By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

In June of 1982, a 27 year old Chinese American named Vincent Chin went out with friends to celebrate his engagement in Detroit, Mich. What was supposed to be a celebratory and joyous outing unexpectedly turned tragic.

 By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

In June of 1982, a 27 year old Chinese American named Vincent Chin went out with friends to celebrate his engagement in Detroit, Mich. What was supposed to be a celebratory and joyous outing unexpectedly turned tragic.

During the early 1980s Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota were starting to out sell American made cars, leading to layoffs in the American auto industry. As a result the media perpetuated negative coverage about the Asian auto industry which, unintentionally, reflected negatively towards Asian Americans who started to feel threatened.

"There was so much anti-Asian sentiment not just on the street but literally when you turned on the TV. You had these television ads basically bashing Japanese products while politicians and celebrities were saying anti-Asian things," said Curtis Chin, Vincent Who? Producer and Detroit-native. "I remember my parents warning me to be careful when I was out in the city because of the negative tension." 

While at the strip club Fancy Pants, Vincent and his friends had a fight with two auto workers Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who mistook Chin for being Japanese. It was reported that Ebens said, "It's because of you [...] that we're out of work."

To avoid any further confrontation with the two disgruntled men, Chin and his friends left the bar. However, rather than forgetting the incident, Ebens and Nitz drove throughout the Detroit area, paying fellow Detroit-natives to help them find Chin and his friends. After a few hours of driving around the city, the two men found Chin, alone, waiting for a ride at a local McDonald's. They kept Chin from fleeing the scene and then bludgeoned him to death with a baseball bat.

Ebens and Nitz never spent a night in prison for their crime.

 

Big_Vincent_WhoThe new documentary Vincent Who? aims to shed light on the Vincent Chin case and, in a greater effort, empower a pan-Asian movement against hate crimes. I had the opportunity to meet the documentary's producer and family friend of Vincent Chin during a screening of the film hosted by the Hennepin County Public Library. 

During a visit to Detroit four years ago, the documentary's producer and L.A.-based writer Curtis Chin asked his family and friends about what was being done around Vincent Chin's death anniversary. In Curtis's eyes, this incident had significant ramifications for the Chinese American and greater Asian American community.

 

To his surprise and disappointment, through his discussions he found that very little was planned to reflect on this tragic incident. So he set forth on a personal quest to change that. Curtis decided to organize 14 town hall meetings across the nation to discuss hate crimes which have occurred in minority communities. From these discussions, Curtis created the documentary Vincent Who?, bringing to light incidents which have occurred throughout the nation similar to the crime against Vincent Chin. 

While starting to develop this documentary, Curtis had no real expectations and originally wanted to keep this as a personal piece. As he shared his thoughts on creating this film with his friends and family, he found something rather unexpected.

 

"As people started hearing I was working on this documentary, so many people came out of the wood work either to offer money or names of people to speak with or their time," Curtis Chin said. "I think it's a testament to the power of this subject Vincent Chin and how the case still resonates for people. That made the job of making this so much easier." 

Despite being a significant and important event in Asian American and Chinese American history, the film paints a grim picture of how little the latest generation of Asian Americans know about this crime. At the start of the film, it showed a series of people who were asked if they knew who Vincent Chin was. The film showed about a dozen people who could not answer the question, "Do you know who Vincent Chin is?"

 

The film wasn't focused on those few people who didn't know of Vincent Chin. Vincent Who? as a whole showed a human characteristic which can be truly inspiring, our abilities to take negative incidences and strive to make positive changes. 

Through perspectives of popular bloggers, lawyers, journalists, activists, artists, politicians and event community members, Vincent Who? told the greater story of how incidences such as Vincent Chin has inspired people to do good in their communities.

 

"We hope that people who watch this film will be inspired to get involved, whether you're a student or professional or retiree, everybody has a role to play in terms of building and strengthening the Asian American community," Curtis Chin said. 

Hopefully the film Vincent Who?, through its discussion of real life experiences and true stories of minority community members who have had their civil liberties broken, will be the catalyst that changes the role younger generations of Chinese Americans and fellow Asian American will take in their communities.

 

"Don't wait for the next person to be killed in order to fight for your civil rights," Curtis Chin said.

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