A Filipino-American’s Pursuit of the American Dream: Part 1 of 2.

How a hate crime that sparked the Asian-American civil rights movement stirred me to ruminate on my lifelong struggle to achieve my American Dream.

Vince Duqué Stories
25 min readJun 23, 2020

Reflecting on the anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death, I started writing this piece a week prior to the events stirred by George Floyd, Christian Cooper, and Breonna Taylor that led to the massive Black Lives Matter protests and chaotic unrest in America. This was not written in response to those events and I am not intending to divert attention from the Black Lives Matter movement. This is not an Asian Lives Matter too piece.

This story is much longer than the typical blog entry and I hope that the swipe culture of today will take the time to digest this — a complex issue that isn’t a story of simple brevity.

This is Part 1 of 2.

Remembering Vincent Chin

My backstory:

I was born in Flushing, New York. My parents immigrated from the Philippines in 1967. My father served in the U.S. Navy as a steward, preparing and serving meals to the officers. He maintained their quarters and took care of their uniforms. My mother was a medical technologist. She analyzed blood samples and delivered the results your doctor tells you about your blood. After living in Hawaii for five years, we settled in Alhambra, California, eight miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, population, 68,000.

My entire life, I strove to attain my American Dream. That grand old idea that greatness awaited one’s grasp upon hard work and dedication. I constantly fell short. Convinced I was a failure, especially compared to my contemporaries, I plummeted into depression and suicidal thoughts. I thought I paid my dues — in many instances, overpaid — and didn’t know why time after time, I fell so short. In March of last year, I tried to suicide.

But I’m still here. A dear friend helped to pull me out of the dark.

Within the last four years, I had already been observing trends, seeing the signs, connecting the dots — stuff about white privilege, about the Asian-American community in our country, about being Filipino, about acclimating to be white my whole life. About racism towards me that I didn’t detect was racism because I chose to believe in America. I’ve been seeing the world so much differently for awhile now — America for certain — and since hearing the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American man who was murdered thirty-eight years ago on the night before his wedding, I’ve been illuminated.

The story is widely recognized as having sparked the Asian-American civil rights movement. Even filmmaker Michael Moore was compelled to write an article related to the case in the Detroit Free Press.

My friend and filmmaker Alle Hsu and her filmmaking partner, Anthony Ma, introduced me to Vincent’s story, sending me newspaper articles and an Oscar-winning documentary called Who Killed Vincent Chin.

The story of his murder and the tumultuous journey through the American justice system affected me so profoundly, I’ve rescheduled other writing assignments, including a book, to write this piece.

The Vincent Chin story.

Thirty-eight years ago, on June 19, 1982, a Chinese-American man named Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by a man named Ronald Ebens, who bashed in Vincent’s head with a baseball bat while Ebens’ stepson Michael Nitz held Vincent down.

Initially, Ebens and Nitz were let off with probation and a $3,780 fine, even after initially pleading guilty to committing the murder. It took a five-year journey in federal courts to try to prove their racial hate crimes, which after two highly publicized trials, they were cleared of all charges.

In the early 1980’s, Detroit was a city in disrepair, with 17% unemployment and the epicenter of a rapidly declining American auto industry that was Detroit’s blood and soul, being drained by the massive influx of smaller, better built imported cars from Japan. It led to intense tension toward Japanese-Americans in Detroit and consequently to Asian-Americans in general, because even thirty-eight years ago, just as it is presently, to many Americans, all Asian ethnicities were grouped under the “Asian” category.

American auto industry sentiment toward Japanese car imports bled into resentment of Japanese-Americans.

The scuffle between Vincent and Ebens started at a Detroit strip club. Ebens provoked Vincent by telling him, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.” They were both drunk and implicit in stirring the fight. But even after Vincent left the strip club, Ebens sought out Vincent to further pursue the fight. He drove his car around town looking for Vincent. He even paid a stranger twenty bucks to assist in the search. When Ebens found Vincent at a McDonalds, Ebens took a baseball bat, and according to an off-duty cop moonlighting as a security officer who witnessed the beating, he “swung the bat like he was going for a home run,”¹ cracking Vincent’s skull and spilling his brains on the ground.

