By Tiffany Chang Lawson
(This essay honors Vincent Chin, 35 years after his murder, we will never forget)
Vincent Chin will never dance with his bride on their wedding day.
He’ll never see the look in his mother’s eyes as she holds her first grand-child nestled safely in her arms a legacy of all that she’s built in this country.
He will never grow old
His hair will never turn silvery grey and then white,
Wispy strands basking in the years of life that they have lived,
Aging is a luxury he will never know.
He has been dead for longer than I’ve been alive
And let me tell you why so you’ll never have to ask yourself Vincent Who?
June 19th, 1982 in Greater Detroit the world’s auto industry is shifting this is largely due to Japan’s economic ascent and contributes to many layoffs Stateside.
Vincent Chin is celebrating his bachelor party, oblivious in this moment to the world economy shifting beneath his feet.
And why because of this, and willful ignorance it will be the last time he ever flashes a grin and laughs the way young men do when they feel invincible and have the world at their fingertips.
He gets into an argument with two other men that accuse him and his friends of taking their jobs away.
Vincent and his friends walk away but like wolves in the night these two men search for him.
Their powerlessness over their inability to find work, anger, bigotry, ignorance and hate fueling them on.
Tonight they are hunting for blood.
So blinded by their ignorance they don’t even realize that Vincent isn’t even Japanese he is Chinese American, and even if he was Japanese American what right did it give them to take that baseball bat and rain death a thousand shards of glass smashing down upon him.
One man held him down while the other bludgeoned him repeatedly.
With every swing of the bat like thieves in the night they stole Vincent’s life
Never would he have a chance on his wedding night to tell his beautiful bride that she was everything he never knew destiny had been saving
Or his mother that her sacrifice and all her hopes tied to him had all been worth the waiting
With every blow,
They took not only his life,
They stole a man from the very precipice,
The brink of beginning.
A future that will never be realized,
And a life never fully lived.
He will never become the husband he was so soon to be,
The father of a child who would fulfill all his Mother’s American Dreams.
He was her one and only son,
The reason for her struggle.
Her baby boy was found bloody and mangled,
Before he slipped into a coma he murmured to a friend,
“It’s not fair.”
And the world did not care when he died four days later.
Just five days before his wedding.
But perhaps the greatest injustice is that Vincent’s murderers served no time in jail.
They were given three years’ probation and fined three thousand dollars a mere slap on the wrists, a light scolding, a tsk tsk.
And do you know what the judge wrote in response to protests against the leniency of his verdict?
“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.”
Vincent’s death pre-dated hate crime legislation and it awoke a fire in Asia America, and it started a movement that crossed ethnic and socioeconomic lines to create a united front of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, AAPIs.
People from all walks of life: waiters, lawyers, journalists, and grandmothers all felt Vincent’s death deeply and it raised awareness of the discrimination and racism directed towards the AAPI Community.
AAPIs have been the subject of hate and ignorance in the United States far before Vincent Chin or I was ever alive.
The Chinese Exclusion Act passed into legislation one hundred years before Vincent’s death on May 6, 1882 is the first and only federal law in US history to exclude a single group of people from immigration solely because of their ethnicity.
And was in effect until 1943.
The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II,
And list goes on and on…
We are here today because of Vincent’s life and his legacy.
Because of the bonds his blood has wrought to bring the AAPI community together.
And my question to all of you is what will you do?
What legacy will you leave?
So I pray that all of you walk away remembering this man’s life and that fateful day in June of 1982.
So the next time you hear his name you won’t have to ask yourself