Monday, June 27, 2011

Vincent Chin and His Place in History - A Perspective

After reading his post regarding the Vincent Chin incident, I had a discussion with Eric regarding his views on it. He brought up an interesting point - because we are dealing with a new generation of Asians and Asian-Americans, it is a shame to see how many of today's youths are simply unaware of one of our collective history's darkest moments.

I always felt a connection to the Vincent Chin case, primarily because I learned that it occurs on my birthday. This past June 19, I turned 22. Vincent would have been 56 years old, and this past Saturday he would have been married for 29 years. It's easy to get lost in all of the numbers, to wonder about all the 'what ifs' in a life that was cut too short and for terrible reasons.

It wasn't until I took a special topics course in Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego that I finally learned about Vincent Chin. I always thought that his story shouldn't be confined to the often specialized audience of an Ethnic Studies course - it's a shame that it isn't considered an important piece to include in, for example, a history course or as a case study in a law class.

The sad part is that our histories, as a collective Asian community, are often not the centerpieces lining the pages of your average history textbook. I remember taking advanced courses for European history and for US history in high school, but there was never a course focusing on the history of Asians and their cultures. As a Filipino, the only times I heard about my ancestral people was through a single paragraph regarding the Philippine-American War; which, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not include the horrifying details of the genocide caused by American occupation.

When it comes to more modern times, Asians are usually just mentioned in regards to the LA riots. One page, as I remember it, is not enough to describe a time in which many Koreans (and, subsequently, Asians) were not just inaccurately and hurtfully stereotyped, but also targeted and abused constantly by individuals that thus had their views of Asian people skewed in very unfair ways.

Between the Rodney King beating and the shooting of an African-American in a store owned by a Korean, the point for our textbook writers to get across was that racism was rampant, sweeping, and always violent. It didn't matter which era you were learning about - Asian people were usually characterized as victims in a slaughter of their national identities. And as I watched the documentary 'Who Killed Vincent Chin?' in my Ethnic Studies course, I realized how Chin's death was just another reminder of how dangerous misrepresentation is - and why it is so important for us, as a collective, to continuously strive against it.

Vincent Chin was killed because some American automotive industry workers saw him as part of what they thought was 'killing America' - they were angry about the decline in their industry, and in Vincent they found not only someone to blame, but somewhere to let out their rage. Vincent did not work in the Asian automotive industry - he was just a regular guy. More importantly, he was just a regular American. But because these heinous men only saw him as a scapegoat for all the things they really hated, Vincent was beaten to death.

The movement that followed and the outpouring reaction to the killer's acquittal made Vincent Chin an icon for Asian-American struggles. But for all that his mother did to make the world aware of the injustice that was his death, the message did not get across enough - just five or so years later, the LA Riots began. And the most notable incident of hatred against Asians was not acknowledged as history's first warning regarding the dangerous results of hatred.

Because of it's significance as a precursor to all the struggles Asians had to endure in the decades that followed, I believe very strongly that the Vincent Chin incident should be included as at least a case study in education. The unprecedented civil rights movement that followed Chin's death should also be noted alongside the United Farm Workers Movement for Filipinos and Latinos and the movements and marches done by African Americans.

Every year we remember Vincent Chin, but his story should not just be confined to a day - it should be learned by every young Asian mind in our country. In a published education that seemingly only mentions Asians in passing, compared to white Americans and Latino and African struggles, Vincent's story is one of the starkest examples our people have about our own collective struggles.

I hope that one day the Vincent Chin incident will be included in our history textbooks; however, until then, any young minds that do not know about this important part of Asian history can look to documentaries such as Who Killed Vincent Chin? and Vincent Who? for some education and perspective.


  1. What a terrific article, Josh! I'm glad you bring up the idea of underrepresentation and how much this lack of knowledge influences misrepresentation of Asians and Asian Americans. In fact, your article is very timely considering the constant rumblings on the news about the worries about Chinese economic domination instead of thinking of how to cooperate and learn from a different economic model.

    I especially liked how you pointed out the surge in the civil rights movement after Vincent Chin's death. Focusing on just one or two ethnic and racial groups to highlight civil rights obscures the attempts of civil rights leaders to make many of their movements as ethnically, racially, and culturally diverse as possible. For example, Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American woman who worked alongside Malcolm X, was not mentioned in Alex Haley's "Autobiography" or in Spike Lee's film. There are some rather famous pictures of her cradling Malcolm's head in her lap right after he was shot.

    I'd love to hear more about the United Farm Workers Movements for Filipinos and Latinos! Future blog posts, I hope!

  2. I first heard about the Vincent Chin case two years ago in my Communication class at UCSD, and though I'm glad that we went over the subject in class, I wish it could have been given as much attention as the other cases we went through like the LA riots.
    The documentary "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" is filled with powerful moments like when the bereaved mother of Vincent Chin is giving a tearful speech to the Asian-American community. The documentary also features an in-depth interview with Ron Ebens, the automotive worker who killed Chin. The interview let Ebens explain his side of the story, but it came off like he was unremorseful of his actions and like he was denying any wrongdoings. I hope the Vincent Chin tragedy continues to be taught in classes, and that more people become aware of the Asian American cause that it helped ignite.

  3. Outstanding blog post Josh. One of the best I have read for SDAFF or anywhere for that matter. Thank you!!!!!!

  4. Being a business major, I took any classes that would cover such a topic and never knew who Vincent was until reading one of the earlier blog posts. I wish there was more media coverage on the history of major events involving Asian Americans whether it be good or bad.