Vincent was on life support for four days until the doctors pulled the plug. He died on June 23, 1982.

Ebens and Nitz were originally charged with second-degree murder, but the Wayne County Circuit Court Judge, Charles Kaufman, said, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail… You make the punishment fit the criminal, don’t make the punishment fit the crime.”² He reduced the charges to a misdemeanor, and Ebens and Nitz were ordered to pay a $3,780 fine and given three years probation, even after Ebens pleaded guilty and Nitz pleaded no contest to manslaughter.

The case was then tried as a civil rights case, in which Ebens was given a twenty-five year sentence from a federal court jury in Detroit for violating Vincent’s civil rights. The U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals overturned the conviction. The case was reheard in a Cincinnati federal court — detached from the context of Detroit’s tension and strife, and the second jury, consisting mostly of white and blue-collar males, acquitted Ebens.

A civil suit in September 1987 levied a $1.5 million settlement against Ebens, but he hasn’t made a payment since 1989. The amount owed to the estate is estimated to have grown to more than $8 million. He’s never spent more than a day in jail.

I had been drinking the kool-aid of the American Dream my entire life.

So here we are, thirty-eight years after Vincent Chin was killed, and the social dynamics in regards to race has gotten worse. Racism is still a major topic that plagues America. Abusive cops are killing black people. Our president is dividing America. White supremacist activity isn’t so subversive anymore. Chaotic social dynamics is the pulse of our country. It’s not just the social media feeds that inform me. The air smells strange. Our country is in peril.

Here I am as well, thirty-eight years later. I’ve been internalizing abstract and impressionistic feelings and thoughts for a handful of years, but after watching the Vincent Chin documentary, those thoughts crystallized into an epiphany: I had been drinking the kool-aid of the American Dream my entire life.

Here’s a story that metaphorically illustrates my relationship with America: A woman, now in her fifties, spent her whole life having a dad who treated her very poorly. He never hugged her, never told her he loved her, acted like he hated her. She never understood why. She did everything she could to work on their relationship but could never break bread. One might imagine the emotional and mental anguish that she endured all her life and its manifestations that affected her relationships with people and her perceptions and attitudes. Recently, she took a genealogy test and discovered she had Iranian blood in her. What a strange discovery. Neither of her parents were Iranian. It turned out that her dad wasn’t her real father after all. He was completely bitter about having to take care of her throughout her life. Her entire childhood was based on a critically wrong assumption that had she known, would have probably approached life much differently. Absolutely devastating. THAT’S HOW I FEEL ABOUT AMERICA right now.

But it wasn’t like that at all back in 1982. I loved being American.

In my teens, I was myopically dedicated to being all-in on the American Way.

In 1982, the year Vincent Chin was killed, I was thirteen years old, much too busy assimilating to be a red, white and blue-blooded American for his story to be on my radar. My parents didn’t know about Vincent Chin either. They were too busy themselves trying to make their own American Dream happen. Assimilating American traditions and keeping a low profile were the priorities.

My heritage was Filipino but I regarded that as a technicality that burdened my existence. As I mentioned, I was born in Flushing, NY, the home of the Amazin’ Mets and tennis’s U.S. Open. I played and loved baseball. I was a blue-bleeding Dodger fan. A few months prior to Vincent Chin’s murder, the Dodgers had just won the World Series against the Yankees. My football team was the Dallas Cowboys, America’s Team. I was the stereotypical American kid, engrossed in girls, sports, video games, movies and American pop music.

Playing America’s Pastime in fifth grade.

