You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Vincent Chin. You’d also be forgiven if you’re Asian and don’t believe that racism happens either. Those two sentences are co-related. So many of us don’t know much about our own history and it will continue to happen until we begin conversations with stories like Vincent Chin.
Thirty-eight years ago, Vincent Chin was murdered. It happened in Michigan during the collapse of the American auto industry, during the rise of the Japanese car market. Vincent was celebrating his bachelor’s party with some friends at a strip club. Two white guys started chasing and attacking him because they thought he was Japanese. They caught up to him and beat him within an inch of life. He was declared dead four days later in a hospital and the two killers were made to pay a fine of $3000 each with minimal jail time. In other words, they paid a $3000 fee for a license to murder.
We only hear about Vincent Chin today because his story briefly exploded nationally and there was a documentary about him that won an Academy Award. Then, for almost three decades his story was forgotten until social media revitalized it each year on June 19th, the anniversary of his death. Perhaps it’s poetic it coincides with Juneteenth, a day nationally celebrated for the emancipation of black slaves. Commemorative days like Juneteenth and Martin Luther King Day is often mistaken to be about just black history, but in a bigger picture they’re a reminder that a racist system and culture in our country exists. We can’t just ignore it away.
There’ve been tons of Vincent Chins in America. Some killed by whites, some killed by blacks. We do them no justice when we bury them in our memories and don’t fight for Asian-American studies in our schools. Too many Asian-Americans grow up knowledgeable in mathematics, English and general history, but most can’t name even one, two or three historical Asian-American figures or incidents other than the Japanese internment camps or Bruce Lee. We can’t blame other races for this ignorance; we should blame ourselves.
I get peeved when our community gets irritated by the black, Latino and Native American communities for constantly revisiting their own histories. On the contrary, Asians should follow their blueprints; our unique tragedy as a people is that we have no knowledge of our roots and an established identity. Yes, we aren’t as poor, we aren’t as held back, but we are struggling in a equal, yet different horror from an oppressive racial system: we are soulless.
Vincent Chin are two words that should intrigue us to keep tugging on its strings. The more we pull at the Vincent Chins, the more we uncover other Vincent Chins until we realize the perfect Model Minority support that we stand on is actually over a mass yellow grave. If you’re Asian and you’re not mad or you’re believing you won’t be the next victim of a hate crime, I got to say, to believe that in the middle of a pandemic where a lot of people blame yellow skin, that’s either a very brave attitude, or a very ignorant one. We can no longer accept Model Minority glorification in our communities.
Spread the word about Vincent Chin. If you’re an Asian parent, teach these things to your older kids, research and read about Asian-American history. Don’t just teach that doing well in school and working hard is all they need, because it gives children the false idea of a fair society. Give your loved ones the most important things that so many of us were denied: roots, identity and pride.