Photo courtesy of Minji Kim (middle row, left)

A Millennial Reflects on Vincent Chin’s Legacy

Vincent Chin’s murder and the lack of justice should inspire activists today

by Minji Kim

I heard the name Vincent Chin for the first time as a junior in high school. The school day had just ended, and I was making a relatively rare appearance at that week’s Asian Pacific American Club (APAC) meeting. At the time, my Asian identity was merely a social marker, not something I thought about critically. So when the board members and the adviser conducted a workshop about Vincent Chin, I didn’t think too deeply about it. I had never heard of this man before, or of any hate crimes against Asian Americans for that matter. It was scary that he was from Detroit, just 20 minutes from where I lived and grew up, but it had also happened 30 years before. It was a different time, right?

After that, I’d hear his name once in a while at other APAC meetings, or I’d see his name in articles the adviser posted onto the APAC Facebook group page, but it ended there — as just a familiar name. However, these little bits of exposure planted a seed in me that began to sprout as I more deeply explored my racial identity in college. The first time I felt the weight of his name was at an Asian-interest campus organization meeting very similar to my high school’s APAC: another workshop. They told me that in a city not that far from us, at a time not that long ago, a Chinese American man was murdered by two white men who blamed him and the Japanese auto industry for their job layoffs. They told me that the two men never spent a night in prison for what they did. They told me that for the first time, Asians in America of diverse backgrounds were galvanized into activism as united Asian Americans, pursuing justice for Vincent Chin.

But these are the only spaces where I hear about him. When I ask my Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) friends if they know who Vincent Chin is, I see quite a bit of disparity. Only my friends who are involved in Asian American organizations have heard of the murder. Even at the University of Michigan — less than an hour from where Vincent Chin lived and died — only the Asian American studies program teaches Vincent Chin in the classroom. Though I’ve taken several race and ethnicity classes, none of them have taught me about how the perpetual foreigner and model minority myths contributed to a man’s murder, and how a racial identity formed and arose following that event. And so many of my friends just shake their heads and shrug when I ask them about him.

I find some hope looking outside of my institution. Michigan State University has a Vincent Chin memorial room where the Asian-interest organizations have their meetings. Non-profit and activist organizations around Detroit and the country have set up memorials and conferences honoring him. Asian American activists and academics continue to spread awareness of Vincent Chin’s story to people like me and my peers.

Thirty five years ago, Vincent Chin was murdered for being Asian, and his killers did not spend even one night in jail. Today, I see my brown and black community members being targeted in the same way, and their assailants walk away, time and again, without consequences. What can we do? How do we fight this?

The story of Vincent Chin and the subsequent Asian American movement should be taught in schools when talking about civil rights. All students need to know the realities of hate violence, its intersectionality with communities of color, and where it stems from. Asian Americans interested in creating a better country for all of us need AAPI activist role models to look up to. But I am inspired and empowered by the students and educators that refuse to forget Vincent Chin and continue to talk about his legacy year after year. As Millennials, we are the next leading generation. We’re already at the forefront of the movements that are most loudly clamoring for justice for people of color and immigrants in America. We must remember Vincent Chin and fight today’s hate crimes against our communities. One lesson of the murder of Vincent Chin, as well as the unpunished killings of black people today, is that justice does not exist without equality. We must demand both in the years to come.

Minji Kim is a student at the University of Michigan and an intern with Advancing Justice | AAJC.