I didn’t actively associate myself with being Asian, except because I spent five years in Hawaii, from 5 to 10 years old, I felt a kinship for Japanese people because I was exposed to a hearty serving of Japanese culture, which included taking Japanese lessons in first grade. Mostly, however, I didn’t have an automatically deep connection to most of my Asian friends.

It’s important to understand that back in the 80’s, being Filipino wasn’t exotic, like the way it is now, as a sexy Asian specialty. Not even ONE Filipino restaurant. Whereas, today, there are Filipino restaurants doubling as cool hipster comedy clubs. I recall Filipinos being known as the nationality that ate dog. Or pig’s blood. Or ox-tail. I didn’t want to be known by the immorality of that, though, secretly, I did love ox-tail.

Side note: you may or may not know that Asian is a census category not an ethnicity, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll identify as being Asian in this piece unless I specifically mention being Filipino to distinguish myself from the other Asian ethnicities.

The only times I was reminded that I was Asian were from two things. One from being called “chink,” “nip,” “slanted eyes,” “gook” or “fresh off the boat,” which happened every now and then on the playground, and mostly from either Caucasian or Mexican boys. The other occurrences were at home, where I was back to being Filipino — after spending most of the day as an American kid — eating Filipino cuisine for dinner and being around my parents speaking Tagalog, which they used often as a way to talk behind our backs but directly in front of us, because my sister and I didn’t speak it. My parents didn’t want to teach us Tagalog, and I was fine with that.

Their entire parental agenda was built on simple survival notions — to feed and clothe the kids, provide shelter, and just as importantly, to acclimate into being as American as possible. I recall my mother telling us often to stay out of the sun, lest we turn too brown. The idea of being white was so pervasive, my seven-year-old sister once covered herself head to toe in talcum powder to see what she would look like as a white person.

I watched a lot of Leave it to Beaver, Happy Days, Brady Bunch, Family Ties and every single John Hughes teen movie back then that served as my reference points in yearning to be part of the model American family.

My hero in high school? Ferris Bueller, the hero from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. To me, he was the daring kid who had an uncanny zest for life and I wanted to be him. I never saw him as a spoiled and privileged white kid whose parents let him get away with everything and only had white friends.

I was completely convinced that if I worked my ass off with all-out passion and blood-letting dedication, I would find my American greatness. My appearance and ethnicity would be non-factors.

My assimilation into the All-American me went supersonic when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. I shouted U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! for two straight weeks. When the U.S. men’s gymnastics team beat the Chinese team for the team gold, I wanted to be one of the six handsome white gymnasts up on the podium with my hand over my heart watching the American flag being raised while the National Anthem echoed through the stadium — the grand statement that the Americans were the winners of all the world.

The 1984 US Men’s Gymnastics Team wins Olympic gold

Interestingly, Team U.S.A. beat two Asian countries for the gold medal — the two countries that were the favorites to win. Especially because the United States were the underdogs, I was so inspired by that Olympic moment, I immediately stopped playing baseball and took up gymnastics after my freshman year in high school. For the next three years, I spent most of my high school life in a gym located in a town called Glendale, about ten miles from Alhambra. At the time, Glendale was inhabited by predominantly white citizens, and as such, I felt more so much more connected to Glendale than in Alhambra.

My religion was Nike, the religion of Just Do It, a campaign message that convinced me, among other campaigns like the U.S. Army’s Be All You Can Be, to fully embrace the notion of meritocracy — the idea that society is governed by the notion that everyone with skill and imagination can aspire to reach the highest level. I was completely convinced that if I worked my ass off with all-out passion and blood-letting dedication, I would find my American greatness. My appearance and ethnicity would be non-factors.

Gymnastics led me to West Point, the United States Military Academy, for college. It was a capstone piece I needed on my way to becoming an All-American and what I thought was a goldmine of an opportunity to be the next Eisenhower, Patton or Buzz Aldrin — all West Point graduates and historical figures in American history.

