white and Black positions them to be pitted against other people of color. Deeply ingrained stereotypes of the perpetual foreign invader and the racist “model minority” myth that was created in the 1960s have exploited Asian Americans in the systemic racial hierarchy of America.

The fight for justice for Vincent Chin has had far-reaching impact. In public policy, victim impact statements and victims’ rights have been advanced, while federal hate crimes protections were expanded to cover gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Court procedures were changed to reduce the likelihood of similar institutional failures that took place in Vincent Chin’s case. New advocacy organizations and new generations of activists have been inspired to raise their voices in this democracy to create positive change, which also requires constant vigilance to keep progress from being reversed. These are all learnings from the legacy of Vincent Chin.

2

RECOMMENDATIONS

Be prepared for anti-Asian incidents. Don’t be surprised—be informed. Anti-Asian racism and violence have a long history that is often not taught at K-12 levels or even in higher education. Arm yourself, your family and others with knowledge, check out “bystander trainings” on the web to anticipate possible responses. Talk with your family and friends so that they are prepared.

Engage your campus, community, church, workplace employee resource groups, social clubs and the like to educate and increase awareness to combat hate toward any people. Help devise and participate in strategies to improve safety getting to and from home, especially if traveling late.

Reach out to local businesses to help inform and educate about anti-hate responses and to offer bystander training posters, flyers, and links. Many anti-Asian incidents occur in shops, grocery stores and public places. Be a courageous ally. Call out anti-Asian hate for what it is: anti-Asian bias, intolerance, prejudice, discrimination, racism, bigotry. It’s not anti-Asian “sentiment”—that's a polite euphemism that obscures the harm and violence that Asian Americans are facing today. Initiate conversations with family and friends who perpetuate racist language or acts against any marginalized people.

Call on national, state and local leaders to publicly condemn and take action to stop anti-Asian racism and the recent drastic increase in anti-Asian hate incidents. Support and elect leaders who do; encourage others to register and vote. Find ways to call out, educate and defeat racism, whether through organizations, letters to companies and advertisers, visits to elected officials or through the media, to ensure that there will be consequences for anti-Asian hate.

Support solidarity movements of people of color and people of conscience to fight systemic racism and other forms of institutionalized inequity. Support ways to fix the broken safety net to address mental health, health care, housing and food insecurity, and language access and to seek solutions of restorative justice

Demand that your state include curricula about Asian Americans at the K-12 levels: California, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island legislatures have done so; Connecticut includes funding resources. Work with students, alumni, staff in higher education who are seeking Asian American studies, as well as curricula about other marginalized groups.

Connect the dots. Know your own Asian American stories and those of other marginalized people in America. Enforced invisibility and ignorance about any group denies people of their humanity. Asian American history is American history, don’t let it go MIH—Missing in History.

Stay informed. Global and national stresses contribute to inequity, poverty, barriers to health care, housing insecurity and affronts to human dignity. Awareness and action can help combat narratives that create scapegoats to blame, just as the political innuendo about COVID has fueled anti-Asian hate.

Amplify the voices and stories of historically marginalized communities, including immigrants and refugees. Use social media, letter writing and other platforms to lift up the diversity of those whose lived experiences have helped to build America.

Use and Share THE VINCENT CHIN LEGACY GUIDE widely. It is intended to be used in classrooms and discussion groups, with Conversation Questions created by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. Upon request, a hard copy can be provided to school libraries and public libraries, while teachers can freely access the guide at vincentchin.org/legacy-guide.

3

WHY REMEMBER VINCENT CHIN?

Forty years ago, a young Chinese American named Vincent Chin was killed in a climate of intense anti-Asian hate. It was a time, much like today, when hostility and blame were directed against China and all people who looked Asian—South Asians as well as East Asians.

In the 1980s, the hateful anti-Asian rhetoric was aimed at Japan. From the halls of Congress to C-suites and union halls, anyone who looked Japanese or Asian was a moving target. In those years, an oil crisis contributed to a nationwide recession and the collapse of the auto industry and the manufacturing sector of America, with Detroit as the epicenter. Japanese-made fuel-efficient cars were vilified. Notably, German-made cars and people who looked European were not targeted in the same way. Today, the COVID pandemic, global economic turmoil and other societal ills are blamed on China, often with overtly racial overtones. Some irresponsible pundits even scapegoat China for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and for the oil shortages that may worsen the economy—claims that continue to fuel attacks against Asians and Asian Americans.

Too many Asian Americans today have been harmed, and even killed, during this most recent wave of hate. Vulnerable seniors, women and girls have been the most often targeted. Mass and individual murders are aimed at Asians of all ethnicities, religions, and skin tones of yellow and brown. These racial attacks happen at work, on streets and public transportation, in parks and shops, and even cases where Asian Americans are stalked in their own homes and apartment buildings.

We remember their names. Just since 2020: in Atlanta: Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Yong Ae Yue; Indianapolis: Amarjeet Johal, Jaswinder Singh, Amarjit Sekhon, Jaswinder Kaur; NYC: Michelle Go, Christine Yuna Lee, GuiYing Ma, Yao Pan Ma; Albuquerque: Mary Ye, Sihui Fang; Elders: Vicha Rattanapakdee, Yik Oi Huang, Pak Ho; by police: Soobleej Kaub Hawj. And too many others whose names did not become national news.

In this time of continued anti-Asian violence, we remember Vincent Chin and the national climate of racism and hate that fueled two white autoworkers to beat him to death with a baseball bat. He was not the first Asian American, and clearly not the last, to be killed in such anti-Asian times. We remember his name because of a community of people who were moved to stand up and speak up; because of journalists and filmmakers who amplified the voices of a small and spontaneous group of committed activists; because of attorneys and academics, waiters, cooks and laundry workers; because of scientists, engineers and factory workers; grandparents and babies in strollers. Because of non-Asian allies from all walks of life who reached out in the cause of justice to lift up our fledgling pan-Asian movement.

We must rededicate ourselves to the righteous outrage and activist spirit that moved Asian Americans across the nation to step from the shadows of invisibility to demand justice 40 years ago.

In the 80s, Asian Americans were energized to fight racial inequality and to stand up for fair treatment. We organized our disconnected Asian ethnicities to

4

join together at the grassroots level for the first time in our history. With our rising voices, we reached out to build solidarity with other people of color and people of conscience. Out of that solidarity sprang newer generations of activists. They in turn created a network of essential advocacy and service groups—in myriad Asian languages and cultures—to address the complex and changing needs of the Asian American immigrant experience in America over these past four decades.

In remembering Vincent, we pay homage to the courage of his dear mother Lily, who steeled herself to speak through her grief in the spirit of Mamie Till, who exposed the ugly face of the racism that killed her son Emmett. Lily Chin told all how Vincent’s killers beat her son “worse than they’d treat an animal,” and asked everyone who’d listen to fight for justice so no other mother would have to lose a child from hate and violence. Her brave moral leadership inspired other Asian Americans to create and lead a new civil rights movement, with Detroit as its epicenter.

Inspired by Lily Chin’s example, in 1983 the newly formed American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) adopted these founding principles:

» When the rights of one individual are violated, all of society suffers.

» ACJ will work toward eradicating racism in any form, especially against Asian Americans.

» It is counterproductive and unconscionable to permit racism to exist in American society.

» ACJ feels that attitudes and stereotypes regarding any individual’s race, sex, religion, color, or national origin go against the very principles of equality and justice guaranteed to all Americans.

» Through its efforts on the Vincent Chin case, the ACJ hopes to promote unity among various ethnic groups; increase understanding of the Asian American community in Detroit and across the nation; and to build and maintain lasting relations with all groups of people. None of the activists from that movement-building time ever imagined that our guiding principles and efforts would be of interest forty years later—or that the lessons drawn from speaking out, organizing and building solidarity would resonate in today’s tsunami of anti-Asian scapegoating and violence.

These are all reasons why we remember Vincent Chin and why we rededicate ourselves to the legacy of fighting for racial justice and for the full humanity of all people.

Discussion guides prepared by educators at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

“Conversation Questions” appear at the end of most articles in this guide in order to spark dialogue among peers, students, family, friends and community. Thoughtful discussion can increase understanding about civil rights and the humanity of all people, as well making connections across race, color, ethnicity, and other perceived differences in the United States today.

Conversation Questions

» What is the importance of remembering people who have passed and the times in which they lived?

» Who are the people that you remember? How do you honor their legacies?

» Why is it important for communities to remember, and honor the legacies, of people like Vincent Chin?

5
This photo of Vincent Chin is closer in age to the time he was attacked. Please be respectful and use this and others in this guide. The photo of Vincent with glasses is from early high school and does not reflect what he looked like as a grown man.

WHO IS VINCENT CHIN?

On a warm summer’s morning just outside of Detroit, Michigan, a 27 year-old Chinese American man awoke—happy with anticipation. He was to be married in a few days and it seemed that everyone his family knew would be there to celebrate his marriage—more than 400 guests in all. He was also excited because, that night after he worked his second job, some buddies were taking him out for a good, old-fashioned bachelor party. He was a popular, happy-go-lucky guy who made friends easily, and among his party pals tonight was Gary, his best friend from childhood. It was June 19, 1982.

That day, which had begun so bright and promising, would end in a terrible tragedy. The young man’s name was Vincent Chin. He could not have known that his name would become a rallying cry for Asian Americans, that his death would spark a movement for social justice and that his story would live on, far after his untimely death.

For the previous several decades, two out of three Asian Americans were immigrants—and so was Vincent Chin, who arrived in the United States as a child. His early years were spent at an orphanage in Guangdong province in southern China—the same region where his adoptive parents, Lily and C.W. Hing Chin, were from. They had selected him, based on his photo. Lily said he looked like such a sweet, intelligent child that they initiated international adoption proceedings, which took years to complete.

By then, Vincent was six years old. Detroit, Michigan was where his life in America began. His father, C.W., had arrived from China in 1922 at the age of 17, settling in Detroit. In the early 20th century, when Detroit’s young auto industry was booming and a great migration of Black and white workers from the South was streaming to the Motor City, there were also more than 300 Chinese laundries to service the well-paid factory workers. That’s where C.W. Chin found work, in long hours each day spent sorting through dirty clothes, washing, ironing and wrapping from early morning until late at night for pennies, sometimes netting only two dollars for the whole week.

The only break from toiling in the laundries came for C.W. in the 1940s, when he was already in his late 30s: he enlisted in the US Army during World War II, becoming one of the 18,000 Chinese American men and women who joined the US military to do their patriotic duty. When he returned to Detroit, it was back to the laundries—but there was a difference: US immigration laws that had excluded Chinese and all Asians from America gradually began to change after the war ended.

In the 1800s, harsh exclusionary laws at federal, state and local levels had turned Chinatowns into bachelor societies without the possibility of family life for the vast majority of men. Chinese women, all labeled as immoral, had been barred from entering

6

the US ever since the federal Page Act of 1875, and Chinese men, all considered “unassimilable,” were excluded in 1882 from immigrating to the US and from ever becoming naturalized citizens. A host of other restrictions were later extended to all Asians in America.

After World War II, Chinese American veterans were not only permitted to become citizens of the country they fought for, but also men were allowed to find a wife in China and to bring their “war brides” home to America. This about-face had more to do with US-China relations than about righting the inhumane conditions of Chinese in America, but finally, Chinese American families could be established.

US Army veteran C.W. Chin chose Lily, a vivacious 27-year-old, to be his bride, bringing her to Detroit in 1948 from her hometown of Hoiping (Kaiping). She, too, began to work in the laundry. As with many immigrants, it was a family business and they lived in the back of the shop. Some members of Lily’s family tried to dissuade her from going to America because they knew too well of the dangers. Her great-grandfather had worked on the transcontinental railroad but he hastened back to China when white mobs burned down Chinatowns, lynched and massacred Chinese to “drive out” and ethnically cleanse all

Chinese from America. Lily’s family heard the stories of anti-Chinese racism in America and warned Lily that her life would be hard. Forewarned yet undeterred, she married C.W. and prepared to start her family in Detroit.

In many ways, Vincent’s family was typical of generations of Chinese who migrated from the southern province of Guangdong and made up the mainstay of Chinatowns. These hardscrabble people shared the Toisanese culture and dialect of the Pearl River Delta and had collectively experienced the political instabilities and economic catastrophes that forced them to seek work in distant lands—crises fueled in part by British and American imperialism and opium drug trafficking. Many were brought to the Americas and Caribbean for their labor as indentured workers to replace formerly enslaved Black people. Others were recruited to build the railroads. But wherever these Chinese working people went, when their contracted labor was done, they faced intense discrimination and were limited to working only as menial labor doing jobs that white men didn’t want: as stoop labor in agriculture, or as cooks and laundrymen.

Asian Americans were stunned to learn that someone with such a familiar story could meet a horrific end. They felt deeply that what happened to Vincent Chin could have happened to themselves and to any other person who “looked” Japanese. To many, Vincent symbolized everyone’s son, brother, boyfriend, husband or father. So many Asian Americans have experienced being mistaken for other Asian ethnicities, even being harassed and called names as though every Asian group was the same. The climate of anti-Asian hostility made everyone feel unsafe, not just in Detroit and the industrial Midwest, but across the country as the Japan-bashing began to emanate from the nation’s capital and amplified through the news media. If Vincent Chin could be harassed, brutally beaten to death, and his killers freed, people felt it could happen to their own loved ones.

By the time the Lily and C.W. Chin adopted Vincent, C.W. was almost 60. He was an active participant in Detroit’s Chinese American community that would gather in Chinatown, then located in the Cass Corridor. At the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council center, he played mahjong, fan tan and pai gow in secret gambling halls that were the social centers bonding generations of Chinatown bachelor-laborers. C.W. introduced his son Vincent to those Chinatown clubs. In 1981, C.W. died at the age of 76, after a lifetime spent toiling in laundries, six months before Vincent’s wedding was to take place. An American flag draped his casket to honor of his role in the US Army, defending the US even though for years he

7

had been denied the opportunity to become a citizen until the geopolitics of war slightly opened America’s immigration gates to Chinese. Vincent treasured that flag until he was slain by killers who didn’t think he looked American enough.

Vincent’s friends and coworkers were shocked that he had been provoked into a fight. No one had seen him get angry. He had always been an easygoing young man, a devoted only child who helped support his parents financially. In high school, he had been on the track team and enjoyed hanging out with his buddies or spending a lazy afternoon fishing. He had a sensitive side, too, as a bookworm who wrote poetry. Without exception, Vincent’s friends describe him as an energetic, friendly guy who could get along with everybody but also knew how to stand up for himself and navigate the streets of Detroit. His friends thought of him as a regular Detroit guy who happened to be of Chinese descent.

Like other Americans, Vincent knew little of the history of past generations of Asians in America. But he had witnessed the hardships of his immigrant parents and was looking for a house, along with his bride-to-be, where his mother Lily could also live. To help pay for his soon-to-be married life, Vincent worked two jobs—during the day, he was a drafts-

man; on weekends, he worked as a waiter. But his sights were aimed higher: he was a recent graduate of Control Data Institute, a computer trade school, and was planning to continue his education at night with Lawrence Institute of Technology where he hoped to get an engineering degree.

Many Chinese Americans saw their own stories mirrored in Vincent, Lily and C.W. Chin’s lives in America, from their hardscrabble Toisanese roots and the military service that made it possible for C.W. and Lily to marry, to their lives spent toiling in restaurants and laundries. Vincent was part of an Americanized generation whose Asian immigrant parents had suffered and sacrificed.

Many of those Asian immigrants had fled from politically fraught countries. They urged their children to keep a low profile and stay out of trouble by not getting involved in politics or controversy. Their children, however, were raised with American notions of standing up for one’s ideals to have a voice in this democracy. Yet both believed that their vision offered the path to attaining acceptance and the American dream. The injustice surrounding Vincent’s slaying shattered the dream.

Conversation Questions

» What did you know about Vincent Chin before reading this article, and what new information did you learn?

» How does Vincent Chin’s story connect to a longer history of Asians in America?

» To scapegoat means that someone is blamed publicly for something bad that has happened, even though it is not their fault. What are the effects of scapegoating Asian and Asian American communities, and other communities of color?

» What is your biggest takeaway from this article about Vincent Chin? Why is Vincent Chin’s story important to talk about today?

What happened to Vincent could have happened to anyone who “looked” Japanese
8
C.W. Hing Chin (right) fought for America as a GI in World War II, but his son Vincent was seen as the enemy.

TIMES OF CRISIS: WHO TO BLAME?

In the years leading up to the summer of 1982, Detroit was a city in crisis. Beginning with the oil crises in the 1970s, the manufacturing sector of America in general and in the industrial Midwest were hit with massive, prolonged layoffs that set hundreds of thousands of workers into economic disaster at a time when politicians from the White House on down were intent on dismantling society’s safety net.

The auto industry in particular had collapsed and long lines of despair snaked around unemployment offices, union halls, welfare offices and soup kitchens. More than 100,000 workers in Detroit alone were laid off with no prospects for work in the future. Men and women lost homes, cars, recreational vehicles, summer cottages and possessions accumulated over a lifetime of hard work in a once-thriving industry. Pundits labeled them as the “new poor,” ostensibly to distinguish formerly working people, largely white, from the “old” endemic poor who presumably were incapable or unwilling to work. For many of these newly impoverished people, gloom turned to anger as they searched for someone or something to blame for their misery.

At first, the companies blamed the workers for incompetence and malaise, for wanting too much in exchange for too little effort. The workers, in turn, pointed to decrepit factories and machines that hadn’t been upgraded since World War II, and profits that had been squandered and not reinvested in plants and people. The government was faulted for not doing enough to prevent or fix the economic catastrophe. Before long, however, they all found a common enemy to blame: the Japanese. While Detroit’s corporate and political leadership had once scoffed at the idea of fuel-efficient cars in anticipation of oil shortages, automakers in Japan and Germany were busily meeting the demand for inexpensive fuel misers. In 1978, a new oil embargo killed the market for the heavy, eight-cylinder dinosaurs made in Detroit, precipitating the massive layoffs and a crisis throughout the industrial Midwest. The foreign auto imports were everything the gas-guzzlers were not—cheap to buy, cheap to run, well-made and dependable. They were easy for Detroit automakers and autoworkers to hate.

9

Anything Japanese, or presumed to be Japanese, became a potential target. People who looked German were spared in spite of the fuel-efficient German cars; racism only works when people can be portrayed as different. Unions sponsored sledge-hammer events giving frustrated workers a chance to smash Japanese cars for a dollar a swing. Japanese cars were vandalized and their drivers were shot at on the freeways. On TV, radio, and street corners, anti-Japanese slurs were commonplace. UAW bumper stickers declared: “Datsun, Honda, Toyota—Pearl Harbor” and “Real Americans buy American.”

Through the metaphor of war, the frustration and misery of the unemployed were channeled into patriotic fervor. Eager to exploit the flag-waving theme, leaders and community members alike leaned in to racially-charged innuendo. Politicians like Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, railed against “those little yellow people.” Lee Iacocca, chair of the failing Chrysler Corporation and one-time presidential candidate, blithely suggested dropping nuclear bombs on Japan.

It felt dangerous to have an Asian face. Asian American employees of auto companies were warned not to go onto the factory floor, told that angry workers might hurt them because they “looked Japanese.” Even in California, home to long-established Asian American communities, a third-generation Japanese American television reporter in San Jose was threatened by an autoworker who pulled a knife and yelled, “I don’t likee Jap food… I only like American food.”

unfamiliar to most Americans was an ominous reminder of dangerous times past.

The pattern of anti-Asian prejudice was re-emerging: Asians and Asian Americans were being blamed and scapegoated, once again, for broader economic problems, with frustrated American workers turning to violence. The ugly mood harkened to times and events past:

» In the 1800s, Chinese laborers were attacked repeatedly as the “Yellow Peril”;

» The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882;

» The driving out and ethnic cleansing of Asians from the American West;

» Anti-miscegenation laws;

» Myriad ordinances that forbade Asians from owning property, testifying in court or voting;

» 120,000 Japanese Americans rounded up and imprisoned during World War II by Presidential executive order.

These and other governmental actions “legitimized” anti-Asian scapegoating. Even the prospect of peace in Eastern Europe in the 1980s gave rise to anti-Japanese prejudice—a survey by The New York Times suggested that glasnost and the lessened threat of the Soviet bloc was responsible for some portion of the rise in anti-Japanese hostility. In addition, the Asian American population was growing rapidly, thanks to the changes from the Immigration Act of 1965. In the two decades after 1960s, the Asian American population more than quadrupled. As the fastest growing racial group, the Asian American community's remarkable growth led to increased diversity. Vibrant new groups of Asian-Americans were emerging—Koreans, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Vietnamese, Laotians, Thais, Cambodians, Pakistanis, Indonesians, Hmong, Samoans, Tongans and others. Asians were visibly doing more and different kinds of work—as lawyers, journalists, educators and business leaders, and in growing numbers as scientists and engineers, many of whom were permitted to enter the US because of their expertise and expected value to America.

