Vincent Chin died in hospital on June 23rd, 1982, four days before he was scheduled to marry his fiancee.
Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz received a bare slap on the wrist for the crime. The cost for the murder of an Asian American man: 3 years of probation and $3000 in court fees.
Vincent Chin’s case was a watershed moment for the Asian American community. Chin’s death terrified because it was proof that racism swept all of us with the same brush, and that we could no longer hide behind the walls of ethnic factionalism. The Vincent Chin tragedy was about all of us.
Published days before 2014’s Asian American Heritage Month opens, Neal Rubin (@nealrubin_dn) of the The Detroit News (one of the city’s conservative papers) has written one of the most bizarre, incoherent and irresponsible stories to-date on the Vincent Chin murder. (Note: Rubin and/or his editors have since made numerous changes to the story; thanks to reader @DorisTruong for pulling a cached version that appeared prior to the edits, .pdf)
Under the headline “What we all assume we know about the Vincent Chin case probably isn’t so“, Rubin rejected the documented facts. Instead, he penned today an alternate history: a weird screed so sensationalized, incoherent, and libelous that it seems more appropriate for the pages of a tabloid magazine than a newspaper of any repute. In so doing, Rubin reopens for Asian Americans the painful memory of a traumatizing miscarriage of justice, and pours salt into the wound with unfounded hearsay.
To say that the Asian American community is outraged would be an understatement.
In the wake of the #AsianPrivilege response hash-tag to #NotYourAsianSidekick and #BlackPowerYellowPeril, it appears as if (among other misguided ideas) there is a prevailing notion out there that, in contrast to other minorities, Asian Americans “lack a history of resistance” (or that we think we do), and that this invisibility and dearth of civil rights history actually confers upon the Asian American community a form of racial privilege.
Putting aside the second half of that assertion regarding privilege for a minute, there’s one other major problem: any argument that relies upon the assumption that Asian Americans lack a history of resistance is patently ahistorical.
Like really, really, really wrong. Like insultingly wrong.
After the jump, here are 10 examples of Asian American’s history of oppression and political resistance.
Thirty years ago, today, on June 23, 1982, Vincent Chin died.
Four days earlier, Vincent Chin was brutally beaten by two men — Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz — who mistook the young Chinese-American man for being Japanese, and blamed him for recent American job losses to the booming Japanese auto industry. Following a heated exchange at the Fancy Pants strip club, where Chin was celebrating his bachelor party, Ebens and Nitz stalked Chin for 30 minutes and finally confronted him at a local McDonald’s. “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” yelled Ebens, as he bludgeoned Chin in the head with a baseball bat at least four times in the McDonald’s parking lot, while his step-son, Nitz, held Chin to the ground.
Chin slipped into a coma, and died four days later. He was 27.
I was born two months after Chin’s death, into a world without Vincent Chin.
The world I know is one wherein hate crimes against Chinese Americans have a name and a face. We know the price of a Chinese American’s life in the eyes of the justice system: $3000.
The injustice of Vincent Chin’s death — and its aftermath — still gnaws within our community. In the weeks, months and years following Chin’s death, the bitterness felt by those injustices helped cement the foundation of the contemporary “Asian-American” identity; our parents put aside their differences in language, culture, ethnicity and class to unite as a single, political force to give a voice to Vincent Chin and the Asian American people.
That injustice also gave birth to an entire generation of young Asian Americans who have proudly reappropriated our Asian-American identity; who have proudly proclaimed our political activism; who have proudly owned our anger.
We, the children of the Vincent Chin tragedy, cannot pretend that racism does not exist and that we cannot fall victim to it; for Vincent Chin’s death, and the countless other victims of anti-Asian assaults and murders, proves that the world is not yet post-racial. We cannot afford to see the divisions of ethnicity within the Asian American diaspora; for the Ebenses and the Nitzes of the world do not. We cannot afford to believe that America will protect our lives and our property; for, in a dark McDonald’s parking lot thirty years ago and in courtrooms years later, the justice system failed us.
But we, the children of the Vincent Chin tragedy, are also fortunate to have grown up in a community made stronger by the bonds forged in the wake of Vincent Chin’s death. We are each gifted with a defined sense of being a part of a larger Asian-American movement, one that has evolved into a strong, vocal, and highly-responsive group of advocates on a wide range of issues affecting our people, including racism, healthcare, immigration, and pop culture stereotyping. As an Asian-American blogger, I feel kinship with a widespread, yet close-knit, community of other activists, commentators, and academics; even though most of us have never met face-to-face, it feels as if we are a family connected through the shared narrative of the Asian-American experience.