It was at West Point that I dove into an intense immersion of being an All-American. For instance, I quickly memorized the words to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. It played before every student body assembly in which the entire student corps of cadets stood up to sing the song with genuine American pride. I learned how to be moved to tears when I heard that song. The American flag was omnipresent throughout the institution, as well as the spirit of the American way of life.

My company classmates at West Point (Guess where I am…)

West Point was a difficult time for me, however. I often felt out of sync with its storied customs. I had to make some major adjustments, but I was never comfortable and didn’t ever quite fit in. I was often behind the social curve, particularly in interacting with adult Army officers. In my mind, meritocracy would negate all those things, so I focused on working my ass off. But it never seemed like my effort was up to par. I couldn’t nail down why. I blamed myself for not being American enough.

After graduation, which by the way, included personally receiving my college diploma by President George Bush Sr., I set off for my life in the U.S. Army. I was proud to be an Army Officer and felt honored to embody the Academy’s mission that each graduate give a lifetime of service to the nation. In a way this was a “turning the tide” moment. My father had served as a steward in the U.S. Navy, serving meals and tending to the officers, and now I was the officer in the family.

Being promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army

I was determined to excel in the Army, but just as in West Point, I didn’t smoothly fit in. It wasn’t just the military culture that wasn’t a fit with me. I wasn’t particularly connected to the rest of the officer community. There was an unspoken set of criteria about being in that club — being married, singing Irish bar songs, knowing American traditions of the nuclear American family that was not part of my personal familial traditions. It was a disadvantage that indirectly and unofficially influenced my Officer Evaluation Report — a critical performance report vital to determining an officer’s fate up the officer ladder — but I still put all my faith in meritocracy to compensate for my lack of sophisticated American social skills.

I related to the soldiers more than I did the officers. They were much more ethnically diverse. Some of them were Black, Puerto Rican, or Mexican, but I couldn’t make friends with them because fraternizing with the soldiers was frowned upon. Most of the officer community in my battalion was white, and they were friends, sure, but I felt more intrinsically connected to the black officers. To note, I was the only Asian officer in my unit, and certainly one of the few Filipino officers in the entire United States Army.

I’ve spent the last twenty plus years in the film industry. I thought working hard at an intensity level similar with which I trained as a collegiate gymnast was enough. But Hollywood was led by gatekeepers, ninety percent white, and its jungle governed by unwritten rules I couldn’t completely inculcate because while I worked hard to know and live by all the rules, I started to suspect that being Filipino was a liability. I still held on to the notion of meritocracy to help me up the career ladder.

Was I just in denial?

How the Vincent Chin story made me reassess the American Dream.

I trusted the notion of meritocracy for me to prevail over those intangible aspects I couldn’t control, in the same way Vincent Chin’s family put their trust in the American justice system for justice to ultimately prevail.

Meritocracy was my religion.

At West Point, misunderstandings and not clearly grasping the unspoken rules got me in trouble a lot and often I felt like I was punished at a different level than the white cadets. Reflecting on Vincent Chin’s case, I discovered that I was treated that way quite possibly because, as I mentioned previously, throughout my childhood, I never developed how to properly articulate my own position.

One significant aspect — and maybe this was an Asian thing — as a kid, I was required to blindly obey and respect my elders. Sparked by my intrinsically creative and inquisitive mind, I tended to ask many questions, which my parents interpreted as disrespectfully “talking back.” As such, I developed an accompanying guilt for being disobedient that was tethered to my natural precociousness. This dynamic was reinforced at West Point, a military institution that encouraged creative and intellectual thinking up to the point of challenging authority, American laws, and the American way of life, all of which sparked many questions.

Looking back at my West Point days, I recall that the white cadets were much more outspoken with the adults than I was. Because speaking up was a scenario with which they were all familiar, outcomes often resulted in their favor. Not for me. I was unfamiliar with the environment of negotiating and communicating on the same level with grown adults.

Instead, I relied on my work ethic to make up for these communication deficiencies. Meritocracy was my religion, as you can tell by how much I’ve mentioned it up to this point.