Nor was the ire reserved only for Japan. In the 1980s, the US economic powerhouse, so dominant in the post-World War II decades, began to falter; the US share of global production dropped from 34% in 1950 to 23% in 1980. As America stalled, the economies of the Pacific Rim boomed, particularly those of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. The rising anger towards Japan and other Asian places

The racist myth of the “model minority” became more firmly rooted, perpetuating the wrongful notion that all Asians are rich and highly educated—a myth that obscures the fact that many Asian Americans live in poverty, with all of the many problems that accompany being poor, minority immigrants. The myth of one monolithic population that is genetically coded to succeed dehumanizes Asian people and furthers the “othering” that can pave the way

10
Asian Americans, the supposed “good minority,” are not believed to experience racism—even in the face of anti-Asian hate

for hate and violence. This is often ignored by the media, who would rather perpetuate the false image of Asians as the high achieving “good minority.” This dangerous stereotype of the rich, successful Asian has fueled resentment from other people of color and has contributed to the tension between African Americans and Asian Americans.

The greater numbers of Asian Americans has also garnered the attention of skinheads, neo-Nazis, Aryan survivalists and assorted other hatemongers and racists. Hate crimes and hate groups experienced a rebirth in the 1980s, when the Reagan-Bush team dismantled civil rights legislation and regulations, allowing even the remaining protections to go unenforced. As a result, Asian Americans, along with other people of color, gays and lesbians, Jews, and women have suffered.

The persistent images are of Asians Americans as either the enemy alien invader or the quiet, compliant “good” minority. Both myths, racist at their core, have the same result: near invisibility of a community that is viewed as insignificant and can be ignored, or they have no problems and won’t complain in any case. Asian Americans, supposedly the “good model minority,” are not believed to experience discrimination or racism—even in the face of anti-Asian hate. The denial by the mass media, leaders, influencers and the like only further renders Asian Americans invisible and disregarded on matters of race, racism, discrimination and the major issues facing America. One need only look at the present-day frightening wave of anti-Asian hate events to find evidence of such attitudes and how harmful they are.

Conversation Questions

» How did race and racism affect people in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s?

» After reading this article, how would you describe the “Yellow Peril” and “Model Minority” myth to others? How do these racial stereotypes affect people today?

» When you look at the news today, are there products or services being targeted for what they offer and where they originate from? What similarities and differences do you see when you compare Detroit auto-industry history and today’s news?

» What are the connections between industry (or enterprise), race and racism? Are there similar stories, such as this one about Asian Americans and the American automotive industry, from other eras of American or international industry histories?

11

THE HORRIFIC ENCOUNTER

This article contains disturbing details about what happened to Vincent Chin in June 1982. If you plan to discuss the story of Vincent Chin with students and young people, we recommend that you review the contents of this article first. We encourage you to prioritize your wellbeing before continuing with this article, and take as many breaks needed to process the information.

On June 19, 1982, a week before his wedding, Vincent’s pals took him out for the all-American ritual: the bachelor party. They went to a striptease bar in a tattered enclave of Detroit, near the crumbling mansions once home to auto magnates and Motown stars and only blocks away from the abandoned buildings where Henry Ford manufactured the Model T. Vincent, who grew up in that neighborhood, had been to the bar before.

That night, his mother admonished him, “You’re getting married, you shouldn’t go there anymore.”

“Ma, it’s my last time,” he replied.

“Don’t say ‘last time,’ it’s bad luck,” she scolded, conjuring old Chinese superstitions.

Vincent was being celebrated that night by three

friends—two white and one Chinese Canadian. As they were enjoying themselves, two white men came in and sat across the stage from them; the two newcomers turned out to be Ronald Ebens, a heavy-set 43-year-old plant supervisor at a large auto factory, and his stepson, Michael Nitz, a 22-year-old laid-off autoworker who worked at a furniture chain store. They soon made it clear that they found Vincent’s presence distasteful.

The friends of the groom-to-be had been paying the dancers handsomely to shower Vincent with attention. According to witnesses, Ebens seemed annoyed by the attention the Chinese American was receiving. Dancers from the bar said that Ebens, perhaps resentful that an Asian American man should be receiving so much attention, began calling Vincent racially offensive names, needling Vincent, suggesting that he wasn’t a real man. Vincent’s friends overheard Ebens say “Chink,” “Nip” and “f---er.” One of the dancers heard him say, “It’s because of motherf---ers like you that we’re out of work.”

The usually good-natured Vincent uncharacteristically stood up to them and replied, “Don’t call me a f---er,” and a scuffle ensued. Nitz’s forehead was

12

cut; conflicting reports say that he was struck by a chair thrown by Vincent or Ebens. Both groups were ejected from the bar. Outside, in the parking lot, Ebens went straight to the trunk of his car and pulled out a baseball bat. Vincent ran, chased by Ebens and Nitz. When Vincent got away, the two white men returned to the parking lot, where Vincent’s two white friends and a Chinese Canadian friend, Jimmy Choi, were still standing. Ebens and Nitz ignored Vincent’s white friends and then went after Jimmy with their baseball bat, even though he had not been involved in the bar scuffle. Jimmy ran away too, saying later, “I ran for my dear life.”

Intent on their purpose, Ebens and Nitz hunted for Chin and the other Chinese man in his group. For the next half hour, they drove through streets and alleys searching for Vincent and Jimmy. They paid a local neighborhood man $20 to help them “get the Chinese,” as that man testified.

Finally, they spotted Vincent and his friend in front of a crowded McDonald’s on Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s main thoroughfare. Creeping up from behind the unsuspecting Asian Americans, Nitz grabbed Vincent in a bear hug, and his stepfather pummeled Vincent’s legs, arms, body with the bat—and finally, delivered a grand-slam swing into Vincent’s skull, “as if he was going for a home run,” said one eyewitness. The impact of the blows to Vincent’s chest

broke a jade pendant that Vincent wore—to Chinese, a superstitious sign of bad luck.

Two off-duty police officers finally stopped the carnage at gunpoint. “I ordered halt twice; if I hadn’t stopped him, he would have gone for another 20 blows,” recounted one officer. But for Vincent, it was over. Doctors operated on his battered head all night; surgeons said it looked like someone had beaten an animal. Vincent was placed on life support systems— but his brain was already dead. Four days later, on June 23, 1982, Vincent’s stricken mother and fiancée consented to turning off the life supports. Instead of attending Vincent’s wedding, his 400 wedding guests went to his funeral.

Conversation Questions

» Is it common for bridegrooms to go out with friends to celebrate before their weddings?

» Why was the celebration of Vincent Chin a threat to others?

» What can be done to defuse a threatening situation?

» What can we do to ensure that all people have the right to celebrate joy?

13

TURNING OUTRAGE INTO ACTION

On July 1, 1982, The Detroit Free Press featured the bridegroom’s beating death in its front section, telling of Vincent’s life and hopes for his marriage, but offered no circumstances of his slaying nor any mention of the anti-Japanese and anti-Asian hate that permeated Detroit and the Midwest. It was the sad and tragic tale, with a color photo of the smiling Chinese American couple looking happy at a bright future together.

Detroit’s Asian Americans took notice of their Asian faces, which were so uncommon, rarely appearing in news, magazines, TV or movies of the dominant American culture. Whereas most non-Asians were clueless about Asians and race, the local Asian Americans were already on high alert because of the constant hostility in the racialized climate. Many suspected that the bridegroom’s race might have been a factor. But the community was too small and fragmented to demand answers.

Many in the largely immigrant communities held a “don’t make waves” attitude; they feared that bringing attention to their invisible Asian American communities could lead to more trouble. But even if they had wished to protest, there were no Asian American advocacy or watchdog groups to turn to—only two pan-Asian legal nonprofits existed in all America, one in San Francisco, the other in New York and nothing in between.

Nine months later, on March 18, 1983, new headlines appeared on the front pages of Detroit’s two dailies: “Two men charged in ’82 slaying get probation” and “Probation in slaying riles Chinese.” The articles went on to report that the two killers who pled no contest to savagely beating a man to death received three years’ probation and $3,780 in fines and court costs to be paid over three years; the victim’s name was Vincent Chin. In a city where Black people could be sentenced to long jail terms for nonviolent infractions, like possession of a marijuana cigarette, this was news.

The sentencing judge, Charles Kaufman, explained his reasoning: “These aren’t the kind of men you send to jail,” he said. “You fit the punishment to the criminal, not the crime.” The light sentence shocked Detroit, a city that was more than 60 percent Black, which had exploded in race riots in 1967 over unequal justice. Black defendants were often sentenced to prison for minor infractions, while these two white killers were set free for committing a brutal murder. The sentences of probation drew cries of outrage. Local columnists like Nikki McWhirter harshly criticized Judge Kaufman, writing, “You have raised the ugly ghost of racism, suggesting in your explanation that the lives of the killers are of great and continuing value to society, implying they are of greater value than the life of the slain victim… How gross and ostentatious of you; how callous and yes, unjust...”

14

The Detroit News reporter, Cynthia Lee, herself a Chinese American from Hawaii, interviewed members of the city’s Chinese American community, who voiced their disbelief. “You go to jail for killing a dog,” said Henry Yee, a noted local restaurateur who was known as “the unofficial mayor of Chinatown.” “Vincent’s life was worth less than a used car,” another family friend protested.

As Vincent’s mother Lily cried in anguish for Vincent’s spirit, other Chinese Americans were disheartened by the shattering of a dream, a hope that they might be accepted as American one day, rather than being seen as an existential threat and alien invader. Vincent was effectively “sentenced” to death by his killers because he looked “foreign,” even as he celebrated at his very American bachelor party, while his white killers were sentenced to mere fines because they looked like good, upstanding Americans. What might have been just another senseless tragedy then turned into even more tragic bungling and incompetence by law enforcement and courts, not uncommon in an insensitive, overburdened bureaucratic system where there is often no justice.

No police went to the bar to investigate what had initiated the murderous hunt. No witnesses at the lounge were ever contacted or interviewed prior to the sentencing. No one even thought to ask if race might have been a factor. A pasty, pale-faced detective in the municipal enclave of Highland Park

opined that the killing was no big deal and he was certain that there was nothing racial involved—even though he made no effort to ascertain the facts. The killers’ defense lawyers managed to get the case moved from courtroom to courtroom within Wayne County until they found one judge to set the charges at second-degree murder. The next circuit judge to review the case stated on the record, “I am of the opinion that the defendants were undercharged. The elements of first-degree murder are here.”

Finally, the case went before Judge Charles Kaufman, who had not even read the probation officer’s recommendations of incarceration. He also didn’t take the time to read a psychiatric report warning that Ebens was an “extremely hostile and explosive individual... with a potential for uncontrollable hostility and explosive acting out.”

In the 15 minutes that Judge Kaufman spent on the case, no prosecutors were present to speak for the victim, Vincent Chin. Instead, Kaufman listened to the killers’ lawyers claim that Vincent provoked his own death while Ebens and Nitz were innocent bystanders. Judge Kaufman noted that the two clean-cut, now-sober white men were responsible because they had jobs, and then rendered his infamous sentence of probation and fines. Kaufman offered several statements to inquiring journalists and an outraged public. “These aren’t the kind of men you send to jail…We’re talking here about a man who’s held down a responsible job for 17 or 18 years, and his son is employed and is a part-time student…They won’t do this again.” On television news interview about his sentence, he offered, “If this had been a brutal murder, of course I would have sentenced jail time.”

The judge’s explanations prompted outrage from many in Detroit, who saw a clear double standard in letting the killers get away with murder. Many Detroiters declared that if two Black men or two Asian men had beaten a white man to death, they would have received long prison terms.

Asian Americans feared that Kaufman’s sentence would give haters a license to kill, a “get out of jail free” card for anyone who had a steady job at a time of constant anti-Asian innuendo. Some were shocked that the court would allow such a violent crime against an Asian American to go unpunished.

But those familiar with the history of Asians in America recalled that this was like the “frontier justice” of the 1800s, when a white man could kill an Asian person with impunity. This judge, in the 1980s, not only failed to note the brutal nature of the fatal baseball bat beating of Vincent Chin, the

It was just like the frontier “justice” of the 1800s, when a white man could kill an Asian person with impunity.
The sheer injustice shook people from their fears of speaking out.
15

meager fines he levied and made payable at $125 per month did not include any assistance for funeral expenses to Vincent’s widowed mother. That was how little regard or value Kaufman gave to the life of an Asian American.

Vincent’s grief-stricken mother Lily, family and friends, as well as members of the small Chinese American community struggled to understand what had happened. And they asked what could be done about the clearly flawed judicial decision. However, there was no advocacy group in the Midwest to speak out and represent the Asian American community. In fact, at the time, the different Asian ethnic groups were completely separate from each other, with no common organization that could bring the groups together to speak out.

suffering that they had endured silently for generations. They knew that what happened to Vincent Chin endangered the entire Asian American community, and they could no longer watch in silence.

After receiving news that her son’s killers were sentenced to probation, Lily Chin wrote the following appeal, translated from Chinese, to the Chinese Welfare Council of Detroit, the civic arm of the Chinatown business community that she, her husband and son had been part of:

But everyone of Asian ancestry recognized that what happened to Vincent Chin could happen to their loved ones: that an Asian American could be beaten to death with a baseball bat and his life could be so devalued that the killers could go free. The sheer injustice shook people from their fears of speaking out. Soon people came forward to tell of their own experiences with humiliation, discrimination and

Conversation Questions

I, King Fong Yu (the wife of Bing Heng Chin) grieve for my son, Vincent Chin, who was brutally beaten to death by two assailants with a baseball bat. The two killers were apprehended by police and prosecuted in court. During the court proceedings, I, because I am widowed and poor, with no money in my bed, could not retain legal counsel to press the case for my deceased son. As a result, the murderers’ attorneys had the say. Yesterday, I read in the newspaper, the sentence was only a fine and probation; and the killers were set free. There was also no compensation for the victim’s family. This is injustice to a terrible extreme. My son’s blood had been shed; how unjust could this be? I grieve in my heart and shed tears of blood. Yes, my son cannot be brought back—and I can only wait for death. It is just that my deceased son, Vincent Chin, was a member of your council. I therefore plead to you to please help me. Please let the Chinese American community know about this case so they can help me raise funds to hire legal counsel for an appeal. You must help put the killers in prison so my son’s soul may rest and my grief be vindicated. This old woman will be forever grateful.

I, King Fong Yu, respectully submit this letter of appeal, March 18, 1983

» What effect did the story of Vincent Chin’s murder have on other Asian Americans, and why?

» Why were people certain, and uncertain, if race was a factor in Vincent Chin’s murder? What factors contributed to feelings of certainty and uncertainty?

» Why did Vincent Chin’s story bring Asian American people and organizations together? How was this moment a call for change?

16

LILY CHIN: A MOTHER’S COURAGE

Vincent was Lily Chin’s only child. He was her joy and she showered all her love on him. Lily was proud of the man her son had become. Lily’s husband had died on November 3, 1981, and her son’s upcoming wedding gave her a glimmer of hope with the dream of grandchildren. She was, of course, crushed with grief by his brutal killing. Nine months later, when she learned that Vincent’s killers would go free with only probation and fines, it was as though her beloved Vincent had been fatally attacked again. In spite of her visible pain and grief, Lily Chin found the strength to speak to thousands of people at community gatherings, rallies and media interviews across the country. An immigrant from China who spent a lifetime of hard work in restaurants, laundries and factories, Lily Chin spoke in halting English and often through tears, fiercely asserting that she didn’t want any other mother to lose a child as she had.

With her bravery, Lily Chin became the moral conscience of an Asian American civil rights movement seeking equal justice for all as well as justice for her son. The goal was simple: that all Americans, including those of Asian descent, should be treated as full human beings, with equal justice, fairness and dignity.

Like Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, Lily Chin’s courageous stand inspired many to speak out against racism, discrimination and hate crimes

in their own communities. Numerous Asian American groups all over the country sprang up for equal justice and against hate violence because of Lily Chin’s willingness to raise her voice. The Academy Award-nominated film “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” captures her determination, her pain and her essential role in the growing movement against anti-Asian racism and violence. On June 9,2002, Lily Chin died after a long illness, 10 days shy of the date 20 years earlier when her son was fatally attacked. She did not live to see justice done for her son, but she had the love and support of the many people whose lives were touched by her.

Many people only saw Lily Chin through the media and the documentary about Vincent Chin, in her terrible grief and sadness. Soon after Judge Charles Kaufman’s shocking sentence of probation, community gathered at the Chinese restaurant in Ferndale where Vincent had worked nights as a waiter. Lily Chin sat in the back of the room, audibly sobbing as people discussed the legal options. As the attorneys in the room soberly noted that the prospects for changing the sentence were bleak, it was unclear what direction the gathering might take. Then one community member suggested that the largely unseen community should at least make its shock and outrage known. The sobbing stopped. Lily Chin stood up and said firmly, “We must tell the American people this is wrong.”

17

In that moment, everyone could feel Lily Chin’s courage and strength. Even in her deepest personal pain, she was able to speak out and press forward. It would have been far easier for her to suffer privately than to bare her raw feelings over and over again. In the civil rights campaign that followed, she relived the details of her son’s terrible tragedy hundreds of times, telling the story to strangers, to reporters, to television cameras—each time reliving the pain, all in the pursuit of that elusive thing called justice.

The Pledge of Allegiance that Lily Chin took so long ago when she became an American citizen contained a promise: “with liberty and justice for all.” Lily Chin knew very well what that meant and she wasn’t fighting for her son alone. She declared from the very beginning that she hoped that no other mother would have to feel the pain that she did, losing a child to violence and bigotry.

Some people call Lily Chin the “Mamie Till and Rosa Parks of Asian Americans”—and she was indeed. She stood up and refused to accept what was handed to her. Her courage rang through her grief, touching all who could hear. It was a call heard far and wide, uniting Asian Americans and people of conscience across this country.

Her dignity, strength and bravery stood in sharp contrast to those who said that nothing could be done, that we had to accept another “Chinaman's chance.”

Lily Chin stood up to show millions of Americans that something could and must be done.

Lily Chin never knew that she would become a symbol of moral courage to a civil rights movement that would reach around the world. When she came to America in 1947 as the bride of C.W. Bing Hing Chin, they didn’t have much in material wealth. She spent her early life in America working in a small laundry with her husband in Highland Park in the 1950s. They laundered shirts for a few cents. Later on, they worked in Chinese restaurants, and when her husband retired, she took a job at a factory where she assembled snow brushes and ice scrapers for cars. She lived an honest life that resonated with so many other Americans. For Asian Americans, her story struck a deep chord. Her family story could have been the story of so many of Asian immigrants and refugee families who faced the same struggle of building a life in America.

Lily Chin didn’t complain about her life. She wasn’t a victim—she was a doer and a fighter in every way with a backbone of steel and a heart of gold. She was keenly observant and sharp; she knew what was going on around her. She read the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News—in English,

of course. She also read the Chinese language newspapers. She stayed up-to-date on current events. And she knew everything that was happening with her son Vincent’s case.

Friendly, warm, generous and funny, Lily loved to be around people, enjoying visitors and hearing the latest news in their lives. She was very close to her large extended family and she also loved to connect to the families of the people she met. She was always making gifts for other people. She could knit a vest or a sweater in a day or two—a scarf, in a blink! A wonderful cook, she only used the freshest vegetables—she would even grind her own meat, whipping up delicious meals for friends, families and the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) volunteers who often had meetings at her kitchen table in Oak Park.

A woman who could have been everyone’s mother, grandmother, sister or auntie, Lily Chin loved children and paid special attention to the little ones of so many young parents who were ACJ volunteers. One of her favorite hobbies was matchmaking—she was always trying to find matches for the single, unmarried volunteers. She gave her thanks in any way she could to all of the many people who had fought for justice with her. She was especially grateful to people of all colors, religions and backgrounds from southeastern Michigan, all over America and across the globe.

By 1987, the legal cases were over and Lily Chin decided to move to China—it was just too sad for her

18

to stay in America. It was a good move for her—her elderly mother was still living then, and in her last 15 years, Lily Chin was able to travel on tours to Europe, Australia and in Asia. Her life in her ancestral village of Hoiping (Kaiping in Mandarin) was peaceful. She had many friends and relatives and established a school with the little bit of money left from Vincent’s case. She also helped support a scholarship in Vincent’s name that is administered through ACJ.

In 2001, Lily Chin came back to Michigan for medical treatment. She fought valiantly to stay as independent as she could. Her sister Amy, her nephew, nieces, friends and community supporters cared for her with love until she passed away in 2002.

