Chin had been in a coma for four days after being attacked by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. The two Chrysler factory workers reportedly said to Chin, “it’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work” — a reference to competition between American and Japanese auto workers, although Chin was Chinese American — moments before the father-and-son team fatally bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat.
Justice was never found in the hate crime murder of Vincent Chin. Ebens and Nitz paid a $3000 fine for killing Chin. Neither man ever served a day in jail. (To learn more about Vincent Chin’s murder, check out Who Killed Vincent Chin?)
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.