I took these habits into the Army and then to the film industry, typically taking the position of being subordinate and deferential to my superiors under the posture of showing respect to my bosses. This approach probably cost me some opportunities to advance through the professional ranks.

Like Vincent, I was a fighter. I had to be.

Vincent got into a scuffle with Ebens at the strip club, provoked by Ebens saying, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.” I got into quite a few fights as a kid, myself. I thought fights were normal.

One time as a college senior, I got into a fight with a white cadet who kept taunting me to hit him after he willingly disobeyed a direct order from me, a higher ranking cadet. The taunting had tinges of racial superiority. After a few minutes of his taunting, I hit him in the face. It surprised him. The other guy got a black eye but though he was the one who egged me on, he wasn’t punished for his disobedience to a higher ranking cadet. I was the one who got punished. I was told I should have known better. Could I have handled it differently? Probably so, but as I reflect, that was one of too many times in my life in which I felt forced to fight my own battles because I didn’t feel like the system would hear me out, because I felt I would probably be misunderstood as usual.

Have you ever felt that just based on someone else’s appearance, you feel safe to confront someone because you like your prospects or you intrinsically feel you can win?

Ironically, in part of my quest to be an All-American man, I was inspired to fight and to stand my ground. I grew up on movies about the protagonist — coincidentally, the handsome white male, most of the time — who didn’t give up until the last out, who fought for freedom, who stood up for what was right. The storied institution at West Point was built upon the notion that we needed to be vigilant about fighting for freedom and democracy, as we fought the British for our country’s freedom, we fought against slavery (well, half of West Point did and the other half fought for the side of slavery, interestingly enough), and we fought against the evil Nazis to save the world.

I don’t start with an inclination to fight, but often in my life, especially in middle school, I ran into so much friction. Was it more conducive to pick a fight with me because I had a baby face, a demure Asian look, that people — particularly Caucasian guys — took liberties to confront me or to get in my face about things? Have you ever felt that just based on someone else’s appearance, you feel safe to confront someone because you like your prospects or you intrinsically feel you can win? Or maybe you feel entitled to do it, like a Dodger fan in Dodger Stadium feels entitled to scream insults at Giants players in broad daylight?

I’m 51 years old, and this kind of shit still happens to me. I was an army officer. I led sixteen soldiers in a tank platoon. I’m an assistant director in television series that cost millions of dollars to make, managing the crew and the cast and all the logistics on set. I’m not perfect, but I run a damn good set. My emotional IQ and communications skills are above average. Yet school yard confrontation STILL happens to me from time to time.

Just last year, at a bar in progressively liberal Santa Monica, I was on the dance floor when a tall white pretty boy, barely in his twenties, bumped into me. It wasn’t just a light brush, but maybe he was drunk and wasn’t cognizant of his spatial awareness. I let it go. Minutes later, he came back from the other direction and bumped into me again. I didn’t want to create any waves, but shot him a “really, dude?” look.

“What? What’s up?” he said to me, pumping his chest and staring me down, implying, “You want to fuck with me?” To be clear, the young man wasn’t an ignorant hillbilly or country bumpkin. He was quintessential private school material and a tall handsome blond man who possibly grew up in the upper echelon of societal hierarchy and maybe accustomed to getting his way. As I mentioned earlier, maybe his societal protection manifested a courage in him to act brazenly because people, rarely, if ever, gave him flak.

“You don’t want to go there, dude,” I said. “Trust me.” Usually, not backing down is enough, but he seemed insulted by my reaction. He kept staring at me. “Just stop bumping into me,” I reiterated. I realize this sounds childishly absurd. You’re telling me.

Ten minutes went by, and from behind, he bumped me again. I grabbed him by the collar, with my other hand pressed against his Adam’s apple, and shoved him up against the bar. Suddenly, we were the same height. I got in his face with steely resolve. “Why is it necessary for you to bump into me?” He turned ghost white. Before the whole situation could flip against me — I never get the benefit of the doubt — I left the bar.