Lily Chin was so much more than a symbol of injustice and a mother’s grief, which were the images that the media had captured so movingly. Her compassion and honesty made her the kind of person whom others looked up to and were willing to follow—an inspiring leader with her courage, forthrightness and integrity.

Conversation Questions

» Think about a time in your life when you decided to take action, whether it was to speak up about an issue, write a letter to a lawmaker, organize a group or something else. Taking action can look like many different things. Why was it important for you to take this action and what were you feeling when you made this decision?

» What kind of impact did Lily Chin make in her decision to speak up and take action?

» Lily Chin saw people’s full humanity and built meaningful relationships with those around her. What do we gain as a community when we build relationships with other people?

19
Detroit City Council members (back row) honor Lily Chin and ACJ members (front row, left to right): Parker Woo, James Shimoura, Marisa Chuang, Council President pro tem Mary Ann Mahaffey, Lily Chin, Helen Zia, Irving Kempner

FORGING PAN-ASIAN AMERICAN UNITY

March 31, 1983 stands out in the history of Asians in America: It was the date that more than 100 individuals and representatives of numerous Asian organizations from the greater Detroit area came together in recognition that Asian American lives depended on the willingness to work in cooperation and in coalition with one another. It was the date that American Citizens for Justice was created.

On that icy, wintry night in Detroit’s decaying Chinatown near Cass and Peterboro, everyone put their differences aside in the drafty meeting hall of the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council, the civic arm of the Chinese Consolidated Business Association and the On Leong association. In attendance were liberals, conservatives and radicals; youths and seniors; scientists and businessmen, office workers and laundry workers; Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Koreans; Christians and Buddhists; Cantonese-speakers and Mandarin-speakers; American-born and immigrants; and people from many other walks of life. There had already been two smaller, initial meetings, including one at the Golden Star restaurant in Ferndale, where Vincent had worked part-time as a waiter. At one of those earlier meetings, Lily Chin

stood up and spoke in a shaky but clear voice: “We must speak up. These men killed my son like an animal. But they go free. We must tell the people, this is wrong.” With her courageous stand as a beacon, it was decided that a broad and diverse gathering of Asian Americans was needed to create a new organization that could advocate for Americans of Asian ancestry and coordinate a community response that could include petitioning and leading legal actions, raising money and organizing the outcry.

Members of twenty-some groups signed on that night; most were Chinese American, from the Association of Chinese Americans and the Greater Detroit Taiwanese Association, to such professional associations as the Detroit Chinese Engineering Association; cultural groups like the Chinese American Educational and Cultural Center; church organizations from the Chinese Community Church to the Detroit Buddhist Church; and a women’s group, the Organization of Chinese American Women. Detroit had not seen such a broad gathering of Chinese since the China War Relief effort of the 1930s. Non-Chinese were also represented, including the Japanese American Citizens League, the Korean Society of

20

Metropolitan Detroit and the Filipino American Community Council.

When it came time to choose a name, people overwhelmingly wanted an inclusive vision that would stand up for justice for all Americans, not just focus on one community. They chose American Citizens for Justice (ACJ). In today’s context, the name elevates citizenship at a time when so many immigrants are being demonized, denied legal status and basic human rights; but in 1983, it was a declaration that Asians belonged in America and an expression of solidarity with other Americans.

ACJ marked the formation of the first explicitly Asian American grassroots advocacy effort with a national scope. Kin Yee, an architectural engineer, was elected president of the fledgling civil rights group, with Roland Hwang, Marissa Chuang and Helen Zia as officers. Third-generation Detroiter Jim Shimoura, representing the Japanese American Citizens League,

was the first non-Chinese to serve on the executive board. Japanese, Filipino and Korean American groups joined in support, assured that they would be welcome. As word of ACJ's efforts spread, Black, white and Jewish individuals also volunteered, making the campaign for justice multiracial in character. In the weeks and months that followed, the many volunteers of ACJ donated money and thousands of hours of time and effort to muster additional support from around the country and internationally, and mobilized whatever else was needed to uncover what caused this egregious miscarriage of justice.

ACJ engaged a law firm with a fearless Hong-Kongborn attorney, Liza Chan, who worked tirelessly to strategize a legal recourse. Obtaining records and reconstructing the events of that tragic evening took much hard work and persistence given that the police, prosecutor and court appeared all too eager to cover up their blunders and incompetence, especially when they did not take the otherwise invisible Asian American community seriously.

Fortunately, the established civil rights organizations of Detroit welcomed the new voice of Asian Americans and their pursuit of justice. In particular, the Detroit Area Black Organizations (DABO) helped ACJ get meetings with the judge and prosecutor when both used delaying tactics for weeks; Judge Kaufman even skipped out on a scheduled meeting by slipping out a back door and sending his clerk out to say he went on vacation. The NAACP Detroit Branch, the Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, members of the Detroit City Council, the United Auto Workers Union Community Action Program and many others gave invaluable assistance to this advocacy voice of Asian Americans.

The new pan-Asian American organization drafted its statement of principles that night:

ACJ believes that

1. All citizens are guaranteed the right to equal treatment by our judicial and governmental system;

2. When the rights of one individual are violated, all of society suffers;

3. Asian Americans, along with many other groups of people, have historically been given less than equal treatment by the American judicial and governmental system. Only through cooperative efforts with all people will society progress and be a better place for all citizens.

ACJ’s first mandate was clear: to obtain justice for Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was killed because of anti-Asian hate focused on Japan.

When it came time to choose a name, people overwhelmingly wanted an inclusive vision that would stand up for justice for all Americans, not focused on one community.
21

Bit by bit, ACJ was able to reconstruct what happened to Vincent and in the court system. Because government officials, the news media and general public were so unaware of the existence of Asian Americans, let alone the racism that Asians experience, ACJ cautiously refrained from accusations of racism against the sentencing judge and even against the killers. But then the news media and Liza Chan obtained statements of witnesses at the bar, whom police had not bothered to ever interview. These witnesses declared under oath that they had overheard racist and insulting comments that the killer Ebens made to Vincent Chin, including, “It’s because of you motherf---ers that we’re out of work.”

With new eyewitness accounts in hand, ACJ reached the inescapable conclusion: that Vincent Chin’s civil rights had been violated because of his race. ACJ called for a new review of Vincent’s case. On May 9, 1983, ACJ organized a huge demonstration in Detroit. The visible community outcry reached far and wide. After the protests and Lily Chin’s visit to Washington, DC, the US Department of Justice and FBI initiated an investigation.

During that long summer of 1983, as the news of what happened in Detroit continued to spread throughout the US and across the globe, Asians began to reach out and organize, knowing that their families’ welfare and livelihoods would depend on the ability of Asian American communities to work together and with people of other races and backgrounds.

ACJ’s and Detroit’s volunteers worked continuously to reach out to public officials, journalists, friends and family, churches, work and professional networks, campuses and clubs. Sympathetic supporters elsewhere organized their own rallies and activities in such places as San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Toronto and New York. Lily Chin and ACJ representatives were invited to address groups all over the country. New Asian American advocacy groups formed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Asian Americans spoke publicly to the nation about anti-Asian prejudice for the first time, with real community members appearing in sharp contrast to the one-dimensional racial caricatures in media and entertainment that have depicted Asian Americans as either the perpetual foreigner and enemy invader or the quiet, complacent “model minority,” racist images that contributed to Vincent Chin’s murder.

The Detroit groups received a tremendous boost from the small number of national Asian American groups, including the Japanese American Citizens League, the Organization of Chinese Americans and

the National Chinese Welfare Association. Lily Chin and ACJ representatives made their case on national television—on all three national news networks, the popular Phil Donahue Show, NBC’s First Camera investigative news program and in local TV documentaries in Detroit and Sacramento. ACJ addressed the founding meeting of the Democratic Party’s Asian Pacific American Caucus. In Japan, coverage by newspapers and TV prompted Japanese to ask visiting American businessmen and government officials whether Asians are safe in the US and if Asians could get equal treatment here.

Detroit’s Asian American community and accidental activists found themselves leading a national campaign. They were creating a new civil rights movement of Asian Americans centered in the Midwest, with communities who had never spoken up together before. None of them had any idea that their efforts to seek justice for Vincent Chin and the Asian American community would become a legacy with lessons that would resonate for decades to come.

Conversation Questions

» Why was it important for people to organize and form American Citizens for Justice (ACJ)? What was the significance of the ACJ being a pan-Asian American organization?

» How was the ACJ welcomed as an advocacy organization in Detroit?

» How can the process of organizing with people, communities and advocacy groups affect social change? In this article, what were the outcomes of ACJ’s organizing with other prominent groups in Detroit, such as the Detroit Area Black Organizations (DABO), NCAACP Detroit Branch, Anti Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and others?

» What are some of the contemporary advocacy organizations that you would like to learn more about? If you are active with a local or national advocacy organization, what would you like others to know about your work?

22

FROM A MOMENT TO A MOVEMENT

The newly formed ACJ had immediate organizing imperatives to address:

» They needed to devise an effective legal approach;

» They had to educate a news media and public who knew nothing about Asian Americans and Vincent Chin;

» And they had to raise money and harness potential supporters who were eager to do something about anti-Asian violence and to obtain justice for Vincent Chin.

ACJ’s first and foremost responsibility was to identify the legal strategy going forward, knowing that whatever direction they pursued would cost time and involve expensive legal fees. For nearly 100 years, Asians and Asian Americans were limited to low-paying labor that white workers wouldn’t do and they were shut out of professional careers even if they had been fortunate enough to get a college education. This was a legacy of the Exclusion era in the 1880s and an institutionalized structure of America’s employment and labor practices. As late as the mid-20th Century, the US had few Asian American attorneys, doctors, engineers or other professionals. In 1983, there were fewer than twenty Asian American attorneys in the entire state of Michigan and their job opportunities were limited. None of the Asian American lawyers practiced criminal law, but

Harold Leon, an experienced civil litigator who was a veteran of Iwo Jima, headed up the legal committee and advised a three-pronged legal approach.

First, ACJ would engage Liza Chan’s firm to persuade the sentencing judge, Charles Kaufman, to reconsider and vacate his sentence of probation and fines because the judge had been misled by defense attorneys who claimed that Vincent was to blame for the bar fight that resulted in his death. No prosecutors were present at sentencing to refute the misrepresentation. Liza Chan prepared a number of briefs and argued the case before the judge. But Kaufman only dug in deeper to justify his leniency for the white killers, again telling reporters that “These were not the kind of men you send to jail... You fit the punishment to the criminal, not to the crime.”

Second, in case the first legal approach failed, ACJ would explore the possibility of filing an appeal. After some discussion, ACJ engaged additional attorneys to file briefs to the Michigan Court of Appeals to set aside Kaufman’s sentence.

The third approach was to seek a federal civil rights investigation by the US Department of Justice. As the first two legal efforts turned sour, the FBI began to take an interest in the case. To capture the mounting frustration of the community, the ACJ decided to hold a citywide demonstration on May 9, 1983, at Kennedy Square in downtown Detroit, the site of many historic protests. ACJ had held a number of noisy picket

23

lines by city hall, but there had never been a protest in Detroit organized by the broad Asian American community before.

The demonstration committee was headed by three senior scientists at the General Motors Tech Center: David Chock, Michael Lee and Man-Feng Chang. The rally events were timed to the minute and the outpouring of support was unprecedented. Waving American flags and placards that demanded equal justice, hundreds of professionals and housewives marched alongside waiters and cooks from Chinese restaurants across the region, with restaurant owners closing down during the busy weekday lunch rush to allow everyone, including their own families, to join the protest. Children and seniors sat in strollers and wheelchairs. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos marched in pan-Asian unity.

The city’s major African American and religious organizations, local politicians and even the UAW presented statements of support. At the rally’s emotional close, Lily Chin appealed to the nation. Through her tears, she said haltingly, “I want justice for my son. Please help me so no other mother must go through this.”

The May demonstration launched ACJ’s call for a federal prosecution of the killers for violating Chin’s civil rights to be in a public place—a place of public accommodation—even if that place was a sleazy bar. At the end of the rally, protestors marched to the Federal Courthouse singing the iconic civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome,” and hand-delivered to US Attorney Leonard Gilman a petition with 3,000 signatures seeking a federal civil rights investigation. A few weeks later, in June, Lily Chin went to Washington, DC, with ACJ representatives to meet with officials at the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division to discuss the possibility of a federal civil rights prosecution. In July, the Justice Department announced that the FBI would begin its investigation to determine if Vincent Chin’s civil rights were violated.

Through its community outreach, media and public education efforts, ACJ spelled out its analysis of the anti-Asian hate mongering and violence that was taking place across the country. In doing so, it was ACJ that first articulated how Asian Americans were being scapegoated and racially targeted, blamed for the ills of the modern American economy, and how this was part of a larger pattern.

Across the country, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago—cities with far greater Asian American populations than Detroit’s—pan-Asian coalitions were being built to support the campaign

ACJ gave a name to anti-Asian violence, linking it to the same pattern of scapegoating, exclusion and ethnic cleansing that was integrated into federal law more than 100 years earlier. And ACJ declared it to be a present-day phenomenon that should concern all people. This set the framework for Asian American organizing nationally, and was a first step toward making Asian Americans visible in domestic and international economic, political and social policy contexts.

and to address anti-Asian violence in the local community. Fundraising efforts nationwide encompassed the entire spectrum of Chinese American society, including groups that were in opposition over their deeply held convictions, for example, about governments in Asia that were communist or right-wing dictatorships; or Japan’s role during World War II; or even if Asian Americans should come together and speak out about racism.

The broad cross-section showed that the Vincent Chin case was able to overcome the forces of tradition and fear of the unknown, particularly in the arena of race politics. Asian Americans were finally joining together to correct perceived injustices. Such unity was difficult to maintain.

There was nothing quick, easy or simple about pulling together this united coalition effort. The very diversity of Asian American communities, while on the one hand a source of strength and inspiration, on the other hand also kept people apart. It was rare for the highly educated suburban Mandarin speakers to be aligned so closely with Cantonese speaking Chinatown merchants, waiters and blue collar workers. Numerous differences in language, culture, class and kinship bonds had to be overcome. As ACJ’s media outreach and fundraising to pay for the legal strategy expanded, personality differences and ambitions needed to be managed and an attempt to take over the finances had to be squelched.

24

Then there were the political differences. Many Chinatown business owners were Chiang Kai-shek loyalists and fervent anti-Communists, while other Chinese American community groups openly supported Mao Tse-tung and the People’s Republic of China. Rarely would such political views be represented in the same place without open hostility. In San Francisco, with its large and savvy Chinese American population, rival political factions tried to elbow each other off the stage during a highly publicized media event that featured Lily Chin and ACJ at the iconic community service center, Cameron House. In addition to trying to keep peace among the Chinese American groups, ACJ continued to actively reach out to other Asian ethnicities, sometimes encountering cultural conflicts over gender roles. Detroit’s growing Korean community was represented by two large groups: the Korean Society of Greater Detroit and the Korean American Women’s Association, whose members were the Korean wives of non-Korean GIs who had been stationed in Korea. The two groups had rarely worked together—until the Vincent Chin case. The pan-Asian outreach to other ethnic communities also had a positive impact on the collective political awareness. For example, as the Detroit Asian Americans were mobilizing, the Japanese American community throughout America was waging a national campaign to expose and redress the harm done by the gross violation of civil liberties with their mass incarceration in World War II. Their community’s relationships with Congressperson Norman Mineta and other congressional leaders were invaluable to getting the federal government to pay attention to ACJ’s Detroit campaign for justice. In addition, the Filipino and South Asian populations were more sizeable than any of the other Asian ethnicities in Michigan, and each had well-established connections with both Republican and Democratic parties. Their active involvement in the electoral arena highlighted to other Asian American groups the real power of personally engaging in politics, which many newer immigrant communities tended to avoid.

ACJ’s policy was to work with all who supported its immediate campaign for justice for Vincent Chin,

its principles of equal justice and standing together in solidarity with other communities to achieve equality, and to maintain an open and tolerant policy toward others. Vincent Chin’s story had struck such a raw nerve that some groups were competing to be affiliated with ACJ in order to use the community’s cause for their own advantage; but as long as ACJ stuck to its goals, principles and values, it was able to keep the fragile and new coalition together.

At ACJ’s first fundraiser dinner, a prominent local citizen appeared, the architect Minoru Yamasaki, designer of the World Trade Center Towers in New York and other buildings of world renown. Yamasaki, then 73 years old, came unexpectedly to support the gathering as an ordinary citizen. Looking dignified but frail, he rose up slowly from his seat with the assistance of a companion. A hush fell over the group as Yamasaki spoke in a strong, clear voice and said, “If Asian people in America don’t learn to stand up for themselves, these injustices will never cease.”

Conversation Questions

» Why was the demonstration in 1983 an important event? What happened after the demonstration was over?

» What were some of the factors contributing to Asian American coalition-building efforts? What were some of the challenges to these efforts?

» In outreach and media efforts, the ACJ talked about how Asian Americans were being scapegoated and “racially-targeted, blamed for the ills of the modern American economy, and how this was part of a larger pattern.” When you look at reports of anti-Asian hate today due to the pandemic of COVID-19, have the ACJ’s talking points and concerns changed at all?

25
“If Asian people in America don’t learn to stand up for themselves, these injustices will never cease.” —Minoru Yamasaki

THE JOURNEY TO SOLIDARITY

When American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) was established on March 30, 1983, to fight the travesty of justice that freed Vincent Chin’s brutal killers, it was clear to all that one of the first tasks would be to promote the call to action beyond the Asian American community. On the night of its founding, the assembled body elected journalist Helen Zia to be board secretary—and to develop a media strategy as the group’s press secretary. It was blatantly apparent that most Americans knew little to nothing about Asian Americans, thus the urgent mission: educate the media quickly, in clear sound bites, about the existence and humanity of Asian Americans as part of this democracy, and help them unlearn what they thought they knew about “Orientals”—a term applied to rugs and food, not humans.

ACJ called its first news conference at the Detroit Press Club two weeks later. In those days before fax machines—and long before email and social media— each press release was written on a typewriter; with headlines in larger typefaces, hand-applied one letter at a time with stick-on letters, the final version was then photo copied. These would be hand-delivered to each news outlet, usually by a retired Chinese American couple, Ray and Mable Lim, one waiting in the car if they could not find parking, while the other dropped off the releases to different news desks.

On the morning of April 15, 1983, the entire spectrum of local media appeared—Asian Americans were so invisible in the Midwest that it was exotic news to see such communities coming together to protest injustice. The initial questions were quite elementary: Who are you people? Where are you from? Are you all new arrivals to America, fresh off the boat? Do you speak English?

In the largely African American city of Detroit, ACJ knew it had to reach out to the Black community. Attorney Liza Chan and Helen Zia appeared on a popular Black radio station’s talk show that drew frank comments from listeners. Some were pleased to see that Asian Americans would reach out to their community to talk about this injustice. Others asked if Asians were just trying to “ride the coattails” of African Americans. Still others charged Asian people with prejudice towards Black people.

The ACJ representatives tried to answer questions openly, acknowledging that some but not all Asian Americans had anti-Black prejudice, and that ACJ was formed to address racial injustice against any group, including racist attitudes by Asians. The talk shows also offered an opportunity to discuss the contributions of Asian Americans to the civil rights struggles. The listeners’ comments underscored the need initiate such discussions with more re-

26

OPPOSITE PAGE Main speakers at ACJ rally for justice at Detroit’s Kennedy Square on May 9, 1983 (left to right): Winston Lang, NAACP; Horace Sheffield, Jr., Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO); Liza Chan, ACJ attorney; Kin Yee, ACJ president; another supporting speaker.

cent Asian immigrants who knew little about the Black movement for civil rights or how it benefited Asian Americans.

In seeking alliances with other communities, ACJ entered the national dialogue on race in America, respecting the central role of Black people in the fight for civil rights, and committing to educate other Asian Americans about civil rights. Even more, ACJ acknowledged the need for Asian Americans to support Black communities in their continued struggle for equality and civil rights.

African American organizations such as the Detroit-Area Black Organizations (DABO), were quick to endorse the Asian American communities’ call for justice. DABO’s founder and president, Horace Sheffield, became a strong advocate for ACJ, and Asian Americans reciprocated. The Detroit chapter of the NAACP, the largest chapter in the country, issued the following resolution:

Be it resolved that the Detroit Branch of the NAACP deplores the probationary sentence pronounced by Judge Charles Kaufman for the killers of Vincent Chin and supports all efforts to have said sentence rescinded and a new sentence rendered, mandating appropriate incarceration.

