More than three decades ago, two white autoworkers fatally beat Chinese-American Vincent Chin in Detroit with a baseball bat.
The Japanese auto industry had begun booming then. And the workers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, had mistaken Chin to be a Japanese man, blaming him for the loss of jobs in the U.S.
“It’s because of you little motherf**kers that we’re out of work,” witnesses heard Ebens say.
Chin died four days later ― just days before his wedding.
“It often feels like we have not learned from our past mistakes as a nation.”
As activists look back on the tragedy on Monday, the 35th anniversary of Chin’s death, experts say they see parallels between the xenophobic sentiments of then and now ― related to perceiving Asians as perpetual foreigners, and insecurity over jobs. Today, this manifests itself in hate crimes against Asian-Americans and the targeting of the minority group in FBI espionage cases.
“It often feels like we have not learned from our past mistakes as a nation,” Karin Wang, vice president of Programs and Communications for nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA), told HuffPost.
However, the incident also electrified a generation of Asian-Americans to speak out for civil rights, Wang said. Now, nonprofits are calling on members of the minority to continue the work of what the previous generation started and build relationships with other activist communities so that an incident like this can never happen again.
Modern-Day Hate Violence Against Asian-Americans Tied To Anti-Immigrant Sentiment
Since Chin’s death, there’s been no shortage of hate targeting the Asian-American community ― particularly in recent years during which there’s been a resurgence of violence.
Last year, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations released a report on 2015 hate crimes which showed that those committed against Asian-Americans had tripled from six to 18 in that county alone. Most of them targeted people of Chinese descent.
“In the seven months since the election, there have been hundreds if not thousands of reports of hate-related attacks, linked to anti-immigrant, anti-China, and anti-Muslim sentiments.”
What’s more, members of the South Asian-American community have experienced an “unprecedented” resurgence of hate violence. The violence was “electrified” by the election cycle and comparable to levels seen the September 11 attacks, nonprofit South Asian Americans Leading Together, said of a study from the group. And the majority of the acts documented in the report were fueled by anti-Muslim sentiment.
“In the seven months since the election, there have been hundreds if not thousands of reports of hate-related attacks, linked to anti-immigrant, anti-China, and anti-Muslim sentiments,” Wang, whose organization has its own website that tracks anti-Asian hate crimes, told HuffPost.
Discrimination of Asian-Americans has also come from the government. A new report released by the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American nonprofit, showed that those of Asian descent might have been unfairly treated in economic espionage cases. Those from the minority group were charged with the crime at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. But they were also found to be innocent at a rate two times higher than individuals from any other race. And when they were found guilty, those with Asian-sounding names were given sentences that were twice as long as people with Western-sounding names.
How ‘Make America Great Again’ Makes ‘Go Back To China’ Acceptable
Experts say that these numbers prove that decades after Chin’s death, attitudes towards Asian-Americans may not have changed quite as much as we’d hoped. In fact, when looking at the L.A. hate crimes, AAAJ-LA suspects that the jump in acts toward Chinese-Americans could be a result of President Donald Trump’s painting of China as the “economic enemy” during his campaign. Wang previously pointed out to HuffPost several instances in which Trump made the nation out to be a threat including a 2015 announcement where he said that “ISIS, China, Mexico are all beating us.”
“I have seen from case after case after case ... that people continue to mistake us [Asian-Americans] for foreigners no matter how hard we assimilate and show our loyalty.”
To many experts, Trump’s rhetoric hearkens back to the motivations behind Chin’s murder.
“Vincent Chin died during a time of heightened anti-Japanese sentiment, rooted primarily in the fear of Japan as an economic threat to American manufacturing,” Wang told HuffPost. “Thirty-five years later, ‘Make America Great Again’ is the battle cry of those who fear American jobs have been sent overseas to China and other nations.”
Aarti Kohli, executive director of AAAJ’s Asian Law Caucus, echoed Wang’s thoughts and told HuffPost that the economic rise of India and China has already had an impact on the South Asian and Chinese communities in the U.S.
This can also be seen in the espionage cases.
The executive director of the Committee of 100, Frank Wu, previously told HuffPost that the unfair treatment of Asian-Americans in those cases underscores the fact the group still has yet to be seen as American ― even if their families have been in the states for several generations.
“I have seen from case after case after case ... that people continue to mistake us [Asian-Americans] for foreigners no matter how hard we assimilate and show our loyalty,” he said.
Blame often gets misplaced when discussing national security as well, Kohli said. She explained that political leaders have made irresponsible blanket statements, deeming Muslims as national security threats. In turn, innocent members of the faith been targeted by hate as well as those even perceived to be Muslim. This includes a number of Sikh-Americans.
“Fear gives rise to hate which gives rise to violence,” Wang concluded of the hate crimes.
Vincent Chin Anniversary Should Galvanize Asian-Americans To Speak Out Today, Experts Say
Experts say that while it feels like we may have even regressed since the murder, the incident galvanized the Asian-American community to vocalize their issues. They not only elevated their own voices, but also partnered across racial groups in the fight for civil rights, creating diverse coalitions. And Wang says that in the current political climate, the group must continue to do so.
“No one has the right to challenge our participation of democracy and American life."
“The siloing of perspectives and communities, whether through language barriers or social media ‘rabbit holes,’ is a large part of what feeds the fear that leads to hate attacks,” she said. “One way to fight this siloing is through programs that deliberately bring together diverse communities to dialogue and learn from each other.”
And ultimately, it’s about letting the public know that America doesn’t belong to any one group.
“We are all part of the American community,” Kohli said. “No one has the right to challenge our participation of democracy and American life.”