To reiterate, I don’t want to have fights. I was cornered into developing reactionary forms of communication — fighting, impatience, or being defensive — mainly because I had to constantly fight to be heard or hold my place in line, especially when people — often white people — take liberties to be obnoxious to me. All my life, people have handled me differently.

I often wonder that with being white, you know you’re protected, you know you’ll get the benefit of the doubt, you know you can sleep at night, because you’ve had an unspoken kind of security your whole life, so you just feel the freedom to act out or to misbehave. An unspoken privilege.

Exploring white privilege from the Filipino perspective.

My blind faith in the religion of American meritocracy caused me to be unaware about white privilege until the dawn of Trumpism started raising serious red flags of inequality and racism, resulting in the frequency of the term — white privilege — to pop up in discussions about the state of America. I passively paid heed, because as Helen Zia defined it in her book, Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, I was a surrogate white. A better part of my friends are white and were exceptionally warm and welcoming to me. I’ve dated mostly white women. I’ve been as American as baseball, apple pie and G.I Joe. For nine years, I was even Jewish white, intimately immersed in Jewish culture in which I almost converted.

In recent years, as I’ve been more self-aware about my struggle with my personal identity as an American and a Filipino man, upon feeling resentful I was putting in so much more effort than my white American contemporaries, and often being disregarded in the workplace when I raised important issues, my curiosity grew about the subject of white privilege. As I’m writing this, I’m finding this topic difficult for me to discuss, because I don’t want to alienate my white friends or white America, for that matter.

I read a vital paper about white privilege written by Peggy McIntosh, entitled, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, which sought to illuminate the issue as a skin-color privilege.

The founder of the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) and Senior Research Scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women, McIntosh writes and lectures extensively on issues of equity and privilege as they relate to race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

About white privilege, she writes:

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.

I began to understand why we are just seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

McIntosh then self-asked forty-six questions, “to try to work on myself at least by identifying some of the daily effects of white privilege in my life. I have chosen those conditions that I think in my case attach somewhat more to skin-color privilege than to class, religion, ethnic status, or geographic location, though of course all these other factors are intricately intertwined.

Most of her questions were applicable to me, but I list only a few for relative brevity. When a question pertains to race, understand that I associate as Filipino, not just Asian:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. No. It’s rare when I’m not the only Filipino person in the room.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. Unequivocally, no.

7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. RARELY if ever. Interestingly enough, even in the Filipino-American community, I find that they generally don’t recognize other Filipinos who have made major contributions, unless they go to the low-hanging fruit of famous names.

10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race. I’ve often felt I had to be over-serious about an issue, or I’m not taken seriously enough. Often, as the only Filipino person in the room, I feel the usual “quorum” of white people in the room supersedes my considerations when deciding critically on an issue. I find myself often murmuring to myself, “When I’m in charge, I’ll do it differently. Better, even.”

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race. If this ever happens, I am shocked and impressed and when it does, typically the Filipino person is disassociating me. Like it doesn’t make a difference. In the event the person in charge is Asian: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc., I’m not connected to this person.

34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking. Even as I write this, I feel paranoid of all the backlash I’m going to get. I’m definitely concerned about alienating a few friends and for that matter, future employers.

36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones. I used to rarely regard this idea, but now I’m conscious about it. It’s confusing because racial overtones are never overt. Then there’s the gaslighting.

43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem. I’m not so sure anymore. I used to think that meritocracy would prevail. I recently had an experience — I had to inherit a 2nd Assistant Director on a TV show. He had a brazen and disrespectful disdain for me. I had never been treated the way he treated me. Coincidentally, he was from Alabama. This happened just last January.

46. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin. No. But if there were, you bet they’d be more expensive than “regular” bandages.

