If you were to ask a friend “Who was Vincent Chin?” they would likely not be able to answer.
They would not be alone, according to Curtis Chin, founder of Asian Pacific Americans for Progress and director of the documentary “Vincent Who?” The movie, released in 2008, sought to explain the role Vincent Chin had in creating the “Asian-American” identity. Chin presented his film in the Rhea Miller Recital Hall last Monday.
On June 12, 1982, the night before his wedding, Chin, a Chinese American, was beaten to death by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, two white, unemployed autoworkers in Detroit. They mistakenly thought Chin was Japanese and were angry about American automakers losing market share to Toyota and Honda, two Japanese brands.
Despite multiple witnesses to the crime, Ebens and Nitz were sentenced to three months probation and a $3,000 fine, respectively. According to Curtis Chin, neither has ever paid the fine.
The two were later found guilty in U.S. Circuit Court in Detroit for having violated Vincent Chin’s civil rights. However, an appeal’s court in Cincinnati reversed the Detroit Court’s decision.
The conclusion of the Vincent Chin case led to an enraged public. Asian Americans across the country decided to get vocal about the case, and the Chin murder is regarded to be the beginning of an Asian American movement.
Zach Gomez, marketing freshman, left the event not only knowing who Vincent Chin was, but what he now represents.
“It was very eye opening,” Gomez said. “I had no idea of the case before attending.”
John Schmidt, political science sophomore, was another student at the event. He, too, did not know much about the Vincent Chin case prior to Monday night.
“Awareness is the underlying theme that is going on here, not being aware of what is happening,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s ignorance, but it was a big eye opener for me.”
Given the outcome of the Chin case and the outrage that came from it, people may wonder if the chances of similar crimes occurring today are high. Schmidt thinks that the chances are high.
“It’s still happening,” he said. “You look at the news and see Trayvon Martin and the fact that he [George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin] hasn’t even been brought into court, preliminary or circuit court…they’re not even doing the trial.”
Although he thinks that it could still happen, Schmidt looks up at how knowledge of the subject could change the likelihood of cases similar to Chin’s occurring today.
“I think it definitely needs to have more awareness, and that people need to get behind it,” he said. “You saw in the movie that they only revisited the case because the public got behind it, and that’s what people need to do now.”
Curtis Chin, who grew up in the Metro Detroit area and received his undergraduate degree from University of Michigan, said he was motivated to make the film in part due to Michigan’s role in forming Asian-American identity.
Michigan’s role in the case was also cited by history professor Byungil Ahn as a reason he wanted to bring Curtis Chin to SVSU to show his film.
“This is an issue of what happened here can happen anywhere,” Ahn said. “We wanted to let people know that this happened in Michigan.”
Gomez also likes the idea of people coming together to make sure the right things are done in cases like this.
“You see lots of examples of this from the movie, but when people come together they can become on voice,” he said.
For more information about the story of Vincent Chin, visit www.apaforprogress.org, and for more information about the movie, go to the film website www.vincentwhomovie.com.