In 1982, a 27-year-old Chinese American named Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two auto workers who blamed the Japanese for the U.S. auto industry’s troubles. The men were fined $3,780 and never spent a day in jail. Such a light sentence for such a brutal killing brought Asian Americans together across ethnic lines to form multiethnic and multiracial alliances, to organize for civil rights, and to advocate for change.
On the 40th anniversary of Chin’s death, his story continues to inspire and move the Asian American community to solidarity and action. In today’s political landscape, which is increasingly racist, sexist, violent, and exacerbated by COVID-19-inspired anti-Asian American sentiment, it is not enough to know about this one case of injustice but to harness that outrage and use it for good.
StopAAPIHate has collected reports from nearly 11,000 Asian Americans about hate crimes or hate incidents since the start of the pandemic to December 2021. Another study by AAPI Data and Momentive indicates that those self-reported numbers are likely an undercount, and that closer to 12.5% of Asian Americans experienced a hate incident or hate crime in 2020 and 15% in 2021.
Artists and activists have responded with creative community-based solutions, interracial solidarity, and allyship. Asian American aunties sew masks for Native American communities, Black and Latino youth walk with Asian American elders, and a diverse coalition of activists and restaurants fill refrigerators and donate free meals.
Together we create the Beloved Community.
This series of essays and poems commemorate Chin and what his life and death mean for solidarity and belonging for Asian Americans and those allied against racial injustice. Today, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, a poet, essayist, artist, offers insights on the Beloved Community, popularized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She is editor of “Beyond Vincent Chin, Legacies in Action and Art,” to be published by Wayne State University Press. The anthology features writers May-lee Chai, Curtis Chin, Mika Kennedy, and Bryan Thao Worra, whose pieces will be posted here each day this week.
First, I heard from the high schoolers at Chinese School that all their parents were stocking up on rice and bottled water. Then, I heard about the fights breaking out in the California Costcos.
Don’t mess with Asian aunties.
Weeks later, the rest of America went crazy for toilet paper.
But I am the child of immigrants. So while y’all were #quarantinebaking sourdough bread, I was sprouting bean sprouts, grinding soy milk, coagulating tofu from scratch, sewing masks. Old school.
“Asian students say coronavirus is spreading discrimination at Michigan State University,” Lansing State Journal
“Coronavirus graffiti at park leaves Asian-American woman ‘scared, frustrated,’ " Royal Oak Tribune
“Local groups respond to aggression against the Asian community,” WZZM-TV Grand Rapids
When I first came for grad school, the only thing I knew about Michigan was this was where Vincent Chin was killed. And I was afraid.
Twenty-seven years old. Chinese American. A bachelor party. A baseball bat.
“It’s because of you little … that we are out of work,” said the White autoworker.
“These aren’t the kind of men you send to jail,” said the judge.
A $3,000 fine.
All these years I have lived in Michigan, I have held it at arm’s length, felt like I did not belong, waited for the day I could finally return home.
Then I learned about all the people who came together across differences of race and ethnicity demanding justice for Vincent Chin, the people who still speak out to defend others today, the people who would craft a new answer to the question Vincent Chin’s mother asked, all those years ago:
“What kind of law is this? What kind of justice?”
“Chinese Americans in Michigan donate more than 200,000 masks, supplies,” Detroit Free Press
“Michigan leaders encourage reporting of anti-Asian American hate crimes amid COVID- 19,” WWMT-TV West Michigan
“Opinion: Hate has no home in Michigan, especially in coronavirus crisis,” Bridge magazine
As the hashtags surge #StopAAPIHate #washthehate #IamNotAVirus #hateisavirus #StandAgainstHatred,
And Big Gretch starts trending, I feel, for the first time in all these years, like I belong here. Like I am not alone here. Like this can be home here.
Even as the last snowstorm of the season sweeps in.
But in choosing to call this place home, we have to make this home for all of us, all our communities #Asians4BlackLives #FlintWaterCrisis #RunWithMaud #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.
What will you do to create community, the Beloved Community, where no mother ever has to ask, “What kind of law is this? What kind of justice?”
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a poet, artist, essayist, and activist focused on issues of Asian America, race, justice, and the arts. She teaches Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies at University of Michigan and creative writing at Washtenaw Community College. Her book of poetry, “You Cannot Resist Me When My Hair Is in Braids,” is out from Wayne State University Press.