The initial judge in Vincent Chin’s case punished Ebens’ for killing Chin with a baseball bat with a mere $3,780 fine and three years of probation, based on his justification that the punishment is set to the criminal, not the crime. THIS IS WHITE PRIVILEGE.

In Cincinnati for the appeals hearing, the jury didn’t have deep comprehension for the Asian-American experience and yet in the voir-dire process, Asians were eliminated from the jury because they would be seen as biased and people having any remote associations with Asians were removed as well. By this logic, is it possible to suppose then, that a majority of white people on the jury might be biased toward white people? THIS IS WHITE PRIVILEGE.

In the Army, I was entangled in a situation with a captain. He was a white male. He was untouchable. The darling of the entire battalion. But he was physically abusing his wife. His wife came to me for comfort and help. This captain, by the way, came to marrying this woman after having sexual relations with her when she was his best friend’s wife, while his best friend was deployed in the field for training exercises. The captain confronted me and threatened me, leading to a fight. Despite his transgressions, I was reprimanded severely, told I should have known better than to interfere. Nothing happened to the captain. IS THIS WHITE PRIVILEGE?

While working as a Second Assistant Director on a TV show back in 2001, I got in trouble by the major film studio who produced the show for overseeing a scenario regarding a minor actor. The First Assistant Director, my boss at the time — a white male — was overseeing the film set and dismissed the actor but didn’t take into account that the actor needed time to get out of his film wardrobe, so by the time he clocked out, the actor’s out time was five minutes past his legally mandated out time. My boss wanted me to report a different out time, under the technicality that he was dismissed from the actual film set at the proper time. If the time card had shown that he was dismissed later than his hard out time would have allotted, my boss would have been found in violation of child labor laws. Because my boss instructed me to “make it happen,” I agreed to do it, as it was standard operating procedure to support one’s boss from time to time, and this wasn’t close to being a My Lai moral dilemma. The studio found out about the improper time on the time card and conducted an investigation. The studio Labor Relations department interviewed me about the situation, and I told the truth without implicating my boss. It turned out that my boss, in his interview, took no responsibility for his actions even though he was our supervisor and gave the go-ahead. I was not only fired from the show, but I was also prevented from working at the studio ever again. Was my boss’s statement more readily accepted because he was white? Had my boss been a person of color, would his statement, relative to mine, have been more scrutinized? If I was white, would my statement carry more weight? Additionally, if I was white, would a more subconscious threat that I might get legal representation be taken into consideration in how thoroughly they evaluated this situation? That if I wasn’t so deferential about the situation as Asian-Americans can tend to be, would the result have been different? IS THIS WHITE PRIVILEGE?

President Trump Making America Great Again

I’ve discovered over the last four decades that it’s usually the white Americans who feel they have first dibs on the American Dream, who continually break the rules of meritocracy. And we — as Asian-Americans — scarcely mention anything is amiss. And if we do, it’s a docile comment so as not to offend. We trust America to do the right thing. We are groomed to be happy with the crumbs from the table — as if this zen-like approach is the more noble gesture. White America appreciates it nominally, paying lip service for the gesture, but so often, they take advantage or instantly forget the gesture. There is very little accountability for their actions. And whenever I’ve raised this issue, I’ve been labeled as a rabble-rouser. THIS IS WHITE PRIVILEGE.

Part 2 of this story here.


¹ Zia, Helen (May 18, 2001). Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p 58–64.

² Zia, 60.

My immense gratitude to Alle Hsu & Anthony Ma for their assistance with this piece.

Thanks for reading this article. I’d love to read your comments and I’d appreciate the claps and a follow to share my thoughts with the world.

I’ve been writing a work-in-progress travel memoir about my struggles with depression in Paris called Inside Me Inside Paris, and I’m also writing about my tennis pursuits called Approach Shots. You can find me on Instagram as well.



Vince Duqué Stories

Freelance writer & filmmaker living in Paris, FR. Fresh takes experiencing the human carnival since ‘69 with a Filipino, American & French soul