Critical support streamed in from diverse constituencies: several prominent African American churches; the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith; the Detroit Roundtable of Christians and Jews; Arab Americans of Michigan, who comprised the largest population of Arab people outside of the Middle East; Latinx communities; the West Indian Association; Italian Americans; women’s groups from the Detroit Women’s Forum to Black Women for a Better Society; all stood with ACJ. Local political leaders, from the president of the Detroit City Council to US Representative John Conyers, joined the rallying cry. But some of ACJ’s outreach resulted in reactive fear and resentment. When ACJ invited white, European American communities for support, some were openly hostile or resistant to “yet another minority group” stepping forward about racism. Even when no words were said, there was the insinuation that Asian Americans did not experience discrimination or “real” racism—according to those who knew nothing about Asian American lives or history.

According to them, Asian Americans had no legitimate place in discussions of racism. Such reactions offered an insight into the ambivalence towards Asian Americans even today, when Asian communities and issues struggle to break out of invisibility and into the dominant public discourse.

Though leaders and spokespeople of ACJ were stepping forward into the public discourse on race, within the Asian American communities many were unsure about speaking out: they had been treated as invisible for so long. It was hard for them to imagine framing Asians in the dialogue on race and asserting a righteous position when race in America had historically been constructed only as Black and white.

More recent immigrants and refugees, and elder community members were particularly hesitant to discuss race and racism in connection to Vincent Chin’s killers. They wanted to wait for a clear connection to racism before they felt they could bring up the “R” word—“racism.”

It fell on ACJ’s attorney Liza Chan to organize the detective work to reconstruct the events leading to Vincent’s fatal attack because the police refused to interview anyone at the bar or other key witnesses. It didn’t take long to make the connection to anti-Asian racism: a dancer, Racine Colwell, was an eyewitness and she readily recounted that, at the bar, she heard Ebens tell Chin, “It’s because of you motherf---ers that we’re out of work.”

Liza uncovered more facts and accounts, such as the local man whom the killers paid to help them “find the Chinese” as they drove through the streets to inflict vengeance on Vincent and his Chinese buddy. In that racially fraught climate, with hateful anti-Japanese vitriol in the news every day, these developments made the connection to racism clear. With the first-person testimony that revealed the killers’ racial comments, ACJ publicly called for a civil rights investigation—and the backlash was immediate. Angry white conservatives called into radio talk shows, furious that racism was brought into the picture. “What does race have to do with this?” one caller told the Detroit News hotline. “Don’t white people have civil rights?” asked another.

White liberals were the most skeptical. A constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, Robert Sedler, met with ACJ’s attorney committee and told them to “forget about a civil rights case.” In his opinion, civil rights laws were enacted to protect African Americans, not Asians. “Asian Americans cannot seek redress using federal civil rights law; besides,” he said, “because Asians are considered white.” To him, Asian Americans simply blended

27

into white, rendering them invisible in his eyes and in the law.

Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, dismissed the outcry from Asian Americans as a movement of law-and-order zealots who were aiding the movement for “mandatory sentencing.” The Michigan ACLU wasn’t interested in the civil rights aspects of Chin’s slaying.

Even the Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a self-described progressive law group, saw no connection between Vincent Chin’s killing and racism. But their West Coast chapters, more familiar with Asians’ history with racial violence, persisted and mustered enough votes to give the national endorsement to ACJ’s cause. A near-mutiny broke out in the Detroit chapter, but the national body prevailed.

ACJ representatives also approached the United Auto Workers Union, which had a powerful presence in Detroit. If ACJ could change some of its members’ anti-Japanese innuendo, perhaps some of the hostility and violence against Asian Americans could be reduced. But they were up against too strong a tide. Outside the UAW’s headquarters at Solidarity House were numerous racially inflammatory signs and bumperstickers: “300,000 Laid Off Autoworkers say Park Your Import in Tokyo.” European imports, including the popular, fuel-efficient Volkswagen Beetles, did not draw any ill feeling at all, but then, racism and scapegoating only works when the target looks different.

Such uninformed and negative reactions only further reinforced lingering doubts within the Asian American communities. Through open community meetings, ACJ created the space for people to bring their questions about where Asian Americans fit in America’s racial dynamics. Some asked: If race is such a volatile subject for white and Black Americans, why should Asian Americans step in to face potential wrath from either, or both? Would Asians get labeled as troublemakers for speaking up, the way African Americans are sometimes perceived? If ACJ stepped out of the shadows to make waves, would the community face even more targeting? If the Asian American community pursues a civil rights investigation, would it be necessary to talk about race?

ACJ’s leaders embraced the opportunity to openly discuss concerns and offered straightforward answers to such questions and doubts: yes, a civil rights suit would involve race. Staying silent would do nothing to protect Asian Americans from the

racial hostility all around us, just as silence had not kept Vincent Chin from becoming a target.

Other Asian Americans shared their long years of frustration and humiliation that brought them to speak out about Vincent Chin. “I’ve worked hard for my company for 40 years,” said one auto industry tech professional. “They always passed over me for promotions because I’m Chinese. I trained so many young white boys to be my boss. I never complained, but inside, I was burning up. This time, I must speak out. What happened in Vincent Chin’s case is not fair. What is the point of silence if our children can be killed and treated like this?”

Outrage over the injustice overcame the fear. ACJ and the Asian Americans of metro Detroit would take their fight to the federal level in the arena of civil rights and racial politics.

Conversation Questions

» What were some of the challenges facing the ACJ and activists about their concerns for Asian American civil rights?

» Why were some people resistant to claims of racism in Vincent Chin’s murder?

» Let’s revisit one particular passage in this article:

“…Asian Americans had no legitimate place in discussions of racism. Such reactions offered an insight into the ambivalence towards Asian Americans even today, when Asian communities and issues struggle to break out of invisibility and into the dominant public discourse.”

What were some of the historical and modern barriers contributing to this sense of invisibility and uncertainty about speaking out about critical issues?

» How does fear influence decisions we make, and don’t make, and how can we face our fears in ways that help to create a more just future?

28

THE BATTLE IN THE COURTS

Throughout the 1980s, ACJ attempted to pursue every legal avenue available to seek justice for Vincent Chin. Numerous legal briefs and court filings were submitted to get a full hearing of the case, which had been denied as a result of the incompetence, inattention and/or ignorance of police, prosecutors and courts, combined with society’s marginalization of Asian Americans.

The federal civil rights trial began on June 5, 1984, in the courtroom of Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, one of the first African American women to serve on the federal bench. ACJ knew that the courtroom battle would be uphill. Many people had a hard time believing that Asian Americans experienced any kind of racial prejudice, let alone hate violence. Hateful words used against Asian Americans were not viewed as racial slurs by the dominant American culture, from classrooms to newsrooms, courtrooms to Congress. Even liberal-minded people who claimed to never condone racial epithets were unaware of or even unsympathetic to the racial slurs directed at Asian American ethnic groups

Dancer Racine Colwell heard Ebens say, “It’s because of you motherf---ers that we’re out of work,” which didn’t contain a single slur or racist word, but it was clearly singling out Asian Americans. According to influential journalists like Don Ball,

an older white reporter for the Detroit News who was covering the trial, her eyewitness account was irrelevant, because, he wrote, such statements were “flimsy evidence that Chin’s slaying was racially motivated.” As the “alpha” reporter covering the Vincent Chin proceedings, his bias influenced other coverage that failed to look beyond stereotypes of communities that had been rendered invisible.

On June 28, the federal jury in Detroit disagreed with Ball and other naysayers, finding Ebens guilty of violating Vincent Chin’s civil rights; Nitz, who was not alleged to have said anything, was acquitted. In the documentary film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” the jury foreperson explained on camera that Racine Colwell’s testimony was the decisive factor for the jury in finding Ebens guilty. In Detroit, it was clear that “you motherf---ers” meant the Japanese—or people who looked like them. Ebens was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Judge Taylor.

But the case won a retrial on appeal in 1986 because of pretrial publicity and evidentiary errors associated with tapes made of witnesses when ACJ was first investigating the case. It was a cruel irony that the very interviews that convinced Detroit’s Asian American community of the killers’ racial motivation would be used to grant an appeal of the first civil rights trial presided by Judge Taylor in Detroit. The new trial

29
Rev. Jesse Jackson and Lily Chin, 1984

would be held in Cincinnati, where it was less likely that prospective jurors would know of the case.

Located across the Ohio River from Kentucky, Cincinnati was known as a conservative city with Southern sensibilities. Absent was the heightened racial consciousness of Detroit, with its Black majority and civil rights history. If Asians were hard to find in Detroit, they were even more unseen in Cincinnati. The city’s small population of Asian Americans was also easy to target: on July 4, 1986, a gang of “patriotic” whites shot up the homes of Southeast Asian refugees in Cincinnati.

When the jury selection process for the new trial began on April 20, 1987, potential jurors were interrogated on their exposure to Asians. “Do you have any contact with Asians? What is the nature of your contact?” they were asked, as though they had been infected by a deadly virus.

Their answers were even more revealing. Out of about 180 Cincinnati citizens in the jury pool, only 19 had ever a “casual contact” with an Asian American, whether at work or the local Chinese take-out joint. A white woman who said she had Asian American friends was dismissed as though the friendship tarnished her; also dismissed was the woman whose daughter had Asian friends, and the Black man who had served in Korea. No one was asked if contact with white people might bias them.

The jury that was eventually seated looked remarkably like Ebens—mostly white, male and blue collar. This time the jury foreperson was a 50-something machinist who was laid off after 30 years. The defense attorneys tried to argue that ACJ and the Asian American community had paid attorney Liza Chan to trump up a civil rights case; that argument was objected to by the prosecutors and overruled by the judge, yet the accusation was still heard.

It was a terrible disappointment, though not surprising, when the jury reached its not guilty verdict on May 1, 1987, nearly five years after Vincent Chin was killed. This jury, comprised of people who had virtually no contact with Asian Americans or knowledge of their concerns, was unable to fathom how “it’s because of you motherf---ers” and “get the Chinese” might contain a racial intent.

When the criminal prosecutions ended with the acquittals of the Ebens and Nitz, the wrongful death civil suit against for them for the “value” of Vincent’s life could finally proceed. Lily Chin finally had a day in court to say that Vincent Chin’s life had value, that he mattered. The court imposed a judgment of $1.5 million against Ebens, payable in $200 per month installments. Ebens told filmmakers that Lily Chin would never get that money and he moved to Nevada, which has friendly laws for debtors. He lives a comfortable life there and continues to evade his court-ordered judgment.

30

In these 40 years, Ebens has never shown remorse or assumed responsibility for beating Vincent Chin to death; he once told a reporter that he “was sorry that ‘it’ happened.” Each year, the estate for Vincent Chin and his mother Lily files the necessary documents to keep the judgment against Ebens active, so that Vincent Chin’s killer will never be free of his obligation to pay for the injuries caused by his hate-motivated crime.

There are still disbelievers and deniers who claim that anti-Asian hate does not exist. When playwright Cherylene Lee’s drama about the Vincent Chin story, Carry the Tiger to the Mountain, was first performed at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV, near Washington, DC, the festival organizers invited Ebens’ former defense attorney to write a piece for the program book—and he wrote that Vincent might have died from striking his head on the pavement, not from the baseball bat hitting his head. It was as though a play about the Holocaust included notes from a Holocaust denier, or if a program booklet for a play about Black lives included an essay insisting that George Floyd’s murder was a hoax. Those notes found a receptive audience in the Washington Post: their white male theater critic wrote a negative review questioning the play’s validity, because, he said, race was not a factor, according to Ebens’ attorney.

The widely believed racist “model minority” myth that Asian people do not experience racism or discrimination is especially harmful to Asian Americans in this current pandemic of anti-Asian hate, just as it was in Vincent Chin’s case. Then, the sentencing local judge and a jury in Cincinnati allowed his killers to go free because they didn’t recognize any racial slurs about Asians. The lack of commonly recognized hate speech about Asians sets a higher bar for Asian Americans who experience discrimination or racism. In reality, hate-motivated acts can be inflicted without a single word being uttered, but for Asian Americans, the default assumption is that there is no racism. Tragically, there are numerous examples of law enforcement, public officials and journalists making knee-jerk denials that race is a factor in crimes against Asian Americans. The March 2021 mass shootings in Atlanta offered a graphic, televised example of police denial, even though the shooter hunted and killed six Asian women and two bystanders at Asian-owned businesses.

In spite of racism deniers, Americans of all backgrounds have benefited from the multiple impacts of the civil rights movement for justice for Vincent Chin. When Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced the killers

to probation, there was no one present to speak for the victim—no prosecutors or family representatives. Vincent Chin’s story and case became part of the victims’ rights movement that allowed crime victims to make statements at sentencing on the harm they experienced. As that legislative effort in Michigan moved forward, some referred to it as the “Vincent Chin rule.” When Olympic gymnasts testified in a Michigan court about sexual assault they were subjected to by the USA Gymnastics doctor, they were exercising the victim impact statements that Vincent Chin’s case contributed to creating.

Hate crimes protections laws were also strengthened because of Vincent Chin. Initially, some white civil rights lawyers asserted that Asian Americans should not be protected by federal civil rights law. They argued that the original intent of those laws was to protect Black people, not Asian Americans and not immigrants. But, through media and education, ACJ and the Asian American community were able to help broaden the scope of civil rights and hate crimes protections, which now also include perceived gender, sexual orientation and disability.

The hard work of ACJ and so many other voices around the country has contributed in many ways to American society and the greater good, especially as new generations of activists and advocacy organizations continue to take on the challenges of today.

Conversation Questions

» Why have Asians and Asian Americans been left out of American discourse on race? How do you think this has impacted Asian and Asian American communities?

» Earlier in this article, it was noted that Asian Americans were seen as communities that don’t experience racial injustice. Do you think this view has changed in light of current hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans?

» What are some actionable steps that people and communities can take today to make sure that Asians and Asian Americans are included in critical discussions about race in America?

31

LEGAL MILESTONES Michigan Bar Association Highlights Vincent Case

Adapted from an article that first appeared in the Michigan Bar Journal, May 2009

On June 19, 1999, the Michigan State Bar Legal Milestone program held a ceremony to dedicate a plaque commemorating the Vincent Chin case and its significance in our legal heritage.

Underlying Facts

Michigan and its automotive industry were in a severe downturn in 1982. On June 19, 1982, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were involved in an altercation at a bar in Highland Park where Vincent Chin was celebrating his upcoming wedding with three friends. During the altercation, Ebens reportedly said, “Because of you m----f------, we’re out of work.” Ebens, Nitz, Chin, and his friends were bounced out of the bar. Ebens and Nitz pursued Vincent Chin and one of his friends, Jimmy Choi, enlisting Jimmy Perry to find the “Chinese guys.” They caught up with Chin on Woodward Avenue. Nitz held Chin, while Ebens beat him with a baseball bat. Two off-duty Highland Park police officers saw the beating. Vincent Chin died on June 23, 1982, when he was disconnected from life support. The Asian American community believed a civil rights violation occurred. The defendants

claimed it was a barroom brawl that resulted in a death, but with no intent to violate Chin’s civil rights.

State v Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz

The second-degree criminal case was pled down to manslaughter. Ebens pled guilty and Nitz pled no contest to the reduced charge of manslaughter. Sentencing was before Chief Judge Charles Kaufman. At the time, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office did not have a policy of attending the sentencing proceeding. Occurring before the days of victims’ impact statements at sentencing, the victim’s family was not given an opportunity to speak at sentencing.

Chief Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced the men to three years’ probation and a fine of $3,000. The sentence caused an outcry in the Asian American community. As president of the Detroit chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, I worked with Kin Yee, who headed the Chinese Benevolent Association. We launched a series of community meetings that gave rise to American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), an Asian American civil rights organization. Journalists such as author Helen Zia, automotive engineers,

32

volunteer lawyers, and others came together to create this movement. ACJ members held a rally at Kennedy Square and sought reconsideration of the sentence on the basis of perceived misrepresentations. ACJ retained Thomas Brennan and Liza Cheuk May Chan to argue for reconsideration in front of Judge Kaufman and the Michigan Court of Appeals.

United States v Ebens

Given the perceived miscarriage of justice at the state level, ACJ examined the possibility of having the Department of Justice (DOJ) bring a federal civil rights suit. ACJ hosted picnics, runs, and a debate between Wayne Law Professor Robert Sedler and then Civil Rights Director of Research Jeffrey Jenks on whether Asian Americans were protected under the federal civil rights laws. The FBI investigated the case and the DOJ decided to press civil rights charges. The case was heard by Hon. Anna Diggs Taylor. The jury found Ebens guilty of federal civil rights violations and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The jury found Nitz not guilty of civil rights violations, ostensibly because he did not say anything racial. Ebens appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a Cincinnati jury found him not guilty of depriving

Chin of his civil rights. Ebens and Nitz never served a full day in jail for their actions.

The Importance of the Case

» The case is recognized for giving birth to the Asian American victims’ and civil rights movement.

» The case led to the formation of American Citizens for Justice, Inc., recognized as an outstanding Asian American organization by the Association of Asian American Studies in 1994 at its national meeting at the University of Michigan.

» The case revealed the shortcomings of the judicial system by its failure to allow victims’ families to testify during the sentencing phase, later addressed by statute.

» The case revealed the latitude that judges had in sentencing, which was addressed by the Supreme Court and the legislature with mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

» The case revealed the sensitive nature of changing venue. Like the Rodney King case, as a later example, changing venues may well change the result.

» The case drew media attention in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Asahi-Japan, and was the focus of the movie Who Killed Vincent Chin?, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1987.

» The case is remembered with ceremonies every five years. In 2007, those remembrances took place in Madison Heights in the Metro Detroit area at the Association of Chinese Americans’ Chinese Community Center. Similar commemorations were held throughout the US. The State Bar, through its Public Outreach Committee and the Michigan Legal Milestone Program, are collaborating with several organizations for the dedication of this milestone. These organizations include the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar Association, American Citizens for Justice/ Asian American Center for Justice, and the Asian American Journalists Association.

33
Roland Hwang served as an attorney with the Michigan Department of Attorney General and the State Bar Public Outreach Committee. He was a hearing referee with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

THE RIGHTEOUS FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

From its very beginnings, the wealth and economic success of America was built on the hard work and ingenuity of many peoples, including the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as those from Europe, Africa and Asia. Systems of deep inequality gave great privilege to some who benefited substantially from the exploitation and enslavement of Black people. Land-owning, upper-class European Americans enriched themselves by enforcing a racial hierarchy, for example, through unequal laws, intimidation and violence that reinforced divisions based on skin color, class background, gender and other societal markers. It took centuries, but enslaved people and their allies worked to bridge some of those divides and eventually overthrew this shameful system of slavery. After slavery was formally abolished, people continued to fight against other forms of oppression aimed at keeping a caste system in place. Their efforts have made this country more fair for everyone.

The struggle for civil rights tells the story of Black people in America who resisted the brutality of enslavement and inequality as they fought to be treated as human beings and to receive their full rights as Americans. Their fight for basic human dignity has helped to lift up others who have been denied liberty and justice for all.

34

SLAVERY: AN AMERICAN INSTITUTION

Europeans first began to colonize the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. Their efforts to inhabit and settle into “the New World” required a huge amount of labor. The Europeans chose to do it as cheaply as possible—by enslaving people on a mass scale.

Spanish colonizers relied on the labor of enslaved Africans, as well as enslaved Indigenous people. They forced them to work as laborers on plantations and in mines, under extremely harsh conditions.

In Great Britain, a system similar to slavery had long existed: Poor indebted white people sometimes worked as indentured servants. They were the property of their master until they had worked off their debt. Sometimes, they never reached that point, or were unfairly prevented from reaching that point.

When the British began to establish colonies overseas, this was the system that was initially used. They used both white and African people as indentured laborers. The first 20 enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619, and had worked enough to be released from servitude by 1651, 30 years later.

As time went on, landowners in the colonies began to push for complete ownership over other people, an arrangement that would benefit them economically. In 1661, Virginia legalized enslavement, then also made it law that children born into slavery would be kept enslaved for life.

Before long, the economy of the American South relied on the enslavement of African people. Some worked the fields on plantations, while others served white families inside houses, and, depending on the state, some enslaved people were used for industrial rather than agricultural work.

In 1808, the US made it illegal to import enslaved people from Africa. However, slavery continued: Slave traders made money from “breeding” enslaved people and selling their children, and by kidnapping and selling freed Black people.

In 1846, an enslaved Black man named Dred Scott who had been brought into free territories famously tried to sue for freedom. However, the US Supreme Court ruled that people of African descent could not be US citizens, and therefore, had no right to sue in federal court. That ruling helped keep the slavery system in place for decades longer.

