Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Q&A with Curtis Chin

Monday, June 19th 2017

This week marks the 35th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s tragic beating and subsequent death. Asian Americans Advancing Justice commemorates this anniversary by sharing conversations with people who were involved with or were affected by Vincent Chin’s case.

Today’s conversation is with Curtis Chin. Curtis is a filmmaker from Detroit, currently living in Los Angeles.

 

What does the Vincent Chin case mean to you?  

The Vincent Chin case in some ways was a defining moment for me as a kid, growing up. I was always aware of being Asian in Detroit, which is a very racially polarized city. To have my identity as an Asian thrust into the spotlight was an unusual and uncomfortable situation. I didn’t like the way we were being presented as how powerless we were.

What are lessons to learn from the Vincent Chin case? Are there any specific lessons that you think are especially relevant now, at this particular moment in time?

The lessons are always the same: it’s about building coalitions. One of the things about the Vincent Chin case is that as an Asian American community in Detroit, reaching out to other communities, in particular, African American and Jewish communities in terms of their experiences fighting for equal rights, is something we could draw upon, which was great. Not only do we as a community -- as Asian Americans -- work together, it’s important for us to build those connections because, frankly, we just don’t have the large numbers that other communities have. And so we do need to be able to make those connections and make other communities invested in other issues. At the same time, that means we also have to be invest in other peoples communities. It’s a two-way street.

You talk to the activists involved in the beginning, we did have to get advice in terms of: how do you organize a political rally, how do you get letters in the newspaper, How do you get letters to the editor? How do you get a politician to meet with you? Initially when the community were trying to get these meetings with local politicians, none of them were paying attention; they wouldn’t even take meetings with our community. But it was once we started making connections to those other communities and having them help us that’s when there started to be some movement.

How do you think Vincent Chin's case affected the AAPI community?

Kaufman’s decision definitely pissed off a lot of Asian Americans and they really felt like they needed to take a stand on behalf of not only Vincent but also for other Asian Americans and other people of color. This was clearly a travesty of justice. There was no way we could let this happen.

Asian Americans have always been involved in fighting for our civil rights, but the key distinction in the Vincent Chin case is the pan-Asian aspect of it. Even though the histories and the struggles and many of the laws written against Asian Americans crossed over to different communities, I think that this case, which really centered on a lot of xenophobia -- which is something that I think all Asian Americans deal with -- was unique in the sense that it instinctively got people from different aspects of the Asian American community to think more collectively on a broader scale. It catapulted the struggles of Asian Americans to a higher spotlight.

What do you think is Vincent Chin’s legacy, 35 years after his death in Detroit?  

I think the legacy is more about the activists than about Vincent. Vincent was just a person going out to celebrate his upcoming wedding. He was just living his life - he wasn’t trying to make a political statement at that point. He was in the Wrong place at the wrong time. It’s hard for me to say what is the legacy for him, it’s sad that he died, and lives were ruined, but the legacy of the Vincent Chin murder is about the activism and the people that stood up for him when he couldn’t stand up for himself and people who tried to get justice for him. I feel like for me, those are the people I remember with the Vincent Chin case.

 

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Our mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.