In 1982, a young Chinese-American man named Vincent Chin was brutally murdered by two white American autoworkers. Anti-Japanese sentiment was at an all time high due to competition in the auto industry, and this surge of anti-Asian racism was credited with motivating Chin’s killing. This tragic event brought about a new era of Asian-American activism and the popularization of the term “Asian-American” itself. Curtis Chin was a child in Detroit who knew the Chins as family friends, and as an adult decided to return to the story that led to so much unrest in his youth.
On Oct. 4, Curtis Chin came to Muhlenberg for a screening of and talkback about his 2009 film “Vincent Who?” The event was opened with an introduction by facilitators Irene Chien, Ph.D., assistant professor of media and communication, and Purvi Parikh, Ph.D., assistant professor of religion studies, followed by the screening of the film. The documentary follows interviews with Asian-American activists, lawyers and community members to tell the story of Vincent Chin’s killing, the trial of his killers (Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz) and the outpouring of activism that followed a manslaughter plea deal. To date, neither Nitz nor Ebens have spent a day in jail for Vincent Chin’s murder. The film detailed a perception that in the wake of the killers’ escape from meaningful consequences, Asian-Americans across ethnicities banded together to protest for harsher consequences, leading to the popularization of a pan-Asian-American identity and a new legacy of activism.
“And so if that makes the rest of society uncomfortable and aware of these things, then so be it. I don’t feel like I have to apologize for it because these things shouldn’t be happening.”– Curtis Chin
During the talkback, Curtis Chin spoke about a deliberate choice to show only Asian-American commentators from ranging ethnic backgrounds and life experiences, due to their underrepresentation in media at large.
When asked about the model minority myth, Chin said, “It was a term that was developed in the 1960s, first used as a way to sort of put down Black [people] and Latinos because it was used to say, ‘Oh, the Japanese-Americans just came out of internment 10, 20 years ago, and yet they managed to get back on their feet. Yet, you guys can’t get your act together. Why is that?’ It was originally used as a term to sort of pit people of color against each other. That is what makes it a suspect term to use.”
One student asked about how to combat desensitization to hate crimes and police brutality today, as the media sometimes feels oversaturated with sad stories. Chin answered, “I don’t blame the media because these things are happening. If you think that people are sick of hearing about these cases because of the media, think about being a person of color and liv[ing] these things all the time, every day. We’re not desensitized to it because it’s just a fact of life for us. For certain populations that don’t have to deal with this every day, yeah, they may be sick of it. They might feel like, ‘Oh why do I have to hear another one? Oh, this is dumb, you know, move on.’ But for some of us, we don’t have that privilege to move on because it is something we deal with every day. It does sometimes feel overwhelming, but we have no choice but to address those things. And so if that makes the rest of society uncomfortable and aware of these things, then so be it. I don’t feel like I have to apologize for it because these things shouldn’t be happening.”
“It’s so important for people like Curtis Chin to share the stories that aren’t widely known, because not only does it spread the word effectively, it also does it’s best to bring justice to those killed in heinous acts.”– Olivia Thiemann ’24
“I really enjoyed having an event like this to bring more awareness to the Asian-American community as a whole because we don’t get much traction in the media,” said Bethany Qian ‘25. “I really think that the big reason that Black Lives Matter received so much backlash was because the movement was so big in the first place. I remember when the Stop Anti-Asian Hate [movement] came out, I was like, ‘Where’s the media attention? Where’s the support? That was just there, not even a full year ago.’ I think that bringing things like this into conversation is very important for combating racism in general.”
“‘Vincent Who’ was very impactful,” said attendee Olivia Thiemann ‘24. “It’s so important for people like Curtis Chin to share the stories that aren’t widely known, because not only does it spread the word effectively, it also does it’s best to bring justice to those killed in heinous acts. Anti-Asian hate crimes need more attention, and Chin’s poignant storytelling is certainly helping bring the subject to proper light.”
“I think that the event did what it was supposed to do,” said Parikh, “which is to give voice to a member of the Asian community and in particular, the Chinese American community. There were so many great questions that were raised by students. I think the purpose of the film was to bring awareness not just to Vincent Chin, but to anti-Asian racism. You could see the ways in which the questions were engaging with the very issues that we wanted them to engage with.”
When asked to give a comment for the Weekly about how he thought the talk went, Curtis Chin answered simply, “A-plus.”