Saturday, March 6, 2010

The murder that galvanized Asian American activism | Philadelphia Inquirer | 03/05/2010

The murder that galvanized Asian American activism | Philadelphia Inquirer | 03/05/2010

The murder that galvanized Asian American activism

As part of making his documentary, producer Curtis Chin asked about 80 young Asian Americans a simple question: Have you heard of Vincent Chin?
The answers came back:
No.
No.
"Um, from the riot, a long time ago?"
"From Canada?"
No.
The correct answer: Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese American who in 1982 was beaten to death by two Detroit autoworkers. They thought he was Japanese and, thus, somehow responsible for the job losses that accompanied the decline of the U.S. auto industry.
The crime was notable for its gruesome details: One man held Chin as the other struck him with a baseball bat. And for its heart-wrenching timing: Chin died five days before he was to have been married.
But what compelled Curtis Chin to make the film Vincent Who? was the aftermath. The protests that followed Chin's death sparked the creation of the modern Asian American civil-rights movement.
Until then, different ethnicities had fought solo battles, the Chinese against the exclusion laws, the Japanese against World War II internment. But Chin's killing provoked a pan-Asian response toward larger white society.
"They can't tell the difference between us anyway, right?" said filmmaker Chin, 41 and no relation to Vincent Chin. "Before, it would have been annoying. Now, it could get you murdered. It literally could have been any one of us."
Today at the University of Pennsylvania, Vincent Chin's life, death, and meaning will be discussed at a screening of Vincent Who? It's part of the annual East Coast Asian American Student Union conference, 

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