Today, May 18, would have been Vincent Chin’s 65th birthday. As many of you already know, he was beaten to death in 1982 by two White autoworkers who perceived him to be Japanese, even though he was Chinese American, and blamed him for the economic recession that was threatening their jobs. History tells us, and as the excellent PBS documentary series Asian Americans that recently aired portrayed, his tragic death and the gross injustice of how his killers were merely sentenced to just three years probation and a $3000 fine galvanized and united the Asian American community and led to the creation of the modern “Asian American” identity that millions of us now embrace, and led to the formation of numerous pan-ethnic and multi-racial community organizations dedicated to fighting for justice and equity across all areas of life for Asian Americans.
A lot has happened since that fateful day in 1982. In a lot of ways, the Asian American community has grown demographically and socioeconomically, become more integrated into the U.S. mainstream, and achieved notable gains in political representation and cultural citizenship. At the same time, these positive developments are extremely precarious and are easily undone whenever the U.S. experiences some kind of conflict or crisis that involves some Asian country.
As we have all seen, the CoViD-19/Coronavirus pandemic has laid bare how racist and xenophobic stereotypes and underlying prejudices of Asians and Asian Americans as the Yellow Peril easily resurface and lead to suspicion, hostility, hate, and even violence against anyone perceived to be Chinese or more generally, Asian or Asian American. These dynamics are exacerbated by political leaders who seek to scapegoat Asians and/or Asian Americans as a way to misdirect anxiety or their own mistakes during such times and whose actions implicitly or explicitly embolden other acts of anti-Asian hate. These hateful acts represent the worst forms of ignorance and result in Asian Americans having to be in a constant state of hyper-awareness and vigilance when they are in public, taking a huge emotional toll.
As we remember Vincent Chin’s 65th birthday, I hope that everyone, and particularly our political, community, and institutional leaders, will not forget the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society, including those who already feel marginalized and face everyday challenges in their lives due to sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and other overt and covert forms of prejudice and discrimination. I also hope that people from all racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds do everything that they can to recognize their own implicit biases, find resources that will educate themselves about the historical and contemporary structures of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of inequality in the U.S., and intervene when they hear or witness bigoted or hateful remarks or behaviors against anyone who is in a vulnerable position.
Ultimately, recommitting U.S. society to fight ignorance and hate with all the tools at our disposal to prevent anti-Asian prejudice and discrimination from becoming normalized is probably the best way for us to remember and celebrate Vincent Chin’s birthday, and the month of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.