40 Years after the Murder of Vincent Chin, We Honor Our Community’s Resilience in the Face of Hate

(Photo Credit: Vincentchin.org, PBS, CAAM)

By John C. Yang, Connie Chung Joe, Grace Pai

Vincent Chin would be 67 today if he hadn’t been killed. Forty years ago, he was brutally beaten to death by two white men in Detroit who had mistook him, a Chinese American, as Japanese and a foreigner. The murderers never served time in jail.

Vincent Chin’s death, and the failure of justice that followed, sparked outcry from our communities across the country, marking a turning point for the Asian American civil rights movement. From organizing rallies to political advocacy, Asian Americans from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life came together as a united front to fight against racist violence and seek justice for Vincent Chin. This momentum led to the birth of many Asian American civil rights organizations we see today, and we are proud to helm three of the leading organizations who dedicate their mission to serving our communities and fighting for our civil rights.

Parallels of Then and Now
The forty-year anniversary meets our community at a dark and difficult time. Anti-Asian hate and violence is a constant threat as our nation reckons with hate and systemic racism that have inflicted lasting harm on all communities of color. The world we live in today parallels the world in 1982 in many ways. Vincent Chin’s murder happened during a time of increasing economic competition with Japan and its growing auto industry, rising inflation, and insecurities about employment that led to increasing xenophobia and racial tensions. Asian Americans were scapegoated and treated as “perpetual foreigners’’ in the country we call home. In the wake of Vincent Chin‘s murder, we rose up in unprecedented numbers for the first time under the umbrella identity “Asian American” to demand justice. We also demanded justice for centuries of discrimination and mistreatment, because despite the rich diversity of history and culture within the Asian American community, we all share the common experience of exclusion and “othering.”

Forty years later, Asian Americans once again are facing the rise of hate and violence targeting our communities. Anti-Asian sentiments have reached a new high in the past two years. We are being wrongly blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic and seeing hate and blame manifested in the form of racial slurs, harassment, and violence against the most vulnerable in our communities. With rising geopolitical tensions on the global stage, we are seeing a resurgence of xenophobic, anti-China rhetoric from politicians who scapegoat our communities for economic woes and challenges beyond our control — further fueling racial bias and emboldening others to target Asian Americans and treat us with suspicion.

Our Resilience Won’t Be Denied
As we remember Vincent Chin’s legacy, we also mourn lives lost in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Uvalde, and too many others to name. Yet in the face of hate, our communities continue to rise in resilience. Countless individuals are taking action to send a message that we will not tolerate hate in this country. We applaud the courage of civil rights advocates, community leaders, allies, and everyday people who continue to speak out and challenge the status quo. We call for our government to take action in combating race-based violence and addressing systemic racism in our country. With midterm elections approaching, Asian Americans and the broader American society must stay vigilant to politicians who attempt to use racial rhetoric to inflame anti-Asian sentiments and stigmatize our communities for their own political gain. We remain determined in this fight against hate in all forms as we advocate for not only our own communities, but also for all marginalized groups who have been harmed and were denied justice.

Forty years ago, people from across racial groups came together to work towards tearing down the walls of discrimination and exclusion. Today, it has never been more important to stay united with our allied communities of color to dismantle white supremacy and fight for racial justice so that all can feel safe, protected, and thrive in the nation we call home.

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John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Advancing Justice — AAJC, Grace Pai, Executive Director of Advancing Justice — Chicago, and Connie Chung Joe, Chief Executive Officer of Advancing Justice — LA are part of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice affiliation whose organizations are dedicated to advocating for the civil and human rights of Asian Americans and other underserved communities to promote a fair and equitable society for all.