With the Spanish Galleon trade that began in the 1500s, ships traveled between the Americas and the Asia/Pacific region. Filipino and Polynesian navigators came to North America. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Chinese were recorded in what is now Mexico City, while Filipinos were living in what is now Louisiana.

To meet the insatiable demand for labor in the Americas and the Caribbean, hundreds of thousands of indentured workers from Asia, especially India and China, were forced into servitude, often to labor on plantations for many years. Some were kidnapped and locked into a crowded ship’s hold. Chinese women and girls were bought and sold by sex traffickers in the Americas.

35

More than 300 men from Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands fought in the American Civil War. Most fought in the Union Army, but a few fought for the Confederacy, including a ship with a Chinese crew that was captured in the South and pressed into the Confederate army.

Tens of thousands of Chinese men arrived in the US to join the 1848 Gold Rush. These miners were later joined by railroad workers, imported to build the transcontinental railroad across the Rocky Mountains. Other Chinese were brought to Massachusetts, Mississippi and Pennsylvania to fill labor shortages.

In cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles and throughout the western states, Chinese, Punjabis and other Asian ethnicities were restricted to living in crowded ghettos. During the ethnic cleansing of the “driving out” period of the late 1800s, white supremacists tried to eliminate all Asians from America. Massacres and lynchings were commonplace and entire Chinatown districts were destroyed.

Numerous draconian laws were imposed on Chinese, and later applied to other Asian immigrants. They were pushed into segregated schools and living areas, prevented from working in better-paid jobs and subject to unequal laws and taxes. Asians were barred from becoming US citizens, from testifying in court even if they were victims of violence, and from owning a home or farmland. Asian Americans tried to fight such racism and discrimination in the courts, taking 17 cases all the way to the Supreme Court. The case of Yick Wo established that separate is NOT equal and was cited decades later to desegregate schools in the South. The Wong Kim Ark case determined birthright citizenship for all Americans.

During this period, acts of “driving out” and barring Chinese and other Asians included the introduction of the federal Page Act barring Chinese women (1875) and the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). The great Black American leader Frederick Douglass and others argued against the discriminatory exclusion of Chinese and other Asians from America.

THE CIVIL WAR, RECONSTRUCTION AND WHITE SUPREMACY

Eventually, the US went to war over the issue of slavery. More than a million people died in the American Civil War, and the South was economically devastated. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed some—but not all—enslaved people. The rest were freed in 1865 when the 13th Amendment of the Constitution was passed.

The abolition of slavery freed millions of Africans. Some white people were angered by losing the advantages they had enjoyed from slavery. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White League sprang up. Such groups pushed for white people to maintain their privileged status in society, and terrorized African Americans.

During the post-War period known as Reconstruction, some Southern states used the legal system and law enforcement to control African Americans and prevent them from rising in society. For example, they enforced laws extremely harshly against African Americans, and made it easy to arrest and jail them for so-called crimes like “disobedience.” They also created laws to keep Black people physically separate from white people. This policy was called segregation. The set of laws that enforced segregation and otherwise curtailed civil rights for African Americans became known as “Jim Crow” laws.

In 1868, the federal government passed the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It granted citizenship and “equal protection” to all people born or naturalized in the US, including formerly enslaved people. However, Jim Crow laws remained in place for many decades. This began to change in 1915 with a series of Supreme Court cases that helped dismantle formal segregation.

36

THE 20TH CENTURY

In 1909, one of America’s most prominent civil rights activist organizations was founded: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It became famous for its role in fighting school segregation. A head lawyer from the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall, later became a Supreme Court Justice.

From the 1920s through 1940s, advocates tried to fight lynching, a brutal form of murder that has been used against African Americans, Indigenous peoples, Chinese and other groups throughout American history. Three efforts to ban lynching passed in the US House of Representatives but did not pass in the Senate, due to white supremacist senators from the South. In 2005, the Senate passed a resolution apologizing for its history of blocking anti-lynching laws. Even then, several Southern senators did not join the resolution.

In the 1950s, the NAACP began suing school districts in multiple states, arguing that Black and white children should not be kept in separate schools. In 1954, one of those cases, Brown v. Board of Education, became one the most important milestones of the civil rights movement. The Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment also applied to the country’s public school system, leading to the desegregation of schools.

EMMETT TILL AND ROSA PARKS

One of the most famous injustices of the Jim Crow era was the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. While visiting deeply segregated Mississippi, the 14-year-old supposedly flirted with a white woman, who later claimed he had grabbed and harassed her. The woman’s husband and another man abducted, tortured, and killed the boy. Till’s mother in Chicago chose to display his body in an open casket, so that people could see how her son had been tortured and brutalized. Americans were shocked by magazine photos of his mutilated body. But a jury in Mississippi acquitted the murderers, sparking protests around the country. The following year, the men admitted the killing to a journalist. In 2007, it was also revealed that the white woman who had accused Till had lied.

In another landmark event in 1955, Rosa Parks was riding the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, part of the segregated South, when a group of white men got on and demanded to sit in her row. There were plenty of other seats, but the bus driver ordered Parks to get up too. When she refused, she was arrested, put on trial, found guilty, and fined. In response, Black Americans organized a boycott of the city’s bus system. It lasted 381 days, attracted nationwide attention and ended when the Supreme Court ruled segregation on city buses unconstitutional.

More federal laws were passed that extended the Chinese Exclusion Act to severely limit immigration from all Asian countries. The laws that barred Asian immigrants from becoming naturalized citizens were gradually lifted between 1943 and 1952. Only then could Asian American communities engage as voters, run for elective office and begin to be participants in the American democracy.

Executive Order 9066 to remove and incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast states was issued on February 19, 1942, on the grounds that their Japanese ethnicity made them national security threats. Not a single Japanese American was ever convicted of espionage or sabotage. More than 40 years later, a national civil liberties movement obtained an apology and redress for the Japanese American community.

During the Cold War years, with the Korean War and McCarthy “Red scare,” heightened surveillance of Chinese Americans in search of potential Communist sympathizers put Chinatowns on edge as FBI agents cast dragnets to arrest and deport suspects and disrupt community organizations.

37

Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs organized among workers and the Black community in Detroit, advocating revolutionary activism for evolutionary change.

SCHOOL INTEGRATION

The Supreme Court had found school segregation unconstitutional in 1954, but it took many years to get some school districts to comply. However, the NAACP forced integration to happen faster by enrolling nine Black students in a formerly all-white high school. Many white people opposed it, but federal troops escorted the students into the school in the fall of 1957.

In higher education, many colleges and universities refused to admit Black students. It took until 1962 for James Meredith to become the first Black student to attend the University of Mississippi at Oxford. He applied and was denied twice before filing and winning a suit in 1971. The state government fabricated criminal charges against him to prevent his enrollment, but the federal government intervened. Hundreds of US marshals had to accompany him on the first day of school, and large crowds of white people rioted in protest.

NON-VIOLENCE AND CIVIL RIGHTS

Throughout the South, many lunch counters refused to serve Black people. In February 1960, four Black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, ordered coffee at the lunch counter of a Woolworth’s chain store. The staff ignored them, but they stayed all day, and returned each day with hundreds more people. Five months later, in July, the store finally desegregated.

Concerned Asian Americans supported and participated in the civil rights movement, including a contingent from Hawai’i led by Rev. Abraham Akaka that brought leis for Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis and other civil rights leaders as they marched across the notorious Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The peaceful sit-ins were popularized by the civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and inspired by India’s Mahatma Gandhi. Neatly-dressed, polite protesters would go to segregated spaces, stay, and submit peacefully when they were arrested, even when police charged at them on horseback or with vicious dogs, or when fire hoses were turned on them. The NAACP helped organize many more sit-ins, at churches, libraries and beaches.

Freedom Rides were another tactic used in the civil rights movement. They began when activists of different races traveled together by train and bus to attend a mass protest in Washington, D.C. Interstate trains and buses in the South were segregated even though the Supreme Court had ruled it unconstitutional.

All these forms of activism in the South were often met by harassment and violence from angry whites. Civil rights activists of various races, genders and religions were murdered by white supremacists. The lives of Black freedom fighters were always at risk. In 1963, Medgar Evers, the leader of the Mississippi NAACP, was shot to death in front of his children. The white man who killed Evers was found not guilty. It took another 31 years to get the killer retried and convicted.

In 1963, more than 250,000 people attended the March on Washington in D.C., the largest public protest in American history. The massive protest helped spread the message of the civil rights movement across the country. Among many other now-famous speakers, Rev. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

38

NEW LAWS TO PROTECT CIVIL RIGHTS

Voting rights were a main focus of the civil rights movement. In 1964, for example, activists went to Mississippi to register Black Americans to vote. Ever since Reconstruction, Black Americans were often discouraged from voting by obstacles designed to make it more difficult for them to vote.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 struck a major blow against the Jim Crow era. It was passed five days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, making segregation in public accommodations illegal, as well as racial discrimination in public and in places of employment.

The act also created a federal agency called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to prevent and investigate workplace discrimination.

The following year, the Voting Rights Act was passed. It stopped the efforts of Southern lawmakers to make it more difficult for Black Americans to vote—though, unfortunately, today there are renewed efforts to make voting difficult for people of color, immigrants and others.

Immigration policies of the US underwent a sea change with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965. For more than 100 years, only a trickle of immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America were allowed to enter the US—for example, only 105 Chinese per year versus tens of thousands of Anglo Europeans per country each year.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 included the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII, which made it illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, religion, national origin, or sex in the selling, renting and financing of housing.

These and other civil rights laws, arising from the Black-led struggle for equality, have brought incalculable benefits to other Americans and to the principles of a fair and just democracy. Yet even as these new civil rights laws became law, counter efforts to reverse civil rights laws were underway—for example, to undermine the fight to stop school desegregation by attacking school busing for desegregation, or to undermine voting rights to reduce the number of votes from Black and other communities of color.

Filipino American and Chicano farmworkers united in California to fight for humane working conditions, as their union leaders—Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez—rejected societal pressures to divide and pit their communities against each other.

Student activists at San Francisco State and University of California at Berkeley joined together with Black, Latinx and Native American protestors. These Asian students coined the term “Asian American,” giving a name to the multiethnic pan-Asian movement as they joined the Third World Liberation Front to stand united against racism and war.

Civil rights laws that broke down barriers in housing, for example, allowing people of color, including Asian Americans, to move into neighborhoods where they had previously been barred by restrictive covenants and discriminatory red-lining practices. Meanwhile, many refugees from the American war in Southeast Asia were moved into poor, largely Black, urban areas with no guidance or framework for any of the affected communities.

In Boston, Asian American, as well as Black and other communities, came under attack from white opposition to busing for school desegregation.

39

As a result of such civil rights policies as affirmative action, women and people of color, including Asian Americans, began to break through barriers into jobs that they had been previously shut out of, professions ranging from policing, firefighting, construction and skilled trades to law, medicine, journalism, publishing, and into pathways to management and leadership.

Lifelong civil and human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama, who was a friend and supporter of Malcolm X, rushed to his side as he lay fallen from an assassin’s bullet.

During the long recession of the 1980s with its continual Japan-bashing, numerous possibly racist killngs of Asian Americans occurred, including the murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit by two white autoworkers, which catalyzed a new civil rights movement and contributed to the hate crimes laws that extended protections to immigrants, Asians and other groups of Americans who may be targets of hate.

South Asian Americans, Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans have increasingly faced harassment and hate crimes, especially since 9/11. Numerous Islamophobic killings have occurred, including the 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI.

Affirmative action is another civil-rights-era strategy that has come under attack. In the 1960s, employers began to implement affirmative action plans to proactively hire people of more races, women, disabled people and other minorities, for example. In college admissions, many lawsuits have been filed against schools that have tried to increase diversity, starting with the anti-affirmative action lawsuit filed by Allan Bakke, a white male, whose case was decided in his favor by the Supreme Court in 1978. In the current day, opponents of affirmative action now maintain Asian Americans are most harmed by the policy—as a strategy to eliminate it. Efforts to update and revamp federal hate crime legislation began in 1968, with additional laws over the years to collect hate crimes statistics related to race, color, religion, national origin or ethnicity. In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act broadened the categories of protection to include crimes motivated by actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have long experienced harassment, injustice and violence from policing authorities, including immigration and the FBI. In the 1970s, Chol Soo Lee, a Korean immigrant, was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for murder, until investigative reporting by K.W. Lee sparked an national pan-Asian movement that led to Lee’s release.

In 1991, Latasha Harlins, a15-year-old Black teen, was shot and killed by a Los Angeles Korean American shopkeeper after an alleged shoplifting incident. Though convicted of manslaughter, the shopkeeper was sentenced to probation and fines— eerily similar to what Vincent Chin’s killers received. As in Detroit, outrage over the lenient sentence contributed to the 1992 LA uprisings over the acquittals of the white police who brutalized Rodney King and inflamed the existing tensions between Black residents and Asian Americans. An estimated two-thirds of the businesses destroyed in the rioting were Korean-owned.

COMBATTING RACISM IN POLICING AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In 1991, a bystander in a nearby apartment building videotaped a group of Los Angeles police savagely beat Rodney King, an unarmed Black motorist. The video went viral through the news media in those pre-internet days, and people across the country were shocked by the graphic violence of the white police officers. It made more people aware of the dangerous and harmful experiences that many Black Americans have with police.

Today, more than 30 years later, many more incidents of deadly police violence against Black people have been captured on cell phones, surveillance video and police body cameras, footage which shows the systemic violence that Black individuals and communities have experienced throughout history and that continues today. In 2020, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds as the handcuffed man begged

40

for air and three other police watched. George Floyd’s murder, together with numerous other police killings of Black people, drew outrage and calls for systemic change, launching a global movement for Black lives.

Due to institutional racism, Black Americans are far more likely to be poor, to be sent to prison, and to have had their educations disrupted. Inequalities that divide people into social classes are common in every society. Civil rights laws in the latter part of the 20th century attempted to address these inequities; these laws also advanced other underrepresented groups, including women and other people of color. But in recent decades, campaigns have attempted to reverse such programs by pitting different groups against one another. The voices for democracy and civil rights have achieved a great deal. However, institutional racism harms all Americans and remains an enormous and foundational problem for the entire country. By learning about the movements for equality, civil rights, and how communities working together in solidarity can overcome great obstacles, everyone can be involved in making America a fair and just place for all.

—Numerous sources contributed to this article

Conversation Questions

One of the police officers who stood and watched as George Floyd was suffocated to death was Asian American. Many Asian Americans, including Hmong Americans, have been actively organizing support for the movement for Black lives and to address anti-Blackness among Asians and systemic racism in society.

More than any other racial group, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) have the largest equity gap between affluent and low income people. Disaggregation of AANHPI data shows high poverty levels and low education attainment in various communities, which gets further obscured by the racist myth of the “model minority.”

The harmful “model minority” myth was invented in 1966 to use Asians as a wedge against Black people during the civil rights movement. Asian Americans have been used by white conservatives to dismantle civil rights laws and policies such as affirmative action.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many systemic faultlines in society, including its devastating impact on low income and uninsured people, immigrant and undocumented populations, and those who are targets of violence due to race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, and religion.

» Do civil rights apply to all people in the United States today?

» How have non-Black people and communities benefited from racial justice movements started by Black Americans throughout history, and today?

» How did the Civil Rights Movement pave the way for Asian American organizing efforts?

» What are some of the critical civil rights movements you see building in your communities today?

41

DEFEATING ANTI-ASIAN HATE

How Asian Americans are addressing rising prejudice and violence

This article first appeared in The Guardian on April 23, 2022.

A rise in Asian American gun ownership. Blockslong lines for pepper spray in Manhattan Chinatown. Children kept home from school by fearful parents. Elderly people who have stopped leaving their homes. A warning to Filipinos in the US, issued by the Philippine embassy in DC.

Across the US, Asian American communities have been gripped by anger and despair as hate crimes against them have increased sharply—rising by 339% last year compared with 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. As early as March 2020, the FBI issued a report predicting a “surge” in hate crimes against Asian Americans, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which happened to originate in an Asian country. Adding fuel to the fire: incendiary and racist language—used by irresponsible politicians and repeated across social media—and geopolitical tensions with China.

“All of those are conditions that have led at other times to terrible anti-Asian violence,” says author and activist Helen Zia.

But what’s different this time, says Zia, is that more people recognize the problem. In the 1980s, Zia helped bring about the first federal civil rights case involving an Asian American: Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man was beaten to death by two white auto-workers who took him for Japanese and blamed Japan for the car industry’s struggles. They were merely fined $3,000 each for the killing.

Today Asian Americans, the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the US, are finally in a position to do more than stock up on pepper spray and hope for the best. Meanwhile, academic research on implicit and unconscious bias, improvements in data collection, and social movements like Black Lives Matter have contributed to greater understanding about racism and bias, and the ways that can translate into hate speech and violence. From the local through federal level, community advocates and other leaders have been organizing, debating, and building support, aimed at combating the ongoing epidemic of anti-Asian hate.

42

After the Atlanta-area shooting deaths of eight people, six of them Asian women, by a white gunman in March 2021, President Joe Biden announced a set of actions to respond to anti-Asian violence and xenophobia, and in May, further established the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, “to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for AA and NHPI communities.” Among other actions, the initiative will improve data collection methods that have left Asian people underrepresented in government statistics, and by extension, the resulting programs and policies.

Long-term, many agree that the answer lies in education. In January, Illinois became the first state to require that Asian American history be taught in public schools. New Jersey soon followed, and at least nine other states are considering the same. “Members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have made countless contributions to our state and country, yet they are made virtually invisible by our history books,” said four NJ assembly sponsors of the bill in a joint statement. “This erasure … not only prevents students from gaining a full understanding of our nation’s history, but also opens the door for racial biases that can turn into violence and hatred.”

Kani Ilangovan, a parent and psychiatrist, of Make Us Visible NJ, which spearheaded the movement, said she was haunted by events like the 2017 shooting death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an engineer from India, at a Kansas restaurant, by a white man who called Kuchibhotla and the friend he was with “terrorists” and “Iranians,” and asked whether they were in the country illegally.

In 2020, as anti-Asian violence swelled anew, Ilangovan took comfort in learning about AAPI history and racial justice movements through a book club formed partly in response to the murder of George Floyd. “It gave me a deeper sense of identity and belonging, and helped me learn a lot of history that I was not aware of,” she said.

She realized that even in her children’s predominantly Asian school—and the predominantly white school she had attended growing up—Asian Americans were not reflected in the curriculum, contributing to their image as “forever foreigners”—not part of the American story and, therefore, not deserving of the same treatment as other Americans. She reached out to members of her book club, and formed Make Us Visible NJ. They were further galvanized when Stop AAPI Hate issued a 2021 report stating that one in three AAPI parents said their child had experienced a

hate incident in the past school year. More than 1,500 signatures, 60 partner organizations, and several rallies later, they helped pass the historic legislation.

Another, less widely embraced response to anti-Asian hate has been the 2021 passing of the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act. It builds on the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act, which required data collection “about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity” and prompted the FBI to begin publishing its annual report on hate crime statistics. The 1990 act “was a positive development, but the statistics that came out showed that law enforcement agencies weren’t really reporting incidents of violence against Asians,” said Stanley Mark, a senior staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Even after 9/11, he said, many of the resulting attacks against Sikh, South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim Americans were not classified as hate crimes. (As it was, recorded anti-Muslim hate crimes increased 1600%.)

The new hate crimes act aims to fill some of those gaps by making it easier to report incidents and incentivizing local police forces to improve their data collection methods, for example through better training around how to identify hate crimes. (It also includes provisions named after Heather Heyer, the woman run over and killed by a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.) “You’re not going to find anti-Asian bias if you’re not looking for it, so this bill does help train police to look for it better,” said Mark.

However, critics say it does not address the root causes of hate, and fear the statistics will merely result in over-policing of Asian and other ethnic minority communities. “The community is divided about the role of police,” says Jo-Ann Yoo, execu-

43
Dedicate resources to local communities: mutual aid, activism, organize volunteers to patrol streets, stoke pride in Asian American culture— all have proliferated

tive director of the Asian American Federation, an umbrella organization for non-profits in New York City. There, people reluctant to interact with police can instead report incidents to the Commission on Human Rights, which collects data about (and sometimes acts on) bias, harassment and discrimination incidents in general—a wider array than hate crimes, which are narrowly defined.

“Dedicate resources to local communities,” wrote Stop AAPI Hate in a response to the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act. Existing grassroots efforts that have sprung up during the pandemic offer a glimpse at what locals feel is needed: new community groups, focusing on everything from mutual aid, to activism, to organizing volunteers to patrol the streets, to stoking pride in Asian American culture, have proliferated. But the depth of the need is daunting. In New York, the most pressing issues Yoo has seen include food insecurity, financial struggle and lack of healthcare access among the many Asian workers whose industries were disproportionately affected by the pandemic (e.g. nail salons, restaurants and other service-based industries). Elderly people are afraid to leave their homes and isolated by language and technological barriers from accessing social service programs. Domestic violence has increased.

