Jun 19, 2008

Vincent Chin, 26 Years Later

I wrote about Vincent Chin a little when I found out about the film called "Vincent Who?" I don't want to revisit that discussion, read it here if you care to.

Just taking today to reflect a minute: hate crimes are a terrible, dangerous breed of crime. There are many people who just don't want to recognize that there is a special kind of intent behind these crimes, and a broader impact than just on the immediate victim. Part of their logic is that there are already statutes and laws in place to deal with the crime committed - that of beating someone up, killing them, or in the "lucky" situations, merely ridiculing or harassing someone.

But the point of hate crimes is that they affect communities - the victim is a symbol, and so are the acts. By not embracing much more strict hate crime laws, we're basically saying, you can hate all you want - just don't cross the line of beating or killing someone. But the kind of intimidation that naturally flows from these acts is also behavior that we should actively be pushing against. We don't want to - or at least shouldn't want to - allow people to act out their hate in the public arena without knowing that the society we live in won't tolerate these individual acts against groups of people. That's not the America we want to live in.

But it's all a policy discussion, and in this country, substantive policy discussions quickly devolve into surface political sparring. That's not going to change anything.

So what did Vincent Chin die for? Nothing. His death, just like his attack and his attackers, have become symbolic to some people. But in the end, it means nothing more than that striking, heart-breaking image in Christine Choy's original film about his killing, when his grief-stricken mother said solemnly, fighting back the tears, "We want justice. We want justice."

That we organize, that we coalesce around these watermark moments (or build them into focal points to help us rally for our work), is not a bad thing. It's just sad that it takes this kind of event, and the countless others - small and large - to rally people around creating a more safe, respectful, and polycultural society.

It's sad that mothers who understand their kids' English at home, but didn't have to make public statements in that tongue, have to come forward and put their grief on display in an awkward language, in words wholly inadequate to capture what they are feeling.

***

People gather in Strawberry Fields in Central Park every year to sing and remember John Lennon on December 8th, the day he was murdered in 1980. I used to think, wow what a wonderful thing that people do that, and that they get together in that way. But Yoko Ono has asked people not to - she said the day was not a day people should commemorate - it was the day that he was taken from us. Remember his birthday instead.

People often create monuments for those who have fallen - from formal statues to street art tributes. The best of these remember the lives of those who we have lost, but often, it's the day that they die that we remember and commemorate. And stories of their lives are superseded by the sad/angering memories of how they were killed/taken from us. While these things are important, we can't lose sight of the stories behind these stories - the stories of triumph, strength, or just people (flawed as they may be) just trying to live their lives.

But I couldn't find Vincent Chin's birthday anywhere - Wikipedia only says that he was born in 1955, and that he was adopted by his parents in 1961. Vincent Chin wasn't trying to be a hero or a martyr. He was at a strip club, celebrating his bachelor party with some of his friends, before his wedding, which was supposed to be on June 27th. Maybe I'll just remember June 27 from now on and think about his loss then instead.

***

Regardless, remember Vincent, or at least the story of his life and how he was killed. Remember that something is happening to someone right now - whether Asian, black, Latino, white, gay, woman. That person feels alone, feels trapped, feels angry/suicidal/unknown, unheard, unseen. That person may be someone you know, or someone you don't know, but it is someOne.

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