Apr 11, 2008

Where Are the South Asians: "Vincent Who?" Preview and Critique

I just caught wind of this new documentary, directed by Tony Lam and produced by Curtis Chin/Asians Pacific Americans for Progress, called "Vincent Who?" which looks at the legacy of the murder of Vincent Chin and the activism that galvanized some Asian American communities afterwards (it was 25 years in 2007). Here's the preview:

Okay - so I have some issues with this, and I'm hoping that they won't play out the same way once I see the full film, but I'm not hopeful. First, for Asian American activists of any color/ethnic configuration, Vincent Chin's story represented a senseless murder that underscored the sometimes severe anti-Asian sentiment that remained in the United States (i.e. passing new laws to get rid of racist old laws didn't get rid of Asian as foreign and other sentiments). The film "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" really captured the spirit of the time; the pain on his mother's face still haunts me, and the images of Asian activism around this particular hate crime were very important for me to feel connected and understand the injustice involved.

But the raising of Vincent Chin's story to this level of importance also does the same thing as focusing heavily on the 1960s and 1970s APA activism (I Wor Kuen, I-Hotel, Third World Student Strike, Basement Workshop, the Internment reparations movement and various other things): they shut out the importance, activism, and organizing in newer immigrant communities. Vincent Chin's story is the touchstone, but Navroze Modi, Balbir Singh Sodhi, Rishi Maharaj, and the many Southeast Asians who have been senselessly murdered are forgotten.

This film's preview tells me two things: first, the question is posed to a lot of South Asian students as well as other Asian students. They're as ignorant of Vincent Chin as anyone else, it seems, and I think the point should be that they should know. But second and more importantly, the people who are interviewed about the impact of the case and the resulting activism only includes (in my quick review of the preview and the written materials) one South Asian, who's on the WEST COAST (and who I've never heard of). Anti-Asian violence has been a huge deal in South Asian communities, and organizers and activists continue to use the lessons of the Vincent Chin advocacy to guide their ongoing work. But they are ignored in this new documentary. People who have no direct connection with the case are asked about how it affected them. I know a lot of people that it affected who committed their time and work to fighting anti-Asian/anti-immigrant/anti-gay/anti-black hate crimes. But they aren't included here (or at least, don't have any marquee presence, and I would think some of them would).

This just makes no sense to me at all - it seems like a glaring mistake that could have easily been rectified. I will wait to pass final judgment, but it was a great opportunity, I can come up with a long list of names of people who could have been interviewed, and I can't understand why, if the purpose was to show ways that APAs now are affected and could still be connected to this story, that step wasn't taken. Shut out again, even when hate crimes against South Asians have risen tremendously in the years after 9/11. I'm not whining here, just asking what gives, and wondering why there aren't more truly representative efforts out there by non-South Asians in things that are very obviously relevant.

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm not saying it's deliberate, but is that an excuse?


moon said...

My friend chee malabar actually addressed this in a song called oblique brown (well he name checked balbir sing sodhi and vincent chin and amadou diallo).

and it's ironic, because we had the same conversation two weeks ago regarding the same issue.

Feels like there is still a hugh gap in apa issues...



moon said...

there is also a documentary about the s. asian men who have gone missing after 9-11. i can't remember the name of the doc. though.

Rage said...

Moon - thanks for checking in, and yeah, haven't checked Chee's album yet (I know, I'm behind), but I'll look for that track. I just think it's a weird gap here, and it's a gap that they half-address with the students that they ask "do you know who vincent chin is?" to. Why couldn't they finish that thought?

I think it's actually a huge gap between west and east coast apa's, to be honest. It's kind of like the South Asians are out of it on the West, and have their own networks so they never joined into the mainstream APA stuff (or the mainstream stuff was so much more established than on the East that it was hard to break through once the population grew in the 80s).