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do you know vincent chin?

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.


6 responses to “do you know vincent chin?

  1. Pingback: Anti-Asian-American Violence Still Persists… « Step By Step: Daniel K. Eng

  2. Danny, you’re right. Our churches need to be reaching the felt needs of Asian-Americans in the name of the gospel.

    Last year Bread of Life Church in Torrance hosted an Asian American conference that I wish I could have attended:

    We need more churches to make commitments to teaching about these issues.

  3. dannyyang ⋅

    sweet– thanks for the link. i’m glad they provided an mp3 of the lecture.

  4. sabrinachannel ⋅

    I especially like your idea of reading through Zia’s book – it’s a great one.

    5 or 6 years ago when I was staffing CBS (now AACM) I led a series of ethnic identity discussion groups. We looked at ethnic identity in the life of Joseph, listened to AA spoken word, brought articles, talked about racism (ours and others, and social justice etc. Good stuff. One of the things I was most proud of was starting a culture of students taking AA studies classes and growing in ethnic identity.

    And yeah, I agree with you – I believe in the role of ethnic-specific fellowships and church communities, but they have to be thinking about how to reach that particular community with the gospel (which means understanding how the gospel intersects our ethnic identity).

  5. Eileen ⋅

    wow… moving post. The story is heart rending and saddening at the same time. It makes you wonder about racism and the justice system. Anyways, I couldn’t help, but be moved and angered by the lack of injustice that was carried out.

    My question is: How does an Asian American Christian put their faith 1st, when dealing with racism, and not be motivated to react in anger, when dealing with Asian American advocacy issues of racism?

    I once heard someone say (with a lot of vehemence) about an alleged racist incident, “you ALWAYS have to deal with racism right way and never let it go…”… and it made me wonder, “ALWAYS???” (I do believe there is something in Proverbs about dealing with fools and mockers who do not wish to listen to wisdom.)

    I wonder what would have happened if Vincent Chin had decided to not deal with the racial slurs, and walk away? Not to say that we should always walk away from racism and racial injustices. But sometimes the time and place may not be the most appropriate place/time to deal with racism … and wisdom over the situation needs to reign.

    There is such a large room for error and anger when dealing with racism, and injustices in this world. The question isn’t whether one should stand up for the rights of the voiceless, and the ignored… but rather, how does one do it as a Christian? It’s a fine line…. that can sometimes be easily be blurred. One moment, one is advocating and fighting for injustices in this world, and another moment, one is reacting in anger, retaliation and self-righteous anger and judgement.

    It’s a tough call. Yes, as Christians we should fight for justice. But let’s not forget the mercy and wisdom in dealing such horrific situations as well.

  6. s ⋅

    Thanks for posting about this. I can relate to so many of the things that you’re writing about, especially when it comes to chinese churches.

    For those in AA congregations, yes – I think that discussions about race are important. I wholeheartedly agree with your statement: “Why does education have to happen at church? Because it won’t happen anywhere else for the AA community. ” — however, my hope is that with this next generation (the one where WE are the parents), that we will foster open dialogue with our children so that the burden isn’t only upon church leadership – to discuss, well, hard-to-discuss matters.

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