Yoo also says there is widespread fear and burnout among non-profit workers themselves, who have spent the past two-plus years on the frontlines: feeding people, organizing grief circles, going doorto-door setting up Zoom for elderly people, meeting with victims of violent attacks, and struggling “to figure out what we are going to do.”

Moreover, they, and many other Asian Americans, continue their work while feeling unsafe themselves. “I get a lot of emails saying, ‘My boss is asking us to come back to work but I’m afraid to ride the subway,’” Yoo said. “I’m calling on corporations to come up with a plan to protect their staff, because the fear is very real.”

Yoo sees an enormous need for mental health services—for victims of racially motivated violence, bystanders who witness such crimes, the communities traumatized by fear, and perpetrators themselves. “Many of the assailants were homeless with severe mental illness. Where’s the help for them?” she says. (New York City’s unhoused population is at its highest level since the Great Depression, and the city, under the new Eric Adams administration, has been forcibly removing unhoused people from the city’s subways and tearing down homeless encampments.)

“This country is going through this major crisis on

a global level, and it provides a breeding ground for racism, for hatred, and oppression of all sorts,” says Dr. DJ Ida, executive director of the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association. “When people are stressed, the ugliness rears its head.”

What makes hate crimes insidious for victims, she explains, is that, while a random mugging or attack can be deeply traumatizing, there remains “a sense of, ‘I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’” With hate crimes, by contrast, there is no escaping the situation, “because it’s escaping who we are. The psychological implications of that can be very profound.”

Ida said that for those working in mental health, the Biden administration’s proposed 2023 budget has been a source of hope. It allocates an unprecedented amount to expand access to mental health services— for example, $1bn to double the number of school counselors and other school health professionals over the next 10 years.

Ultimately, many agree that whatever the federal, policy and big-picture solutions, combating hate boils down to individuals taking action. “Legislation helps, but you can’t legislate away hate. You have to deal with it on a local, day-to-day level,” said Stanley Mark, the AALDEF lawyer.

Conversation Questions

» When you compare the rise of anti-Asian hate today to the anti-Asian prejudice in the 1980s, what is different? What’s remained the same?

» When you think back to your years in school, when did you see yourself reflected in what you were learning in school? Was it in a textbook, a lesson, a library book, or in who your teacher was?

» Imagine growing up and not seeing yourself reflected in the classroom, the media, or in your community. Why does representation matter, not only for ourselves, but also for how we wish others to see us?

» What are some steps that you and your community may be taking to combat this current rise of anti-Asian hate?

44

ASIAN AMERICANS FIGHTING THE FEAR

Earlier this month, I took an informal poll on social media to ask Asians and Asian Americans how they had altered their daily lives in response to the recent rise of assaults against us. I heard from hundreds of women and men, young and old, who described their workarounds—the extra steps they have been taking to stay physically safe.

They told me that they stay home instead of going out, and when they do go out, they take only the safest routes, carrying pepper spray or personal safety alarms. They walk on city streets only while accompanied by friends and exercise during the day. They wear hats, try to look “less Asian,” take taxis whether or not they can afford them. Some feel so threatened that they have nearly imprisoned themselves out of fear and distress.

This has been happening for as long as I can remember.

In 1977, a year after my father, mother, two sisters and I arrived in New York from Seoul, my parents ran a tiny wholesale jewelry store in Manhattan’s Koreatown. More of a vendor’s stall, it was a 200-square-foot corridor-shape space between 30th and 31st Streets on Broadway. There they started out selling 14-karat gold chains, then later brass and nickel jewelry, plastic hair beads, ponytail holders and barrettes to street peddlers and mom-and-popshop owners.

Each morning, at 6 o’clock, Mom and Dad left our one-bedroom rental in a squat, red brick building on Van Kleeck Street in Elmhurst in Queens, and took the subway to the store. They closed shop only on Sundays to observe the Sabbath.

My sisters and I attended P.S. 102. I’m the middle daughter, and because I was born in November, often the youngest in my class, although usually the tallest girl. I was quiet, nearsighted and confused by the newness of things. Several pretty girls took turns bullying me. I couldn’t say why. I never sought their attention. On occasion, my older sister had to step in if a bigger girl wanted to fight me. In class, I found it hard to concentrate. I minded my own business and said nothing, hoping that if I tried to shrink myself, I wouldn’t be noticed. I learned to pay careful attention to others.

In particular, I watched my parents because I was afraid of losing them. Day and night, I worried for their safety. I could not imagine a world without them.

The world felt so dangerous to me. When my younger sister was in kindergarten, Mom would leave the store to rush home by 3, leaving Dad to close up. Once, a large man followed her on the train, getting off at her stop on Grand Avenue. He grabbed her in the stairwell, and she screamed. Some people rushed down the stairs, and she dodged him by running away.

As soon as they could afford it, Dad bought a car and started driving to work. That year, we moved into a two-bedroom rental in the back of the same building, overlooking the parking garage, and in the evenings, I’d wait by the window for their safe return.

Twice, thieves broke into the shop in the night, setting off alarms and triggering phone calls, waking us from sleep. Someone had hidden in the building’s shared basement and sawed through the soft Sheetrock of the store wall. Another time, thieves

45
Lee is a novelist and a writer in residence at Amherst College. This article first appeared in The New York Times on March 18, 2022.

broke through the back door. The police never found the culprits. Insurance never paid the claims. The landlord said the break-ins were not his responsibility, so Dad installed a steel-reinforced wall and a metal door.

Still, there were holdups and muggings. One Saturday afternoon, right before closing, Mom swept the front sidewalk. Part of the metal gate was already down. Two armed men wearing army jackets cornered her. They pushed her back into the shop. One detained my father in the back while the other forced my mother to hand over their hard-earned singles, fives and 20s. They stole all the gold and silver chains, which my parents had paid for with borrowed money. After the robbers rushed out with the loot, the police showed up. The men were never caught. My parents started all over again to cover their deep losses.

When I was in high school, I went to the store with Dad one Saturday to help out. We opened up, and even before we had the chance to fetch our coffee, three masked and gloved gunmen came and robbed us. If I close my eyes, I can still see that gun. I told myself not to be afraid. Everything would be OK if we gave it all away, and Dad handed over the three display trays of gold and all the cash in the register, leaving only the coins. We filed a police report, but nothing ever came of it. Dad stopped selling gold and switched to cheaper metals in an attempt to make armed robbery less tempting.

Years later, on another Saturday, when I was helping out, we closed the store at 3 p.m. Dad and I walked west on 31st Street to the parking garage. A short man came up from behind and snatched Dad’s leather satchel, where he kept the store safe key and cash. Dad bolted after him, shouting: “Stop! Stop! He has my bag!” I’d never seen him run so fast, and he kept pace with the thief.

Right in front of Engine 1 Ladder 24, a few blocks from Herald Square, an off-duty firefighter jumped off his motorcycle and nabbed the man. Firefighters spilled out from the station and held him down. The police arrived, and an officer placed his foot on the man’s head while another emptied his pockets: a condom, gum wrappers and a knife. The officer’s black leather boot pressed down hard on the young man’s bare head. I looked at the thief’s face and saw that he was only a boy. Later, we were told that he was 16, about my age then.

In the ’80s, my sisters and I took the subway to our respective high schools. Our round-trip train rides took at least four hours. One afternoon, on a packed E train, my older sister was suddenly surrounded by

a group of teenagers. One put his hand in her jacket and stole her wallet. She demanded it back, and they denied taking it. Laughing at her face, they called her a “Chink.” No one in the crowd helped her. At the next stop, they took off. They removed her cash and subway pass, then tossed the wallet and ID card on the ground. A stranger, noticing this, picked the wallet up and mailed it back to us.

From 1986 to 1990, I went to Yale. New Haven, Conn., felt familiar, like my hometown, but I had to keep my wits about me. Once in a while, I’d walk down Chapel Street to get a coffee at Atticus Bookstore Cafe. Panhandling veterans dressed in grubby fatigues would walk up and grab me—sometimes in the front or the back. They’d say, “I like Chinese girls.” I’d do my best to tell them off and walk away briskly. Bystanders never helped me. Panhandlers who were usually peaceful and friendly weren’t that way with me. Raised in a conservative Christian family, I’d learned to dress modestly. I believe strongly that you should wear whatever you want, wherever you want. Yet even dressed almost mannishly, I would be noticed. I did not cover my face. I could not leave my race at home.

In college, I went to divestment rallies against apartheid and women’s marches to “take back the night.” When my grandmother was a girl, she had protested against Japanese colonialism, and at university, Mom had demonstrated against government dictatorship. I learned it was easier to stand with others to dissent and protest the terrible things of the world. During rape awareness days, there were ghostly tape outlines of survivors on the ground to mark the places of a sexual assault. When I was growing up and at schools, men had sexually assaulted me, but I’d told no one. At rallies, women and men spoke of being raped and attacked, and in the crowd, I listened while holding a lit candle. All around me, I saw young hurt faces, bathed in the glow of tiny flames. I didn’t know if I made any difference standing there, but I was starting to understand that I was not the only one who cared.

In law school, I dated a guy, then broke up with him. He trailed me at school, and once, I found him in a parked car waiting for me to come home. He did not leave me alone until it was clear that I was dating another man. It was as if he thought he had rights to me until I belonged to someone else. Then, when I was 22, I met the man who would be my husband and married at 24.

When I became a young corporate lawyer, both clients and colleagues touched me inappropriately and told me about their Asian girlfriends or

46

wives, as if I’d want to know that they had slept with women of my race. In a business setting, you were supposed to be nonchalant, so I’d change the subject and then try never to be alone with them if I could avoid it. I focused on my work and shied away from social events.

In 1995, I quit being a lawyer to write. For a long time, I worked at home, and later I started to give public talks and teach at a college. I’m middle-aged now and much tougher than I used to be. I brook no foolishness if I can help it.

Ever since Asians began arriving in the United States, they have been met with hostility and rejection, often sanctioned by state and federal legislation. The sad part is that so little has changed. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the West feared the growth of Japan; as China became a superpower, Sinophobia rose, too. Since 9/11, Islamophobia and attacks against Sikhs and Hindus have been unrelenting. Now the Covid pandemic and demagogy have brought more waves of hatred.

Do I reasonably expect another person or a government body to keep me safe in some perfect way?

I can’t say that I do. That has not often been my experience. A person like me often finds legitimate workarounds. But you and I know a workaround is not a real solution and a temporary fix is never available to everyone who needs it.

Asians and Asian Americans pay the price of nativist fear. As income inequality grows and social services are cut, the vulnerable among us are left untreated and unhoused. Meanwhile, the number of attacks in the United States against Asians and Asian Americans grows. Ordinary nativists and the disenfranchised attack people who look like me and far too many others. The assailants may also believe that we are weak physically and politically, unwilling to organize, react or speak up.

For some, deep down, my ordinary Korean face—small, shallow-set eyes, round nose, high cheekbones, straight dark hair—reminds them of lost wars, prostitutes, spies, refugees, poverty, disease, cheap labor, academic competition, cheaters, sexual competition, oligarchs, toxic parenting, industrialization or a sex or pornography addiction. What feelings do such reminders arouse?

Distrust, defeat, uncleanness, humiliation, sickness, death, terror, envy, anxiety and contempt.

Is it possible for me to understand the rousing declaration of a deeply mentally distressed person yelling that he wants to get a gun and kill as many Asians as possible? As a writer, I can intuit what he is think-

ing. From my decades of interviewing people, I have learned that nearly every person believes that she is the hero of her story. Does the yeller think that he is trying to save his people from those dangerous others—that is, people like me? I imagine so. Does he believe he is trying to protect the larger society from a pernicious influence? Yes, I think he must. The yeller sees himself as a hero for saving his people from me.

Then there are those who are self-controlled enough to mute their racist speech, so I will likely never hear a hateful confession from them. Nevertheless, in some small or grand gesture, when they wish, I will be made to feel their deep-seated desire to diminish or eradicate a person like me—the Asian other—the source of their unwanted, violent, shameful feelings.

Adaptability is useful. We can work to change the things that need changing and work around the things we cannot change. But to those who want all the solutions from the victims of injury, I must ask: How is that fair and reasonable? Shouldn’t all of us as a society come forth with local, state, national solutions?

Far too many of us in this world are despised and rejected for our immutable characteristics—race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and identification, ethnic origin and religion—so when we can, some of us change jobs, homes, education, clothing, safety protocols, bodies, names and how and with whom we spend our time, in the slim, perhaps vain hopes of seeming less other through our modifications. But I ask you:

Should we want to change who we are meant to be?

At 53, I am no longer an immigrant girl. Like her, though, I still keep vigil for my elderly parents, sisters, husband, son and our growing family. I cannot imagine a world without them. I want to feel safe. We want it for everyone.

Over the years, in its general expression, my face has changed very little. Behind my small eyes, there comes a light, which I use to see you, and in its flicker, I hold the hope that you will see me, too.

Min Jin Lee is the author of “Free Food for Millionaires” and “Pachinko.” A writer in residence at Amherst College, she is at work on “Name Recognition,” a memoir, and “American Hagwon,” the final novel in her trilogy “The Koreans.”

47

THE POWER OF EDUCATION: TEACHING THE FILM WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN?

This article first appeared under the title, “Teaching Who Killed Vincent Chin?—1991 and 2001,” in AmerAsia Journal, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, vol 28, no. 3, 2002. Reprinted with permission.

2002 marks the twentieth anniversary of Vincent Chin’s brutal murder in a hate crime for which his killers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, never spent a day of their lives in jail. In the intervening years since 1982, brutal and arbitrary anti-Asian violence, fueled by xenophobia and economic press, and emblematic of racism against Asians in America, has not abated. Rather, hate crime rates against Asians have seen steep increases since the early 1980s when Chin was murdered and have remained high, with the most recent wave of violence targeting South Asians and South Asian Americans in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

While I have taught Asian American Studies since 1974, it was not till the mid-1980s, precipitated by the Chin case, that I began to include regularly a unit on contemporary anti-Asian violence in my introductory Asian American courses. After the film Who Killed Vincent Chin? by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena was released in 1988, I have used it as the introductory text to that unit. Although Vincent Chin’s murder is now two decades old, I have found

that the film, with its brilliant documentation and analysis of the case, continues to be one of the best texts for stimulating students to pay attention to and analyze the ever-present issue of anti-Asian bigotry and violence. At this point in time, some five hundred students in four different institutions of higher education (three privates and one public, all on the East Coast) over the past thirteen years have studied and written responses to the film in my classes. In 2000, when a group of Asian American scholars and activists gathered at the annual American Studies Conference in Detroit for a panel on The Legacy of Vincent Chin, our discussions encouraged me to use the twentieth anniversary of this watershed event for Asian Americans as an occasion to review the thirteen years of student responses and to reflect on some pedagogical questions: What is the impact on students, if any, when this film is viewed in the college classroom? What do students learn from the film? Has the impact of the film on students’ learning changed from the early 1990s? What are the similarities and differences in student

48

responses to the film (and the case) over more than a decade? What are recurring patterns and themes, if any, to how different students make sense of the Vincent Chin case? What, in the area of college-level education, is the legacy of Vincent Chin?

For the purposes of this article, I have chosen to present six student responses, three from students taking my Asian American courses in 1991 and three from a decade later in 2001. These responses are excerpts from students’ weekly class journals, in which they are asked to discuss their reactions to texts, or in this case the film, Who Killed Vincent Chin? In their tone and content, these six responses are very typical and thus representative of the hundreds of student responses I have collected over the years. I have chosen to present each of the six selected responses in its entirety, without interruptions by my comments, so that readers can follow the writer’s unbroken train of thought. For each of the responses, I include the college class, gender, and the racial self-identification of the student.

Student Responses in 1991

AFRICAN AMERICAN, JUNIOR, FEMALE

It was an eye-opener for me to see the movie on Vincent Chin. I grew up in the same area that he lived and died in but I didn’t know anything about the case. I asked my parents about the case when I called them last weekend, and my father remembers seeing something about it on TV. I asked him if anyone in our all-Black neighborhood talked about it and he said there was talk but he didn’t remember the specifics very well. I asked him if he remembered Jesse Jackson speaking out for the case and he didn’t. When he asked me if I had heard about it in school back then, I told him that I’d never heard of Vincent Chin till I saw the movie in class last week.

I never studied about Asian Americans in school or for that matter, in college here. Before this class, I don’t think l ever considered that Asians had any discrimination directed against them. But after seeing this movie and thinking about what happened, I’m realizing that the discrimination is there but it is not talked about. It feels to me like it is part of the model minority stereotype that nothing is a problem for Asians. For me as a Black person, this is particularly interesting, since I’ve always felt that blacks alone faced racism in this society. I know that this is not true if I think about it more carefully, but then I have been taught to think this way all my life. When I talk to other Blacks, we always assume that Asians don’t suffer racism. When I think about the Vincent Chin case, it feels to me just like a “lynching” that Blacks are very familiar with, but what is fascinating is

that I don’t think most Black people will make that connection. I would not have made that connection if I wasn’t actually studying Asian American history and seeing how the system was working. I would have considered it as a somewhat unusual murder case. I wouldn’t have seen the racial issue.

Based on what I’ve already learned in the course about Asian Americans, especially the history in the early part of the century and then the concentration camps in WWII, I would say that it’s not an accident that we don’t get to learn about many facts that we should know, like this Vincent Chin case. It feels to me like it’s another way to divide and conquer different minority groups like they did on the Hawaii plantations. It’s like if we don’t know about what happens to the other groups, we won’t believe that racism is a widespread thing that goes beyond slavery. So it’s interesting to me that Black people have been teaching ourselves the kind of thinking that ends up dividing all the groups that are supposed to be joining with us to fight against racism. This was a pretty powerful lesson this week. I’m going to be a teacher after I graduate, so this is a lesson I will carry with me.

CHINESE VIETNAMESE AMERICAN, SENIOR, MALE

In all of my education, I do not ever remember seeing a movie as powerful and moving as the video we saw this week: Who Killed Vincent Chin? I did cry during the video, just like a lot of others in the room. In our discussion group later, we talked about why we were crying. Of course, a part of it was feeling the incredible pain of Lily Chin, but there were other reasons that struck me at a deeper level. I was identifying with the helplessness of Asian people in this country who get “shut up” and “pushed aside.” This is something that my family knows very well in our own struggle to live in a hostile neighborhood in this city. But part of my emotion was also in seeing Asian people come together for the ACJ movement to get justice for Vincent Chin. I have not seen Asian Americans united to fight in this way. I have only felt silence and fear when it comes to our rights, and this is one of the reasons I have always admired Black Americans because they can come together to demand justice. I wanted to show the protest in the video to every Asian person I know. I want to play the video for my family. I want to show them that it is possible to stand up for our rights. I know that the ACJ campaign was not successful in getting justice for Vincent Chin in the end, but for me it was important to know that many Asian Americans did come together to fight. It was also amazing to see non-Asians, like Jesse Jackson, speak for an Asian

49

issue. I have never seen that. I wish I had been old enough to be a part of this movement. I hope you will show this to many Asians to let them know that we can also be fighting for justice. I feel like I’m a college student and I didn’t know anything about it, and from what I saw in the movie, I have lots to learn.

Student Responses in 2001

AFRICAN AMERICAN, SENIOR, MALE

I have never heard of Vincent Chin, I have never heard of racism against Asian people. No offense to you and other Asians in the class, but to me Asians have it the best—they have their culture, they have their money, and they just take care of themselves. They don’t even have to learn English if they don’t want to. They don’t like Black people, so I don’t like them. I don’t have any Asian friends. I don’t beat or kill Asians like in the film but I don’t like them either. I took this course on Asian Americans because it fit for me as one of the requirements. I never expected what we’re studying. It’s more like one of the Black history courses I took. I look at this Vincent Chin movie and then at the reading this past week on Asian Americans as the “perpetual foreigner” and the kind of racism that is called anti-Asian violence and I feel kind of speechless at the moment.

WHITE AMERICAN, SENIOR, FEMALE

I could hardly contain my shock after having viewed the Vincent Chin video, and I couldn’t stop talking about it to everyone I came into contact with for the next few days. How could murderers be set free in America without having served a single day in jail? We do have the best justice system in the world. After our class discussion about the readings for this week on top of the film, I am beginning to see that white people who murder people of color can in fact go free-like in the case of Native Americans or African American slaves, or Chinese and Mexican workers, etc. This realization is very upsetting and I actually don’t want to accept it. But I’ll also admit it’s hard to deny this if you really read the history.

