Today marks the 39th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death, which became the catalyst in the fight for Asian-American rights.
Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese-American engineer who was murdered in a racially motivated attack by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz in Detroit, Michigan. Increasing competition from Japanese import cars created anti-Japanese sentiment in the Detroit automotive industry. A witness heard one of the assailants say “It’s because of you motherf***ers that we’re out of work.” ¹
Judge Kaufman found Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter and sentenced them to a mere three years probation. He argued, “these weren’t the kind of men you send to jail.” Detroit citizens were enraged. Allegedly, workers walked off the Chrysler plant Ebens managed. Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union threatened to strike unless Chrysler terminated Ebens².
“The shockingly lenient sentence angered Asian American and Pacific Islander communities across the country to fight for Chin’s justice. Churches, synagogues, Black activist organizations, and other diverse advocacy groups also showed support and solidarity for the cause.” — Paula Yoo³
Many were reminded of Chin this year when the Atlanta spa shooting happened, and Captain Jay Baker said “Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” As if we should sympathize with a murderer. I think of the families of the victims and how those words must have hurt so much to hear.
Vincent Chin’s story deeply affected me as an Asian-American who grew up outside of Detroit. My sister was born just a week before the attack at the hospital he was taken to. My father, who was Chin’s age, was once forced to leave a bar with his buddies because they were being harassed. He was a maintenance worker at Ford and was in the UAW.
Ironically, today is also the 9th anniversary of my father’s death. He had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Everything seemed to happen so quickly, and I feel guilty for not spending more time with him. As I wrote this, I wondered if he knew about Vincent Chin.
At my father’s funeral, there was something that stuck with me. A black man and two white men arrived; most of the attendees were Korean family and friends. I didn’t know who they were, so I was surprised to see three men wiping away tears. They were his coworkers of 30+ years at Ford.
Vincent Chin’s mother holding a portrait of him — drawn by my fiancé
² Did Autoworkers Kill Vincent Chin? by Ron Lare
³ Grieving Vincent Chin, 39 Years Later by Paula Yoo