It’s not every day I have a poem in the Boston Globe, this time marking the 40th anniversary since the death of Vincent Chin this week.
I was considering the relationship of his killing by two autoworkers in Detroit to my own journey as an Asian American with roots in Southeast Asia. As we approach 50 years since the end of the US Secret War in Laos, his case is in many ways intertwined with both my personal journey and that of my community. As Asian Americans continue to face violence that led to movements like #StopAsianHate, it’s important for us to remember the many different stories that led to where we are today.
Vincent Chin was a Chinese American man attacked on June 19th, 1982, forty years ago. He would die a few days later on June 23rd. During the case it emerged that his killers blamed the Japanese for getting laid off, and thought he was one of them. Over the years, our understanding of the case has grown more complex, even as the justice we sought grew ever farther away.
For many of my colleagues and I in the Asian American community, it was a defining moment in our understanding of what it meant to be Asian American and a community. Growing up in Michigan, I remember the incident clearly as a young boy who was often mistaken for many different ethnicities because no one knew anything about Laos back in those days or why we might possibly have any reason to be here in the US.
His two killers never served a single day in jail, and never paid a dime of a fine that wouldn’t even have bought a used car back in the day. Vincent’s death was a key moment in Asian Americans understanding the need to organize and commit to seeking justice and calling for an end to anti-Asian violence. Unfortunately, there were some who thought that we could relax on this matter four decades later.
But as we have seen in the last few years, this will be an ongoing issue for our community, and it is important to study our shared history and to do what we can to create a better world for the next generation. I’ve been honored to be a part of several events this year remembering his life and legacy in Michigan. The Boston Globe has shared a poem from my 2020 collection BEFORE WE REMEMBER WE DREAM that discussed his murder and the way it intertwined with my own journey as a Lao American growing up in Michigan, and how I began to understand what would become a fundamental part of my identity.
Thank you to Frances Kai-Hwa Wang for inviting me to this project, which also features many other amazing writers contributing to this series! This was made possible thanks to Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research and The Boston Globe’s Opinion team collaborating to resurrect and reimagine The Emancipator, the first abolitionist newspaper in the United States, founded more than 200 years ago.