On the night of June 19, 1982, a fight ensued at the Fancy Pants strip club on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park where Vincent Chin was having his bachelor party. The group was thrown out and after a heated exchange of words subsequently parted ways. Ronald Ebens instigated the incident by declaring, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” referring to U.S. auto manufacturing jobs being lost to Japan, despite the fact that Chin was not Japanese. Ebens and Michael Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man 20 dollars to help look for Chin, before finding him at a McDonald’s restaurant. Chin tried to escape, but was held by Nitz while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat. Chin was struck at least four times with the bat, including blows to the head. As Chin slipped into a coma, he whispered to his friend “It’s not fair.” When rushed to Henry Ford Hospital, he was brain-dead and died after four days in a coma, on June 23, 1982. (from wikipedia)
The two men responsible for Chin’s death never served a day of jail time, and Ebens proudly declares he will never pay a dime of the civil suit to Chin’s family (and he hasn’t).
Have you heard of Vincent Chin?
I confess that his name meant nothing to me until I went to seminary in Atlanta. Our school was pretty much black and white, with some international Korean students. For the first time, there was no Asian-American lunch table that I could sit at, and that’s when I started to learn more about being Asian-American and read about Vincent Chin.
Here’s where I’m curious: what role should the Asian-American church play in educating the congregation about ethnic and race issues? I had attended Chinese churches almost my whole life, and we never heard any stories concerning AA issues. We might have language classes, celebrate New Year’s in February, and eat rice after church service– but we never engaged and taught about being Asian in America. We implicitly taught that my faith had nothing to do with my skin color. In a sense, we prioritized assimilation and embraced being honorary whites.
Why does education have to happen at church? Because it won’t happen anywhere else for the AA community. Schools will not talk about the first Asian immigrants who came as indentured servants. The laborers behind the transcontinental railroad get rewarded with the Chinese Exclusion Act, but no one, or at least no school board cares. WWII is about Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and the Holocaust; there’s no time or space to talk about the internment camps. But Vincent Chin (and just last week– David Kao) tell us that race matters, and the prejudice behind past sins persists today.
I’d love to hear about a small group reading through Helen Zia’s Asian American Dreams, thinking deeply about how our faith intersects our identity and the role of the church in AA advocacy, instead of just choosing the latest curriculum from Beth Moore or John Ortberg. Then we might begin to encounter Jesus in ways that allow AA to bless the world as only we can.