30 years after Vincent Chin’s death, my fear is that the world without Vincent Chin has started to forget the world before the Vincent Chin tragedy. I fear that the next generation of Asian Americans has never known a time when generalized political apathy and disconnect plagued our community, as it arguably did in the post-1960’s. I fear that they will take for granted the bonds that tie together the contemporary Asian-American movement, and more importantly the hard work by our parents to build those bridges within our community. I fear that they will forget the need to declare — loudly, proudly, angrily, and in a single voice — that we are above all Asian-American.
I think it’s ironic that the night of Vincent Chin’s brutal beating was meant to be one of the last nights of his bachelorhood; had Vincent Chin lived, he would have, in essence, embarked on a new life as a married man. Although we grieve his death, I’m struck by how June 23, 1982 marks the transition into a new life for the Asian American community; and in that, perhaps we can take heart in the realization that Vincent Chin did not die in vain. Perhaps, we can take heart in a renewed commitment to stand up, stay angry, and above all, never forget.
The news just broke that Rodney King, whose videotaped beating at the hands of LAPD in 1991 and the subsequent acquittal of the participating officers, triggered widespread rioting including the infamous LA Riots, has died. He was 47.
With only a few moments to process the importance of King’s death, I can’t help but react with sadness: Rodney King’s was a life over-shadowed by race. The police who attacked him took from King the chance to live a life outside of the spotlight. For our part, we were accomplices: we made King — and his beating — into a powerful symbol of racial injustice, forgetting that he was also just a man.
In the coming week, it’s likely that King’s death will rejuvenate discussion over his 1991 beating, the subsequent trials, and the corresponding riots. We will talk about race, police brutality and the justice system. We will talk about the landmark importance of the riots in energizing the African-American community, and how it helped raise awareness about racial bias against that community at the hands of local officers and the justice system.
In all this discussion, let us not forget the victims of the L.A. Riots. The 1992 L.A. Riots resulted in widespread targeting predominantly of Korean-American immigrants, particularly small business owners who served predominantly African American communities. There was also widespread looting of those businesses resulting in millions of dollars in property damage. Countless armed showdowns occurred between looters and members of the Korean-American, which gave the appearance of an all-out race war. The L.A. Riots would later be known as Sa-I-Gu within the Korean-American community, and has become a prime example of the ongoing interracial tension between the Black and Asian communities that continues into today.
In the aftermath of Sa-I-Gu, Asian Americans wondered why our community bore the brunt of racial anger expressed by the African-American community against White cops. We wondered why Koreans were abandoned by L.A. police, and forced to arm and defend themselves. We were also forced to face the racial implications brought on when Korean-American immigrants enter into all-Black, economically-stressed enclaves to open businesses, siphoning money out of those communities. We had to contemplate whether we had contributed to inter-ethnic tension by permitting Korean-American business owners to treat their own clientele with suspicion and sometimes even open racial hostility.
Looking back at the riots today, I am struck by how little relations have improved between the Black and Asian communities. Racism remains between Blacks and Asians with few examples of shared political interests and efforts. Few inroads have been made between our communities, and there is little consideration (by either side) about coalition-building over common issues like race, education, healthcare, and police brutality. At the risk of appropriating King’s death as we have appropriated his life, I hope we can take this opportunity in the coming weeks to re-examine how the African-American and Asian-American communities interact with one another, and find ways to improve it.
On a semi-unrelated note, it’s also ironic to me that next week marks 30 years since the racially-motivated murder of Vincent Chin at the hands of Ronald Ebens and Michael Nintz. Like Chin, King was a symbolic figure who helped galvanize his community towards political action and activism. But, like Chin, King’s infamy was less about him as a person, and more about the circumstances of his beating (and in Chin’s case, his death). In some ways, King’s life reminds us of the pressure of that kind of fame and notoriety, and the stress of trying to live one’s life to the standards of being cast into the role of a sociopolitical icon. I can’t help but wonder — had Chin lived — what his life would have been like. Would he have been a proud symbol of racial activism? Would he have suffered under the pressure of an entire community looking to his beating — but not him — for inspiration? It saddens me that we may never know.
The bottom line is that both Ronald King and Vincent Chin (and others, like Trayvon Martin) were victims: victims of institutionalized racial hate that indelibly marked — perhaps for better and perhaps for worse — their lives and their legacies. We may never know what life King might have lived had he not been stopped or beaten that night in 1991, but we do know that he will go down in history as yet another life that was forever changed by the ugliness of race in this country.