TOP STORIES Vincent Chin was killed 40 years ago. That's...

Vincent Chin was killed 40 years ago. That’s why his case keeps resonating


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Activist and writer Helen Zia stands next to a painting by Vincent Chin in Detroit. The city is partnering with the 40th Vincent Chin Remembrance and Re-Dedication Coalition to commemorate civil rights efforts beginning with Chin’s 1982 assassination.

Corey Williams)/AP

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Corey Williams)/AP

Activist and writer Helen Zia stands next to a painting by Vincent Chin in Detroit. The city is partnering with the 40th Vincent Chin Remembrance and Re-Dedication Coalition to commemorate civil rights efforts beginning with Chin’s 1982 assassination.

Corey Williams)/AP

Forty years ago, 27-year-old Vincent Chin was spending an evening with his friends in Detroit. This was supposed to be a celebration before Chin’s upcoming wedding, but he didn’t make it to the wedding. That night, he was beaten to death by two white men who worked in the auto industry and, according to witnesses, were outraged by what they perceived as the loss of American jobs due to Japanese imports.

The men targeted Chin because he was Asian, not knowing that he was Chinese American and not Japanese. The murder spurred Asian Americans across the country to fight for civil rights. This is a battle that continues today.

This has become especially relevant in the past two years as racist attacks against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. From March 19, 2020 to December 31, 2021, there were at least 10,905 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to the coalition. Stop hating AAPI.

Chin’s death on June 23, 1982 came at a time when the Japanese auto industry was a hotbed of racism. Today’s incidents of hate can be traced to a large extent to anti-Asian rhetoric was used early in the pandemic, including by former President Donald Trump, who called the coronavirus the “Chinese virus.”

The similarities between the rhetoric used 40 years ago and today paint a chilling picture, says social justice activist Helen Zia, who is also the executor of the estate of Vincent Chin and his mother, Lily.

“This is what happened in America in the 1980s. And that’s why, as soon as the call at the White House pointed the finger at China, all Asian Americans knew it would hit Asians in America very hard.” Zia told NPR Everything is taken into account with reference to the words of the former president.

“So, yes, rhetoric, insinuation, they have their effect. And when people are targeted and scapegoated, we know it’s going to be bad for every American.”

According to Zia, the fact that Chin was a Chinese American also speaks to how Asian Americans are perceived in the US.

“Asian Americans have always been lumped together even though Asia is the largest continent on the planet,” she said. “And so when people have hatred or anger directed at something nebulous in Asia, it doesn’t matter. If you are Asian, you are a target. And that’s what’s happening today. Every ethnic group of Asian Americans has been affected. hate incidents that are happening today.”

Zia is one of the organizers 40th anniversary of the memory and rededication of Vincent Chin happening in Detroit this weekend. The events, including film screenings, public art, performances and panel discussions, began on Thursday and will continue until Sunday.

David Hahn, commissioner of the Michigan Asia-Pacific Commission of America, spoke at the official event. He told member station WDET that the rededication also serves as a reminder that “all is not well on the surface” and that the people in power have a role to play in keeping the communities they represent safe.

“In a leadership role of any kind, whether it be the presidency or leaders in companies, leaders in our communities, or even leaders in our churches, the attitudes and narratives that different people speak, based on self-interest as well as fear, certainly have an impact. Asian community in America,” Khan said.

While political leaders have a role to play in combating Asian anti-American sentiment, so do ordinary citizens. Connecting older and younger generations through Chin’s legacy is another goal of the celebration.

“Vincent Chin’s Legacy Guide” was assembled by Zia with the help of the Smithsonian Asia-Pacific American Center. This is a study guide that tells the story of what happened 40 years ago. It is also meant to inspire people to take action.

Ultimately, this shows why Chin’s case still matters today.

“He really stands out as a milestone, not just for Asian Americans — he stands out as a milestone in American history,” Zia said. “This is the time when people in America who were treated like aliens, these people stood up and said, ‘This is wrong. Not only that, we are part of the American democracy and we deserve to be treated as full-fledged Americans and full-fledged people.”

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