My first shock about the Chin case has changed by now. It is not that I’m not upset by it, but I am more upset by something else: Why was I not taught about this case and other minority issues in high school? Even here in college, I haven’t gotten that kind of education. I just happened to take this course because my roommate took it last year and liked it. I am a second semester senior, and I’ll be graduating in two months. If I had not taken this course, I would have left college thinking I was a very well educated person, and other people would have thought so too, given the reputation of this school. Instead, I would have been quite ignorant about a lot of our own country’s history and how the systems work—basically differently for different people based on the color of their skin and their looks. I would not have been well educated; instead I would have been handicapped.

My first question is, of course, how come no one told us about this in school? I went to an excellent school—the best prep school around here, and we had lots about diversity. We had a lot of classes and programs about racism, but I never studied Asian Americans. Diversity in my school was pretty much that Black and white thing that we had discussed in class.

My second question is: Why don’t Asian people talk about it more? How come Asian students here don’t talk about it? Do they know? Do they care?

My third question is more personal: Do I think differently about Asians now that I know about anti-Asian racism? Wow! This is a really big one. It’s one of those things I have to really turn my head around on. I can’t promise I’ll do it in one day, but this is what I’m starting to think: maybe I haven’t really looked at my own racism, if it can be called that. Can a Black person be racist against Asian people? If the answer is “yes,” then I feel that I have been “racist” against them all my life—I grew up with it. Wow! I never imagined I would be asking this kind of question, especially in college. Check back with me in a few weeks.

ASIAN AMERICAN, JUNIOR, FEMALE

When the lights came on after the Vincent Chin movie, I could not move. I dared not move till most people had left. Then my friend came over and said, “Are you okay?” Then I started to sob. I couldn’t stop crying. It must have been almost an hour. I couldn’t control myself. I had been crying quietly during the movie, and I thought it would just stop when the lights went on, like in any movie.

50
I have never heard of racism against Asian people. Why don't Asian people talk about it more?

Suddenly, every “ching-chong” taunt, every pinch, every shove, every beating I have put up with in my own life caught up with me. I never told my parents about the persecution me and other Asian kids had to put up with. I promised myself I would never tell them because they couldn’t do a damn thing about us getting pushed around in school just because we were Asian. If there was any fighting back, me and my friends would have to do it ourselves. So I ducked and sometimes kicked my way through school. Mostly ducked. I also learned that if you pretend you’re made of stone, they’ll go away at some point. I still approach most racial attacks this way. Today, after the movie, l think maybe this is the first time that I realize that unless you really are made of stone, you can get killed for just standing there.

I don’t really know all the reasons l responded the way l did to Vincent Chin. Mostly it was the shock that in all these years I hadn’t heard a thing about him. I’m sure my parents don’t know a thing about this. But when I see Lily Chin, she’s like my grandmother. She talks like my Ah Ma.

In a deeper way than just identifying with Vincent Chin, suddenly I have a whole new way of understanding what it means to be Asian in America. I thought it was my bad luck to be stuck living in my neighborhood and going to the school I went to where we have to put up with people who hate Asians. I never thought my experience fit into a pattern that a whole group of people have had for more than a hundred years. I never knew that there was actually a thing called anti-Asian violence. If you had asked me before now if there was a lot of violence against Asians, I would have said “no way.” Maybe some discrimination against fresh off-the-boat people who didn’t speak English, but not Americanized Asians like Vincent Chin and like me. I always thought that if there was anything you could call anti-Asian, it’s Asians against other Asians. I would have said that African Americans really got violence against them from the police. All the racial profiling stuff that gets talked about is all about Black people, not about Asians. I’m wondering as I write this how different it might have been if I had learned about Vincent Chin and other Asian American issues back in school.

Maybe it’s the hugeness of anti-Asian violence as an issue that just hit me. It’s been building up in the course, but after seeing this movie, it really hit home. Maybe right now I feel like nothing has changed for us Asians. It’s almost twenty years since Vincent Chin was murdered, and it’s still the same for Asian Americans when it comes to violence against them. At the end of the movie, I wondered what happened to the group of people who did protest and try to

get justice? Did they all throw up their hands and go home after the Cincinnati verdict? For me, it’s really clear that no matter what I major in, I must work for Asian American education, for our communities. I feel like my own directions inside me just aren’t the same since taking this course, and after watching this movie, I believe they’re a lot clearer. I’m going to work for Asian America, no matter what I do.

WHITE EUROPEAN AMERICAN, SENIOR, MALE

At the moment, the strongest emotion I feel after seeing the Vincent Chin movie for class is betrayal. I feel betrayed by my education and by the people around me who taught me everything l know. l grew up in Michigan, so did my whole family, and I can’t believe that they didn’t know about this case when it was happening. If they did, what did they do then?

I can’t believe nothing was ever taught about it in school. In my school we talked about other hate crimes, mostly anti-gay and anti-black bigotry. There would be few students from my year in my school who do not know about Rodney King or James Byrd or Matthew Shepard. Why aren’t hate crimes against Asian Americans also included?

One question that’s been lurking around for me since the beginning of this course is this: If I wasn’t taught Asian American history and something like Vincent Chin (which wasn’t even that long ago) in my past education, what else have I not been told? What other lies have I swallowed? Before this course, I would have said that there is no racism against Asians. They seem to be exceptionally successful and everyone seems to accept them. So now I know that was a lie, what other lies don’t I know about?

You asked us to pay attention to the question in the title of the movie and you wanted us to answer the question: Who Killed Vincent Chin? Now that I’ve seen the movie and read the articles, I think this is the most important question really. Aside from the direct connection with the economy, I think it is

51
My strongest feeling in response to the film is of betrayal: being betrayed by those I depended on to teach me.

this idea in the US that it is okay to kill Vincent Chin and people who look like him. It’s actually OKAY. A little naughty maybe, but not really evil. And it’s okay because people who look like Chin aren’t really American and they’re always going to do “bad” things to “real” Americans. If Chin had been Black or white, I don’t think it would have been the same story. If he had been Black, the killers might still have gotten off easy at first, but I think that there would have been a lot more protests from across the country, and more politicians—Black, white, maybe Jewish, would have spoken out, more people on the streets would have been sympathetic, and the civil rights case in Cincinnati would not have been overturned. If Chin had been white, the killers would have gone to jail, maybe even gotten the death sentence. But because he was Asian, we don’t get to hear about him in the news or in history. If the killers

der, the subsequent trials, and the activities of the pan-ethnic, cross-class American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) movement. In 2001 the film continues to be one of the most powerful texts for students, not only in an Asian American course, but apparently, judging from their reports, in their entire education up to that point. This extraordinarily powerful documentation and analysis of a 20-year-old anti-Asian hate crime case has consistently given, over more than a decade, college students from many racial backgrounds access to greater clarity in their understanding of many hard-to-teach concepts in race studies: racism as a system beyond Black and white and beyond individual racist acts, white privilege and power, nativism, racialization of Asians, institutionalized racism as in the legal and (in)justice systems, and also in education for excluding Asian America, interconnectedness of race and economics, real-life consequences of racial stereotypes and myths, media and racism, and anti-racist social activism, to name just a few.

had been anything but white, they would have had a much harder time getting off, but when I think about it, they still might have, since they would have been considered “real” Americans, but an Asian is always an enemy alien, deserving to be killed. Anyway, that’s just my opinion. I don’t think it’s a purely white/ Asian thing. I think there is a real feeling out there in both whites and Blacks and maybe anybody that it’s okay to mess with Asian people and you can get away with it. I know because this was the scene at my school. That’s how my friends felt and back then I would have gone along with it. So, in conclusion, my strongest feeling in response to the film is of betrayal: being betrayed by those I depended on to teach me.

It should be abundantly clear, even from a quick perusal of these responses, that both the intellectual and emotional impact on students of the film Who Killed Vincent Chin? remains as powerful in 2001 as when it was first released thirteen years ago and then much closer to the actual events of Chin’s mur-

For Asian American students, two particular and repeating themes emerge in their responses to Who Killed Vincent Chin? First, the factual and emotional honesty of the film gives many Asian American students permission to articulate the anti-Asian violence they have experienced personally as well as the suffocating silence they live with, born of their own fear, unawareness or confusion regarding their own racialization, vulnerability, and in some cases, hopelessness. Seeing Asian America documented publicly and permanently gives legitimacy and validity to their own Asian American realities. Second, Asian American students are surprised and encouraged by the knowledge of the ACJ movement in response to the Chin case. The majority of the Asian American students in my classes over the last decade are 1.5or second-generation, born to immigrant parents. To them, organized, publicly vocal social activism on behalf of justice for Asian Americans is, if not unheard of, considered a “taboo” activity to avoid at all costs. For them, just the knowledge of the possibility of effective pan-Asian American activism is a first step in challenging commonly held assumptions about Asian American “apathy” and their own values regarding anti-racist social activism.

In 1991 students asked: Where was the Vincent Chin case and where was Asian America in our K-12 and college education? A decade later in 2001, students repeat this very same question, almost word for word. The fact that this particular student response has stayed constant for over more than a decade ought to be the most troubling theme that has emerged from this retrospection. These identical

52
Suddenly I have a whole new way of understanding what it means to be Asian in America.

statements provide us with irrefutable evidence that Asian America continues to be systematically omitted from American education across the nation. That Asian America was a curriculum gap in the sixties and seventies and even early eighties is not news. (In fact, it was Asian American realization of this gap and the critical need to fill it that spawned the Asian American Studies movement back in 1968 and sustains our efforts at knowledge production today.) In contrast, an Asian American curriculum gap in national American educational curriculum today is cause for the gravest alarm. Asian American Studies has been with us for over three decades. In the past dozen years, it has grown rapidly, giving rise to an explosion of new programs across the nation and rich knowledge production. During this same period, multicultural curriculum transformation projects to include previously omitted and marginalized knowledge have been underway and enjoyed success in many schools and colleges. It is within the context of these developments that we must ask with the highest level of urgency: Why are an overwhelming number of students from reputable schools across the nation coming to and graduating from college with no knowledge of Asian Americans, worse, no awareness that this knowledge is missing from their education? Who is making use of the knowledge produced in the field of Asian American Studies and to what end? Where and to whom is this knowledge taught? What happened to the compelling need for the inclusion of Asian America in an American curriculum for the twenty-first century? In a quick survey of my class in 2001, every single student could identify and give information about the cases of Rodney King, James Byrd, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, and Matthew Shepard. When I asked them how they had come to know these cases, a significant number of students reported that they had learned details in high school and college class discussions, in addition to what they had gleaned from the media. In contrast, not a single student could identify, let alone give the facts of the cases of Vincent Chin, Jim Loo, Navroze Mody, Naoki Kamijima, Mukesh and Kanu Patel, Kuan Chung Kao, Thien Minh Ly, and Joseph Ileto. For my students, Asian America simply did not exist.

Twenty years after Vincent Chin’s brutal murder and subsequent horrific betrayal of justice played out in the US (in)justice system, one of the most powerful legacies of his case is what it can teach us about Asian America, about the experience of Asian racialization in the US, about deep institutionalized anti-Asian racism in this society, and about the urgent need for new generations to develop skills to combat

entrenched systematic racism, not only on behalf of Asian Americans but for all racially oppressed peoples. In the case of Asian America, without systematic awareness and knowledge of its history and current realities, the acquisition of skills required to fight anti-Asian racism cannot begin. If, in our contact and work with the nation’s educators, we can not succeed in changing their American habit of mind that sees Asian America as un-American and the American practice of excluding what is Asian America from the American story, then the knowledge produced within Asian American Studies will benefit a very precious few. (I am referring to the relatively miniscule number of students across the nation who ends up taking, often “on a lark,” a college-level Asian American course.) Until we manage to have the teaching of Who Killed Vincent Chin? and the rest of Asian American history and contemporary issues included systematically in standard K-12 and college curricula, students in years to come will continue to be betrayed by their American education.

Jean Wu is professor emerita of Race Studies and Asian American Studies at Tufts University. She co-leads the only Asian American Pacific Islander Educators' Mentorship Program for AAPI teachers in the US.

My question is how come no one told us about this in school?
53
I went to the best prep school. I never studied Asian Americans.

KNOW THEM, KNOW THEIR NAMES

1982-2022

This article contains disturbing details about numerous fatal attacks against Asian Americans from the 1980s to the present. Based on anecdotal reports, it is not exhaustive. In most of these, racism was not considered by officials and media. If you plan to discuss the story of Vincent Chin with students and young people, we recommend that you review the contents of this article first. We encourage you to prioritize wellbeing before continuing with this article, and take as many breaks as needed to process the information.

June 23, 1982, Detroit MI—Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American died after being beaten with a baseball bat by two white autoworkers who blamed Japan for the collapse of the auto industry. The two killers were sentenced to probation and fines, leading to protests and a national Asian American civil rights movement.

May 4, 1983, Davis, CA—17-year-old Vietnamese student Thong Hy Huynh was stabbed to death in the hallway of his high school in a racially motivated attack by another student. On the day of his funeral, a student organization by the name “White Student Union” issued racist leaflets blaming immigrants for taking jobs.

February 29, 1984, New York, NY—Ly Yung Cheung, age 19, a pregnant garment worker who immigrated from Hong Kong, was pushed in front of a subway train and decapitated by a white man who claimed to have a “fear” of Asians. Police said the killing was not racially motivated.

January 30 1985, Raleigh, NC—Jean Kar-Har Fewel, an 8-year-old from Hong Kong was adopted by a white American couple. On her way to school, the second-grader was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and hanged from a tree—not long after a men’s magazine ran a “feature” depicting Asian women in death-like poses, including hanging from a tree.

September 27, 1987, Hoboken, NJ—Navroze Mody, 30, an Indian American, was killed by a group of 11 Latinx youths in a group called “Dotbusters” with the avowed purpose to rid the area of “Hindus.” Mody was of the Zoroastrian faith. Prosecutors said repeatedly this was not racial incident because no slurs were used.

January 17, 1989, Stockton, CA—Five Asian children—Raphanar Or, 8, Ram Chun, 8, Thuy Tran, 6, Sokhim An, 6, and Oeun Lim, 8—were killed and 30 others wounded at a school with 80% Southeast Asian students. A white gunman fired a semiautomatic weapon into the schoolyard. Law enforcement and the media quickly dismissed a racial motive despite reports of racial tensions. California AAPIs demanded an investigation by the state Attorney General, who found that the killer had white supremacist ties.

July 29, 1989, Raleigh, NC—Jim Ming Hai Loo, a 24-year-old Chinese American student, was confronted by two white men at local pool hall who claimed that their “brothers didn’t come back from Vietnam because of you,” though they had no such brother. They assaulted Loo, who died two days later. Prosecutors did not consider the killing to be racially motivated because no racial slurs were identified.

54

December 26, 1989, Queens, NY—Five Asian Americans were beaten by a group of forty white youths who belonged to a gang named “The Master Race.” One of the victims was hospitalized for two days. The police claimed it was not bias-related attack because they argued that “Bruce Lee” was not a racial slur.

October 17, 1992, Baton Rouge, LA—Yoshihiro Hattori, a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student, went to a Halloween party with a friend but ended up at the wrong house. Though the teenager was maskless and wearing a white tuxedo, the homeowner claimed to feel “threatened” and said he shot Hattori to death in self-defense; he was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

April 29, 1997, Rohnert Park, CA—Taiwan-born microbiologist Kuanchung Kao, was waving a wooden stick in front his own home late at night, upset over a racist incident earlier that evening. Police called to the neighborhood shot him to death shortly after arriving, saying he waved the stick “martial arts” style. Despite community protests, no police were charged.

August 10, 1999, Chatsworth, CA—Joseph Ileto, a 39-year-old Filipino American USPS postal worker was shot and killed by a white supremacist. The neo-Nazi had just fired into a Jewish community center when he saw Ileto delivering mail and shot the postal worker nine times, because he saw Ileto as Latino or Asian and a federal employee.

September 15, 2001, Mesa, AZ—Four days after 9/11, Sikh American Balbir Singh Sodhi was murdered at his gas station by a man who said he wanted to “kill a Muslim.” Sodhi was targeted because of his turban and beard worn as part of his Sikh faith. Japanese Americans and other AAPI community and civil rights groups condemned the pervasive Islamophobia.

July 13, 2003, San Jose CA—Police shot and killed Cau Bich Tran, a 4'9" Vietnamese woman, within seconds of arriving at her apartment; she was shouting and waving a vegetable peeler. Police said they felt threatened. Mass protests followed but no police were charged.

July 22, 2006 Minneapolis, MN—Fong Lee, 19-year-old Hmong American, was shot eight times and killed by Minneapolis police. The family disputed the claim that Lee was armed, but the police officer was exonerated. In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Lee’s mother Youa Vang spoke out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

August 5, 2012, Oak Creek, WI—Six Sikh Americans—Paramjit Kaur, 41; Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the founder of the gurdwara; Prakash Singh, 39; Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; and Suveg Singh, 84—were killed by a white supremacist who opened fire in a Sikh temple while people were praying. In addition to the fatalities, many others were wounded. The attack sent shockwaves through South Asian American communities, especially those of the Sikh faith. It continues to be one of the worst mass shootings in a house of worship.

55

June 9, 2017, Urbana, IL—Yingying Zhang, a Chinese visiting scholar, was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and dismembered. The killer disposed of her body in multiple garbage bags that were never recovered. Yingying’s parents continue to search for their daughter’s remains.

January 6, 2020, San Francisco, CA—Yik Oi Huang, an 89-year-old Chinese American, died from injuries after being severely beaten when she went for her morning walk near her home. The beloved grandmother never recovered from the multiple fractures. Her granddaughter Sasanna Yee made a public appeal asking that the attack not be used to inflame tensions between Asian and Black communities.

March 2, 2020, San Francisco, CA—Jaxon Sales, age 20, was adopted from South Korea as a child and found dead in the apartment of an acquaintance. The police labeled his death accidental but his family believes that this case wasn’t fully investigated because Jaxon was LGBTQ+, saying Jaxon’s case “exemplifies the intersectional exclusion of AAPI and the LGBTQ communities.”

September 19, 2020, Milwaukee, WI—Ee Lee, a 36-year-old Hmong American woman, was raped and killed in an allegedly racially motivated daylight attack by two teenagers while nine others watched. She was left for dead, but the perpetrators recorded and shared the rape on cell phones. The Hmong American Women’s Association organized vigils to support the family and condemn the violence.

January 28, 2021, San Francisco, CA—Vicha Ratanpakdee, an 84-year-old Thai American, was killed by being forcefully pushed to the ground in a daylight attack while taking his daily walk. His daughter and son-in-law have organized protests to have the attack charged as hate motivated, while the district attorney and some Asian American communities emphasize alternatives to prison.

March 16, 2021, Atlanta, GA—Six Asian women and two other people were killed by a mass shooter. The six Asian women were Xiaojie Emily Tran (49), Yong Ae Yue (63), Sun Cha Kim (69), Hyun Jung Grant (51), Soon Chung Park (74), and Daoyou Feng (44). The shooter hunted for Asian-owned spa businesses to attack. The next day, the police spokesman told media that the killer was having a “bad day;” and dismissed the possibility of racial motivation, instead saying it was “sex addiction.” The comments were widely criticized for their bias, which excused the killer, diminished the lives of the Asian American women killed and dismissed the racialized sexualization of Asian women.

April 15, 2021, Indianapolis, IN—A mass shooting took place at a FedEx Ground facility where the majority of workers were Sikh Americans. The gunman killed eight people, then committed suicide. Four of the dead were Sikh: Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66, was a mother and grandmother; Jasvinder Kaur, 50, was a mother of two; Amarjit Sekhon, 48, was the sole provider for two sons and a disabled husband; Jaswinder Singh, 68, was a husband, grandfather, and father of three, who had worked at the Fedex facility for less than a week.

56

April 23, 2021, New York, NY—Yao Pan Ma, 61, was knocked down from behind and kicked multiple times in his head in Harlem. He fell into a coma until the last day of 2021, when he died of his injuries in his hospital bed. A recent immigrant, Yao had lost his dishwashing job and was collecting cans to support his family when he was attacked.

June 28, 2021, Yucca Valley Desert, CA—Lauren Cho, a 30-year-old Korean American, went missing in the Yucca Valley Desert. Her remains were identified months later and her disappearance sparked a social media discussion of “missing white woman syndrome,” or the tendency of the media to pay significantly less attention to the disappearance of women of color.

July 2, 2021, Sandy, UT—Masako Kenley was 53 years old and a mother of four when she was reported missing. A postal worker for twenty years, her coworkers described her as kind, loving, and always willing to help others. Her body was found; she was last seen on her way to have dinner with friends.

November 18, 2021, Stamford, CT—Shin Maeno, 28, was leaving a friend’s apartment around noon. Six days later his body was found after a five-day search for his whereabouts.

