Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin: The Beginning of a Movement
by Francesca Obordo and William GuoVincent Chin

Vincent Chin was a Chinese-American man who worked as a draftsman at Efficient Engineering, an automotive supplier in Detroit, Michigan. On June 19, 1982, Chin, along with a couple of his friends, entered through the doors of the Fancy Pants strip club in Highland Park in order to celebrate Chin’s bachelor party. Little did they know, this night would not only change their lives forever, but the lives of millions in history.

At the time, America’s automotive industry was in deep recession, while Japan’s auto industry was booming resulting in many Americans blaming them for their industry’s current state. Back at the bar in which Chin and his friends were enjoying the night, two drunken men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, suddenly attacked Chin assuming that he was a Japanese man working in the auto industry. Starting as a simple bar brawl, the men threw racial slurs towards Chin claiming that it was due to him and his friends that they were out of work. The brawl broke out into a fight which was carried out into the parking lot where Ebens and Nitz were able to hold Chin down and hit his head with a baseball bat four consecutive times, cracking his skull. Chin fell into a coma caused by the damage on his head and died four days later on June 23, 1982. But his death was not in vain; Chin’s death soon aided in initiating a progression among Asian Americans that would remarkably shake history: the pan-ethnic Asian American movement.
The Pan-Ethnic Asian American movement was the fight against shared oppression in the Asian American community. Vincent Chin’s death gave the movement national prominence and acknowledgement. It catalyzed political activity among Asian-Americans — whose numbers had steadily increased since the 1965 overhaul of immigration laws but who then represented only about 1.5 percent of the population — as never before. His death even helped kick start Asian American communities in places where previously none existed.   “Remember Vincent Chin” turned into a rallying cry. According to the New York Times, Asian-Americans of every background angrily protested in cities across the country for the first time in history. Among all other hardships that Asians had suffered through – including racial exclusion, starting with a ban on Chinese migrant labor in 1882, the unconstitutional detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the legacy of America’s wars in the Philippines, Korea and Vietnam – no single episode involving an individual Asian-American had ever had such an effect before. And none has since.

Ebens and Nitz were later charged with second-degree murder, a felony that could not be sentenced with probation. Afterwards, the court decided to bring the charges down from second-degree murder to manslaughter. The two were sentenced to three years probation with a fine of $3,000. When the Asian American community questioned the light sentence, the judge claimed, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail… You don’t make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal.” This brought up the question of whether or not Asian Americans were seen as real Americans with the full protection of the law. The defendant’s counsel brought forth their argument that “Orientals” (referring to Asians) were not entitled to any protection of the civil rights statutes. Later, the case was re-tried under the matter of civil rights violations. Having been witnessed at the scene exclaiming, “It’s because of you m*****f***** we’re out of work.” Ebens was charged with a hate crime due to the fact that his attacks were motivated by Chin’s race.

As students living in today’s society, a stronger sense of community and some feel of safety have been granted to us as a result of the Pan-Ethnic Asian American movement and Vincent Chin’s death. His death helped the Asian American community come and grow together and become a more distinct entity as just one race rather than a collection of different ethnicities. This has given us a wonderful community to fall back upon and celebrate our heritages with.

The Pan-Ethnic Asian American movement was merely the beginning of a difficult journey we as Asian Americans still travel in order to achieve justice and impartiality for the Asian American community. Vincent Chin’s case was just one of many in this long struggle for equality. His tragic death helped bring the Asian American community together to fight for its rights. As a result, today we enjoy an accumulation of years of struggles and legal debates. And from this, we learn that we must never take what we have for granted, for it is only due to these sacrifices made by our predecessors that we can enjoy the benefits of equality.

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