I Am a Child of the Vincent Chin Tragedy

The tragic beating death of Vincent Chin 30 years ago, breathed life into the modern Asian-American political movement. I am a child born into a world without Vincent Chin.

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.

Ebens (pictured above) and Nitz were arrested at the scene of the crime and convicted of manslaughter (plead down from second-degree murder). They served no jail time, served 3 years probation, and paid a $3000 fine. They were later charged with, and acquitted of, federal hate crime charges.

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.

Act Now! VC30, an online Google Hangout panel discussion, marking 30 years since Vincent Chin’s death, is happening right now.

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