January 15, 2022, New York, NY—Michelle Go, 40, was pushed onto the tracks of the Times Square subway station. She was a 10-year volunteer for the New York Junior League, working on projects to address homelessness. Media focused on the mental status of the killer and dismissed any racial motivation.

January 24, 2022, Albuquerque, NM—Sihui Fang, age 45 and an immigrant from China’s Hubei province, was robbed and shot to death in her massage spa. Three weeks later, on February 15, an unnamed massage spa owner was also killed. Reports indicated that more than 20 robberies targeted massage spas around the same timeframe.

February 13, 2022, New York, NY—Christina Yuna Lee, 35, worked on an online music platform as an artist. She was followed into her apartment building and stabbed over 40 times. An art exhibit at the studio where she once worked highlights the challenges facing American women in US society.

February 22, 2022, Queens, NY—Guiying Ma, 62, a wife and grandmother, was attacked in November when she was sweeping the sidewalk outside her home. Her death, after a 10-week coma, is counted as NYC’s fourth anti-Asian hate-motivated killing in the first two months of 2022.

April 15, 2022, Honolulu, HI—Unknown, a 79-year-old Asian man was walking in Honolulu’s Chinatown when he was set on fire by a man behind him. The suspect was apprehended but the elder suffered severe burns and his health outcome is uncertain.

May 12, 2022, Dallas, TX—A shooter opened fire into an Asian American hair salon business, injuring three Korean American women. The police chief initially said that hate was not involved, only to reverse after links to other shootings targeting Asian businesses were found.

57

KEY DATES IN THE VINCENT CHIN MOVEMENT

1922: C.W. Hing Chin immigrates to the US at age 17. He enlists in the US Army during World War II.

1948: Lily Yee, 27, joins her new husband, C.W. Hing Chin, in Detroit and works the laundry business.

May 18, 1955: Vincent Chin is born in Guangdong Province, China.

1961: Lily and C.W. Hing Chin adopt six-yearold Vincent.

1965: Vincent is naturalized and becomes an American.

November 3, 1981: Vincent’s father passes away after a long illness.

June 19, 1982: On the eve of his bachelor party, Vincent Chin is hunted and attacked by two white autoworkers and bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat.

June 23, 1982: Vincent Chin dies after being removed from life support.

February 8, 1983: Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz enter pleas of guilty and no contest, respectively, to reduced charges of manslaughter.

March 16, 1983: Wayne County circuit judge Charles Kaufman sentences each to three years of probation, a $3,000 fine, plus court costs and no jail time.

March 16, 1983: Henry Yee, Kin Yee and Helen Zia meet at Golden Star restaurant in Ferndale and organize a larger meeting there on March 21, 1983.

March 25, 1983: ACJ reps have an appointment to meet with Judge Kaufman. While they wait outside his courtroom, he cancels the meeting to “go on vacation early.”

April 17, 1983: More than 200 attend an ACJ meeting with a US Dept. of Justice representative to discuss the possibility of a federal civil rights investigation.

April 29, 1983: Attorneys Liza Chan and Dan Hoekenga appear before Judge Kaufman to argue that he must vacate his sentence. ACJ organizes 100 courtwatchers to attend the hearing.

March 31, 1983: ACJ is founded in Detroit’s Chinatown by about 100 Asian Americans from the metro area.

May 4, 1983: Liza Chan and Helen Zia address questions from members of the African American community on a Black talk radio show.

May 9, 1983: ACJ organizes a rally of about 1,000 protesters at Kennedy Square in Detroit.

May 21, 1983: Alvin Sykes visits ACJ to share his community’s success in seeking a federal civil rights prosecution in the beating death of Steven Harvey, a Black musician, who was killed in a Kansas City, MO, park.

June 3, 1983: Judge Kaufman further justifies his sentence of probation for Ebens and Nitz, explaining “If it had been a brutal murder,” he would have sent them to prison.

June 16, 1983: Congressman Norman Mineta and ACJ reps speak out in Chicago against anti-Asian violence.

June 19, 1983: Vincent Chin Remembrance rallies are held in Chicago, Detroit, LA, New York, San Francisco and Toronto, one-year after his slaying.

June 29, 1983: Lily Chin and ACJ representatives go to Washington, DC, to meet with Department of Justice officials, seeking a federal investigation into possible violations of Vincent Chin’s civil rights.

July 6, 1983: US Attorney Leonard Gilman announces that the FBI will investigate the killing of Vincent Chin.

July 14, 1983: Chuck Moy of ACJ addresses the inaugural meeting of the Democratic Party Asian Pacific American caucus in San Francisco.

58

November 2, 1983: A federal grand jury indicts Ebens and Nitz on two counts of interfering with Vincent Chin’s civil rights.

June 5, 1984: The federal trial begins in the court of Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit.

June 28, 1984: The jury finds Ebens guilty of one count of interference with Chin’s civil rights. Nitz is acquitted.

July 16, 1984: Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Lily Chin and ACJ reps in San Francisco to support justice for Vincent Chin and in solidarity against anti-Asian hate.

September 18, 1984: Judge Taylor sentences Ebens to 25 years In prison. He appeals and is released on bond.

September 11, 1986: Ebens’s conviction is reversed on appeal; the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals cites evidentiary errors and pre-trial publicity.

September 19, 1986: The Justice Department announces will retry the case against Ebens.

April 22, 1987: The new federal trial against Ebens begins in Cincinnati, OH.

May 1, 1987: Ebens is acquitted by a jury of 11 whites and one Black; none was acquainted with any Asian Americans.

POSTSCRIPT

July 1987: In the wrongful death civil suit filed on behalf of Lily Chin, Ebens is ordered to pay $1.5 million to the estate of Vincent Chin. Ebens tells a reporter that Vincent’s mother will never see that money, and he tries to evade the judgment by moving out of Michigan.

September 1987: After spending most of her life in the Detroit area, Vincent Chin’s mother Lily leaves the US and moves to Guangzhou, China, because it is too painful to stay in America.

April 19, 1992: In Los Angeles, the killer of 14-yearold Latasha Harlins is sentenced to probation and fines. Shopowner Soon Ja Du shot Latasha over an alleged shoplifting accusation. The light sentence triggered mass protests in LA’s Black community and contributed to the civil unrest and riots that destroyed about 3,000 Korean businesses.

June 9, 2002: Lily Chin dies, two weeks before the twentieth anniversary of her son’s death.

February 26, 2012: In Sanford, FL, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy, is racially profiled and shot to death near his father’s home by George Zimmerman, who said the boy “looked suspicious.” Zimmerman was acquitted, sparking protests that helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement.

The wrongful death judgment levied against Ronald Ebens for taking Vincent Chin’s life remains active. Though he never spent a day in jail, he will never have a day free of the debt he owes to Lily Chin and the Asian American community.

The movement to bring justice for Vincent Chin inspired countless individuals to strive to make a positive difference in their communities and in society. Numerous pan-Asian American organizations were also established; to name just a few: Asian Pacific American Legal Center (Los Angeles), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Washington, D.C.); Break the Silence coalition (Northern California); Committee Against Anti-Asian V iolence (New York).

On the policy level, the US Commission on Civil Rights issued periodic reports on anti-Asian violence; local and state hate crimes legislative initiatives culminated in the 2010 Matthew Shepard James Byrd Hate Crimes Protection Act that protects people from violations based on perceived gender, sexual orientation and disability; and victims’ rights legislation that allows victims to speak at sentencing about the harm they experienced.

In 2021, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, introduced by Senator Mazie K. Hirono (HI) and Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY), was signed into law, to help address the sharp rise in anti-Asian and other hate incidents by expediting the review of hate crimes and supporting the investigation, identification and reporting of bias incidents, w hich are often underreported.

59

RISING TOGETHER, STRONGER THAN EVER

Spurred on by the anti-Asian hate that dominated the 1980s, characterized by intense targeting and blaming of Japan for America’s ills, Asian Americans came together in a new civil rights movement, joining Black people, Jews, Arab Americans, Latinx groups, and people of diverse faiths, genders, and backgrounds. Our efforts inspired the creation of many new Asian American Pacific Islander advocacy groups and contributed to the movement for hate crimes protections, as well as the right of victims to speak at the sentencing of their assailants.

These and other changes represented real progress, even if they did not put an end to violent incidents against Asians in the US. But starting in 2019, the escalation of xenophobic hate triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a potent reminder of how far we still have to go. The StopAAPIHate.org

website documented more than 11,000 hate incidents from March 2020 through March 2022, including mass killings of Asian women in Atlanta and Sikh Americans in Indianapolis.

Of those 11,000 reports, more than two-thirds of the victims were women, girls and elderly Asian Americans. It is worth noting that Vincent Chin was killed in the third year of his era’s economic crisis; today, more than two years after the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed, the current attacks on Asian Americans persist with no end in sight.

Twenty-four million people now identify as Asian American, comprising 7% of the US population—and our numbers continue to rise. By comparison, in the 1980s the Asian American population had surpassed 1% of the US for the first time, according to the census. Yet even with this striking increase

60

of Americans of Asian descent, the general invisibility of Asian American communities, narratives, history, voices, concerns, and existence remains the norm in the dominant American culture. When American respondents are asked to name a prominent Asian American of any background, the most common answer is “Don’t Know.” After this writer's 2020 Washington Post op-ed, many people asked if it was true that Asian Americans really experienced prejudice and racial violence. Even when presidential candidate Joe Biden was pointedly asked about anti-Asian hate in America during a TV interview, his response focused entirely on Xi Jinping and the People’s Republic of China.

This widespread ignorance creates barriers for Asian Americans who experience and call out discrimination. For example, back in 1982 a witness heard Vincent’s killers say, “It’s because of you motherf---ers that we’re out of work.” Yet to many observers at the time, such statements showed no racial motivation because no race-specific slurs were used. In fact, as vulnerable people know too well, discrimination can occur without the articulation of identifiable slurs—or any vocalization at all.

Similarly, after the March 2021 mass shooting in Atlanta, local police initially asserted that no racism was involved because the killer told them that he was just having a “bad day”—as though his hunt to find Asian-run spas had no relevance. The white police officials seemed to accept without question the shooter’s explanation that he was trying to cure his “sex addiction”—a justification rooted in racist and sexist stereotypes of Asian women.

Just as anti-Japan fervor contributed to Vincent Chin’s murder, today’s hostility toward Asian Americans has been stoked by years of China-bashing. As the Japan-bashing of the 1980s waned, the 1990s fear-mongers shifted to the “China threat.” Asian Americans who simply made a donation to President Bill Clinton’s campaign were investigated by the FBI and publicly touted as likely dangerous conduits to China—even Asian Americans of Filipino, Korean, Thai or other non-Chinese ancestry. Today’s aggressive dragnet in search of Chinese spies has led to false criminal charges against numerous innocent Chinese Americans. The Trump administration’s “China Initiative” touted by FBI director Christopher Wray has only accelerated the pace of unsubstantiated investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of Chinese Americans.

Nor is the anti-Asian hate limited to East Asian Americans. In the wake of September 11, 2001, there were numerous attacks and killings of people who

“look Muslim,” motivated by Islamophobia toward Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Americans. On August 5, 2012, a heavily armed white gunman with ties to neo-Nazis entered a busy Sikh gurdwara and began shooting, killing seven temple-goers. Muslim-bashing policies, such as the 2017 federal “Muslim Ban” order that barred people from majority Muslim countries from entering the US, continue to equate Muslims with terrorists and perpetuate Islamophobic attacks. In April 2021, just a month after the mass shootings of East Asian women in Atlanta, another mass shooter went to a Fedex facility in Indianapolis, where a majority of employees are South Asian, killing eight people, including four Sikh Americans.

Unfortunately, tensions between the US and China, as well as with the Middle East and Western Asia, show no signs of abating in the foreseeable future. Until education, public culture, and stronger policies in America can promote understanding and awareness about Asian Americans and other marginalized peoples, the harm of prejudice and hate is likely to continue its impact on yellow and brown Asian Americans of every ethnicity.

In spite of these challenges, Asian American communities are both resisting and evolving in dynamic, forward motion. The AAPI population has increased considerably in recent decades—and AAPI voices are strengthened by a growing infrastructure of activists, leadership, and organizations more empowered to speak up to counter the invisibility and take on thorny issues. Confidence is also rising with respect to the role that AAPIs play in American society can be seen in the very words used to describe today’s challenges: for example, in the 1980s, Asian Americans decried anti-Asian “sentiment”—a euphemistic reference to a “feeling” or “attitude.” With today’s

61

violence, more unflinching, pointed language calls out anti-Asian “prejudice,” “bias,” “intolerance,” “hate,” “racism,” and any number of words that more precisely and unapologetically capture the societal nature of what Asians in America are facing.

Technological change has also shaped new generations of activists. In the 1980s, there were no mobile phones or internet to inform and connect our diverse and separate communities. Today, AAPIs armed with smartphone cameras and social media are building solidarity to resist the hate and bigotry. AAPI community activists made StopAAPIHate.org accessible in several Asian languages, capturing data from thousands of incident reports in order to document and validate the existence of anti-Asian hate in the early months of the pandemic, when restrictions on gatherings made communication a challenge.

Social media and the internet have also highlighted how AAPIs are standing with Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities to fight systemic racism, especially in the face of police killings of Black Americans and other people of color, including Asian Americans. AAPI activists are debating the role of the police in society and are questioning racism that is imbedded in the prison industrial system. Some activists question the need for hate crime protection laws that increase jail time, even those laws fought for by communities of color, such as in Vincent Chin’s case.

Other Asian American communities, especially Chinatowns and other Asian hubs, seek more government protections against anti-Asian violence. But social media has also been used to perpetuate divisions when videos of Black assailants assaulting Asian American go viral and are amplified by media, creating a false narrative even when two separate studies have shown that the majority of anti-Asian hate assaults are committed by white males, not by Black people. Divisiveness and false narratives

prevent communities from coming together to fight for their common needs, such as safe and livable communities. The Vincent Chin story offers a counter example of solidarity between many different peoples who came together in a movement led by Asian Americans to fight for civil rights and justice for all. Back in March 2020, this writer warned that anti-Asian hate was not going away. I believe it has the potential to get worse, depending on what happens with the virus, the global economy, upheaval in the midst of the war in Ukraine, and the status of US-China relations. Building a society in which violence and hate do not exist remains an elusive dream. But a crucial difference between then and now is clear: Asian Americans are rising up, insisting on an end to invisibility, hate violence and injustice. When history is finally written about the American experience during these difficult COVID years, Asian Americans have have important stories about the struggle of diverse communities refusing to be blamed and ignored, and standing together for human dignity.

Conversation Questions

» What does it mean to have allies and be an ally for other groups? What does meaningful allyship look like to you?

» The process of learning new information and unlearning biases can be a difficult and surprising journey. After reading the articles in this guide, take a moment to reflect on what you learned, and what you will choose to actively unlearn. As you continue to learn and unlearn, what are some tangible ways in which you can support yourself in your journey? Perhaps it is through reading, talking with someone in a different community, or having difficult conversations with family or friends. Everything you do, and try, will be important work.

» Why do we need to talk about Vincent Chin, and Asian Americans who came before him, and after him?

62
Asian Americans have stories to tell about diverse communities refusing to be blamed and ignored, and standing together for human dignity.
63

CREDITS

Chief Editor and Writer Helen Zia

Editor and Design Sara Ying Rounsaville

Copy Editing Christine Sarkis, Lia Shigemura

Editorial Assistant Olivia Ying Rounsaville

Contributors Eveline Chao (The Guardian); Roland Hwang (Michigan Bar Journal); Min Jin Lee (The New York Times)

Conversation Questions

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Design and Production Polytechnic Berkeley

Research for Know Them, Know Their Names : Daniella Castillo, Dianne A. Barba, Eric Chan

Supported by Dr. Mary Kunmi Yu Danico, CalPolyPomona, Asian American Transnational Research Initiative

Translations (Digital Version) Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Editorial Support Asian Health Services, One Nation Commission

All articles and written content are authored by Helen Zia, except where otherwise noted. Any errors are hers alone.

VINCENT CHIN LEGACY GUIDE SPONSORS

The Kresge Foundation

Surdna Foundation

The Henry Luce Foundation

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

The Asian American Foundation (TAAF)

PHOTO CREDITS

Cover (lower photo): Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary; p 34: AP photo; p 36: AP photo/Bill Hudson; p 39: courtesy National Archives

Photo/Spider Martin; p 40: AP photo/Ernest Bennett; p 42: courtesy One Nation Commission; p 48, 53: courtesy Jean Wu; p 60: Unsplash/Korantin Grall; p 61: Unsplash/Viviana Rishe; p 63: courtesy Flickr; p 64 credit Leah Kerr. All other photos courtesy of the collections of Helen Zia and the Vincent And Lily Chin Estate, with special thanks to the late Corky Lee and Victor Yang

Photo above: L-R: Helen Zia and Lily Chin

Photo below: The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide was launched at the Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication, June 16-19, 2022 with American Citizens for Justice and partners. Members of the Planning Committee include, L-R: Don Young, Center for Asian American Media; Debra Nakatomi and Amy Watanabe, Nakatomi & Associates; Zosette Guir, Detroit Public Television; Roland Hwang, American Citizens for Justice; Rebeka Islam, APIAVote-MI; James Shimoura, ACJ; Rochelle Riley, City of Detroit Department of Arts, Cultures, and Entrepreneurship; Helen Zia, Vincent and Lily Chin Estate and Vincent Chin Institute.

64

THE VINCENT CHIN LEGACY GUIDE

Asian Americans and Civil Rights

The Vincent Chin Institute was established July 2022 after the 40th commemoration events to promote understanding of the legacy of Vincent Chin in building unity to counter hate and racism; and to advance the democratic ideals of equal justice and full human dignity for all, including Asian Americans and other historically marginalized people.

With The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide and the vincentchin.org website, the Vincent Chin Institute is

1. reaching out to schools, libraries and policy makers;

2. taking the organizing lessons from the Vincent Chin campaign of building Asian American advocacy where there is little or no AAPI infrastructure; and

3. developing the next generation of AAPI leaders to advance the legacy of Vincent Chin through multiracial, multicultural understanding and community empowerment.

The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide is a discussion guide and teaching tool, as well as a definitive source, to continue the legacy of broad outreach, organizing and education to bring diverse peoples together against hate and violence, to build beloved communities of safety, equity and justice.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center prepared the “Conversation Questions” which appear throughout the guide to assist teachers, students and others in discussing the many issues associated with the Vincent Chin legacy in our multiracial, multicultural democracy. To reach more of the Asian American immigrant communities, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has translated the Vincent Chin Legacy Guide into several Asian languages, including Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified), Korean, Vietnamese, Bengali and also Arabic.

The entire Vincent Chin Legacy Guide is available to the public for viewing and free downloads in multiple languages at vincentchin.org/legacy-guide

MORE RESOURCES

Asian Americans Advancing Justice: www.advancingjustice-aajc.org/anti-asian-hate www.asianamtoolkit.org/the-toolkit

Muslim Advocates: www.muslimadvocates.org/issue/hate-crimes

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association: www.napaba.org/page/HateCrimeResources

National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association: www.naapimha.org/resources

OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates: www.aapihatecrimes.org/resources

One Nation Commission: www.onenationaapi.com

Stop AAPI Hate: www.stopaapihate.org

The Asian American Foundation: www.taaf.org/toolkit

We Are Teachers: www.weareteachers.com/resources-anti-asian-discrimination

STAND UP AGAINST HATE

ACKNOWLEDGE

that Anti-Asian racism exists: educate yourself and others

AMPLIFY AND ORGANIZE

Use your social networks and organize to amplify and condemn anti-Asian racism and hate against any people

OPPOSE AND REJECT

Anti-Asian and other racist and hateful language and policies

EQUIP yourself and others with in-the-moment tools—online resources and social media

PRACTICE

your own strong reaction and defenses

PREPARE FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS

Discuss racial prejudice, name calling and bullying, and empower them with actions and language to respond

REPORT

racial incidents and alert authorities and media

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH CONSEQUENCES

Engage officials on the local, state, and national levels

SUPPORT

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and other communities of colors’ nonprofits and businesses

EDUCATE

using all platforms and media, reaching out to K-12 and higher education, encourage officials at all levels to provide resources and teacher support for Asian American curricula

This Legacy Guide is available for free downloads at vincentchin.org in English and other Asian languages on the website vincentchin.org/legacy-guide. For more information, including how to obtain copies for libraries and schools, contact the VINCENT CHIN INSTITUTE, info@vincentchin.org.

9 7 9 8 2 1 8 0 0 6 4 2 6 9 0 0 0 0 > ISBN 979-8-218-00642-6
Los Angeles, California San Francisco, California Detroit, Michigan
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.