By Ti-Hua Chang, AsAmNews Staff Writer
On June 19th, 40 years to the day that Vincent Chin was beaten into a coma (he died June 23rd), his second Cousin Annie Tan spoke by his grave. It was an Interfaith Remembrance Ceremony of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Bahai’s and non-religious attendees. On this warm, bright day, at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit, Annie Tan spoke for the dozens of surviving and grieving relatives of Vincent Chin.
She shared a copy of her prepared speech with AsAmNews. In it she recalled Vincent’s mother Lily and her long, unsuccessful fight to jail her son’s murderers. Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz never served even one day in jail for Chin’s murder.
CHIN FAMILY REMEMBERS VINCENT AND LILY CHIN
The 33 -year-old Annie Tan never met Vincent, adding, “What we do know about Vincent, we know because Vincent’s mother Lily spoke up, hundreds of times, over and over again, to tell Vincent’s story. My great auntie showed the world Vincent was right when he said his last words: ‘It isn’t fair.’ When Vincent was killed, less than one percent of Detroit residents were Asian. My great auntie had to speak. She said aloud, when so many were afraid, ‘I want justice for my son.’ She never wanted any mother to go through what she had.”
ORIGINAL FOUNDERS OF VINCENT CHIN ORGANIZATION AT CEMETERY
Tan also learned about her murdered relative because of the activism of Detroit’s American Citizens for Justice organization. Its original founders in 1983: author-activist Helen Zia, lawyers Roland Hwang and Jim Shimoura organized the four-day commemoration of Chin’s murder. At the cemetery Sunday, Hwang and Shimoura held up the American flag and used it to drape the casket of Vincent’s father. C.W. Hing Chin served in the US army in World War II in part so he could marry a Chinese woman and bring her to America. America’s anti-Chinese immigration laws were still in effect when he enlisted.
ANNIVERSARY REMEMBRANCE WELL ATTENDED
The 40th remembrance attracted the most attendees in many years. The 224% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes clearly one, if not the main, reason. It was very much part of the rededication emphasized at Saturday’s – National Conversation on Asian Americans, America, and Democracy held at the Detroit Theater. It was one part of the four days of discussion, art, music and film showings with documentarians, activists, artists and religious leaders.
Lawyer Jim Shimoura, a third-generation Detroiter, told an audience there and on Facebook that today the danger is worse. Coalition-building between Asian Americans and all people of color is critical, he says. Shimoura brought up the far-right extremists in Michigan noting, “… these White militia type folks are running around with AR-15s ready to kill us at any point in time… this is a public health threat and has to be placed on page one. Unfortunately because of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic, anti-Asian hate has kind of fallen back to page 10.”
AFRICAN AMERICAN SUPPORT WAS CRITICAL TO FIGHTING ANTI-ASIAN HATE IN DETROIT 1980’S
In 1987 Mrs. Chin told this reporter that Helen Zia was the key to the fight for justice for Vincent. On Saturday, organizers played an old interview with Mrs. Chin when she noted that the public backing by African Americans like the Reverend Horace Sheffield jr. and Jesse Jackson proved pivotal to building-wide support for justice for Chin in the 1980s. That support led to federal civil rights charges against the two killers. Two trials ended with, first Nitz, then Ebens found not guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights. Zia worries that today it’s harder for Blacks and Asians to join forces.
“We owe thanks to African Americans… (but) in the Black community today, my perception is that we went through a horrible 1980s that began with the disintegration of the safety net, you know, for all people, but the blame was then laid on Asian Americans… we began the 1990s with the LA uprisings that then to me began to cement the idea that Asians are the enemy not only to America in general, but to the Black community.”
Attorney Roland Hwang who in the 1990’s worked for the Michigan attorney general’s office said the solution is nonetheless clearly coalition building and involvement. “Very clearly it’s time for public input and activism, because the legislators in many cases are doing their job. They’re getting the bills set in different states, but they’re not necessarily getting to the public hearing stage, getting the public to weigh in. And so really, it’s a call to action for us to call for hearings and to get progress on these bills and not just wait for the legislatures to take action on these bills.”
During Saturday’s discussion about the difficulty of coalition building, audience member Paula Madison, a former NBC Vice-President of Diversity, said one bridge could be mixed ethnicity people like her. She is Jamaican, African, and Chinese American and is active with all three communities. “…My concern here is as we’re talking about coalition building, is that the fastest-growing demographic in the United States is mixed race and it’s not being reflected here in the conversation. But what we’re talking about is how do we work together?”
CHIN FAMILY EVOLVES LILY CHIN’S SPIRIT TO COMBAT ANTI-ASIAN HATE
For Chin’s relatives, it is a battle that continues. Tan concluded at the cemetery, “As we face yet another wave of anti-Asian hate, it is easy to despair. I often thought in hard times, in times I feel hopeless, ‘What would Lily Do?’ … In her way, she led us. Lily said, ‘Our skin color may be different, but our blood is the same.’ That blood runs through my veins. And that blood runs through all of us.
Thank you, great-auntie Lily, for everything. Because you fought, because you spoke up, we will forever know Vincent Chin’s name. Cousin Vincent, while many of us never got to meet you, you will never be lost to us. … On this 40th Anniversary of your murder, cousin, I promise we will live our lives fiercely, love our family fiercely, fight for the life you should have had, and for the life you and your mother Lily wanted for all of us here.”
Whether or not coalition building is possible, most of the attendees at this Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication agreed it will be needed even more if US-China relations worsen. Should that happen, the anti-Asian hate of today will be minor in comparison warned many of the speakers.
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