Are you still in that reflective meditative coma I’ve suggested? Or have you busted out, ready to take action?
Five years ago, I proposed a special time– a period of community reflection– as an adjunct to May’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, these days reduced to an obligatory and forced public social event.
This is different.
I thought it would be appropriate to make the period between June 19 to June 23 as national days of mourning for Asian Americans.
The days represent the period of time Vincent Chin was in a coma 37 years ago in a hospital in Detroit.
We are all Vincent Chin, right?
If you don’t know who Vincent Chin is– like many people who are under 40 or immigrated to America in the ’80s and ’90s with only a recent sense of Asian American history–then read up on my pieces here on the blog.
But here’s the shorthand: Vincent Chin was the first major Asian American hate crime victim in modern U.S. history whose death exposed our real vulnerability in American society. His bachelor party on June 19, 1982, at a suburban Detroit strip club set the stage for perhaps the single most influential crime against an Asian American in the U.S.
Chin was at the Fancy Pants Club and got involved in a fight with a white auto worker, Ronald Ebens. The fight went outside, and was even stopped. But when Chin left the scene, Ebens followed him by car, got a baseball bat, and tracked down Chin at a local McDonald’s, where the beating took place. Then came the long wait at the Henry Ford Hospital.
Would Chin recover from his coma or die?
See the piece where I talk about my proposal, and other pieces on the Chin case here.
They removed life support for Chin on the fifth day. But on that fifth day, when Chin died, the community came alive. Not just in Detroit, but all over the country. Some Asian American OG-types would say it was the turning point toward their personal sense of activism.
Look at what’s happened since 1982. Not as much progress as you’d think. Chin’s killer, Ronald Ebens, never served time in jail and had his hate crime conviction overturned. Ebens lost the civil case against him and was ordered to pay damages to Chin’s estate. But Ebens has avoided payments to this day and the unpaid damages with interest have risen to millions of dollars.
I interviewed Ebens several times. Read what he told me here.
In 37 years, the community has changed dramatically. More people have come to the U.S. from Asia than ever before and, in general, have a limited sense of Asian American history. Vincent Chin? Who he?
So five days of personal reflection can put things in perspective for a community that has grown to more than 20 million in the U.S.
There’s history that goes back to the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 19th century, the de facto Filipino Exclusion Act in the 1930s, the Japanese American incarceration in the 1940s.
But the post-Vincent Asian American community is broader and includes our South Asian brothers and sisters, the Muslims and Arabs targeted by the Islamophobia of our times.
And then there’s the matter of immigration. When the 1960s brought the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, it also lifted the discriminatory restrictions on Asian immigration with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
That pretty much changed the face of America. Young adults brought babies, infants, and toddlers on tourist visas.. Many of them overstayed.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is an answer today for many of the young people who were brought here by parents and wish to stay. But some remain separated from their families by the harsh laws that remain. The parents’ version of DACA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Law Permanent Residents (DAPA), was blocked, and many DACA recipients’ parents have returned to their homelands, have been deported, or continue living in the shadows. It’s an untenable situation for many Asian Americans, many more who are undocumented than you’d think.
It’s why when you emerge from our VC reflection and retreat, think about the new generation of Asian Americans who find themselves vulnerable.
The Coming ICE Age
Last week, the administration announced ICE would begin raids in major cities all across the U.S. on Sunday. Don’t think Asian Americans would escape scrutiny.
It’s just in time for all of us to emerge, ready to take action.
But by Saturday, Trump, who has a pattern of shooting first then adjusting his targets, said he’d give it two weeks.
Typical Trump. Create anxiety and chaos, then solve the self-created fear-mongering problem with delay and hope that makes him look like a reasonable guy, if not a hero.
Not much of a hero, though.
He’s still promising to use the undocumented as chips in immigration reform. What will that mean?
It means your action is still required as a community to let your representatives know you support their strong actions on your behalf.
Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, the nation’s most Asian American state by population, tweeted out a message that was assuring to the anxious who fear an icy knock on the door.
“You have rights, legal protection,” Newsom said. “Without a warrant, you don’t have to open the door. You have a right to due process. You have a right to legal representation.”
Then the governor said something to remind us why so many of us stayed here.
“The spirit of this state is the spirit of reconciling all our differences, uniting around our common humanity. We’re better than this moment in the United States of America. And we’re going to get through it stronger than ever,” Newsom said.
But it’s all good timing, as we emerge from our brief VC moment of reflection.
We have before us a real community issue that should galvanize us all, the same way Vincent Chin’s death fired up a generation 37 years ago.
Remember the most vulnerable amongst us.
Trump, the divider-in-chief, is looking to shut the door, put up walls, and strike fear in the hearts of all immigrants.
In 2020, xenophobia still appeals to some as a winning political strategy.
Don’t forget xenophobia was at the heart of the murder of Vincent Chin.
Amok: The Column Becomes the Show
If you’ve liked reading my amok columns through the years, here’s a chance to see me performing some of the stories I’ve written about on topics such as family immigration tales, Filipino history, and my time at Harvard, the media, and NPR.
My “Amok Monologues: All Pucked Up” is coming to the Capital Fringe in Washington DC, July 20. If you’re on the east coast, come on by. Or tell your east coast friends.
Intimate space; Five shows only; Tickets are limited. But you can get them here.
And if DC’s too far, drop me a note and I’ll try to bring the show to you.