How we remember Vincent Chin, 40 years after his death

As cities across the country commemorate the death of Vincent Chin, civil rights advocates say the anniversary resonates especially in light of the growing hatred and violence against Asian Americans.

Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Chin, a Chinese American who was killed in Detroit by two white autoworkers who blamed him for the industry layoffs.

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Chin, 27, was celebrating his bachelor party with friends on June 19, 1982, when he was beaten to death by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz. They falsely accused Chin of being Japanese and stealing their jobs. The men involved in Chin’s death have never served prison time.

Decades later, advocates said the racial calculus that emerged in the wake of Chin’s murder paved the way for the latest movement condemning anti-Asian hatred in the United States.

“The Vincent Chin case was the first time Asian Americans came together en masse to say, ‘You know what, we’re all in this together,'” said Helen Zia, the executor of the Chin estate and one of the co-founders of American Citizens for Justice, an Asian American civil rights group founded in response to Chin’s murder. “Many different Asian advocacy organizations were born out of this moment to say ‘never again’.”

Some of that legacy is evident in advocacy events this year from Michigan to New York to California. The Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication Committee held a series of events this week to honor Chin’s death. In Detroit, the committee, for example, is screening “Who Killed Vincent Chin?”, a documentary about his life and murder. The Flushing Hate Free Zone campaign in Queens and the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles hold vigils to celebrate his legacy.

Leaders of advocacy groups such as Whenever We’re Needed and the Japanese American Citizens League take the opportunity to speak at panels on the Asian American civil rights movement.

Despite the efforts, some say there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Vincent Chin was killed during a time of intense anti-Asian hatred. … It was a constant drumbeat,” Zia said. “The significance today is that we are in another time like this.”

From 2020 to 2021, there has been a 339% increase in crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

The ongoing hate crimes reflect a broader pattern of xenophobia and violence targeting the community, said Meera E. Deo, a law professor at Southwestern Law School in California.

“Vincent Chin was another example of many that started when Asians first came to the United States,” Deo said. “Even when media attention wanes, much of society continues to see Asian Americans as perpetual outsiders, passive or submissive outsiders, or non-Americans.”

Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the AAPI Equity Alliance and co-founder of Stop Asian Hate, said the community is pushing for strong anti-discrimination policies and education that values ​​the contributions of Asian Americans and of the Pacific Islands.

“They want strong civil rights protections, real community safety, not just policing,” Kulkarni said. “But a complete community safety solution.”

In the years since Chin’s death, Zia has recalled that her mother, Lily, was one of her strongest advocates for justice. Zia hopes Chin will be remembered as a friendly, “all-American” guy.

“Vincent Chin’s story is an all-American story, and the whole idea of ​​a community standing up for their right to be fully human,” Zia said. “That’s what Vincent Chin represents. That’s what his mother fought for.

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