On June 19, 1982, 40-year-old Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two white men in a racially motivated hate crime. Chin, who was celebrating his bachelor party, was confronted and chased down by Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. They bludgeoned him to death with a baseball bat. They were frustrated by the rise of the Japanese auto industry and blamed Asian people for layoffs at American plants (Chin was Chinese American, not Japanese). Despite the severity of the crime, both attackers only received three years’ probation and a $3,000 fine (Zinn Education). Forty years later, the Asian community is still dealing with rampant racially motivated hate crimes without reprieve.
The onset of COVID-19 in early March set off a dramatic spike in anti-Asian racism. The Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center, organized by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, has tracked over 1,900 self-reported acts of anti-Asian incidents from March to June 2020 and hundreds more from California and Texas since (A3PCON). 58% of Asian Americans feel it’s more common to experience racism now than before COVID-19, and 31% have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity (Pew Research). Later that year, a Pew Study reported that since the pandemic’s start, about 40% of U.S. adults believe “it has become more common for people to express racist views toward Asians.”
• Watch the film Who Killed Vincent Chin?, directed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña.
• Read “The Vincent Chin Legacy Guide: Asian Americans Building the Movement,” a toolkit that outlines how his legacy helped ignite the pan-Asian civil rights movement.
• Donate to Stop AAPI Hate to support their work to track and respond to the surge in racism and xenophobia.
Former President Trump played a role in this, applying his divisive approach to conversations around COVID-19. He chose to refer to it as “Chinese virus,” or “Kung flu,” consistently. Press noted he used the phrase “Chinese virus” over 20 times between March 16 and March 30, 2020 (NBC News). And there’s a long history of North America and its leaders using false narratives to associate Asian Americans with diseases to “justify” racial discrimination and violence.
According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 338% in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities compared to last year (NBC News). And from March 19, 2020, to September 30, 2021, nearly 10,400 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) were reported (Stop AAPI Hate).
These attacks disproportionately impact those most vulnerable in the AAPI community. For example, Asian American elders were most likely to encounter incidents in public and at businesses. One in four of these cases was physical assault. Now, almost all AAPI elders who experienced hate incidents during the pandemic stated that they feel the U.S. has become “more physically dangerous for Asian Americans” (Stop AAPI Hate). Note: it’s likely that violence against elders is underreported because of the technological, linguistic, and cultural barriers to collecting these stories (NBC News).
The constant threat of violence has devastating mental health consequences. More Asian Americans report increased race-based trauma and stress since the start of the pandemic and the corresponding rise in racism. One in five Asian Americans who have experienced racism display racial trauma. And Asian Americans who have experienced racism are more stressed by anti-Asian hate than the pandemic itself (Stop AAPI Hate). And as Kayla noted in a previous newsletter, the barriers to obtaining mental health support don’t help.
The correlations between the violence today and the violence forty years ago that killed Vincent Chin is striking but not surprising. In both, Asian communities have been unfairly blamed for health or economic woes. In the late 19th century, many Chinese and Japanese people immigrated to the U.S. and Canada for the gold rush. As Chinese communities grew, white communities turned against them, fearing they would take their jobs and disrupt their quality of life. They ostracized them by blaming Chinese people for diseases – like syphilis, leprosy, and smallpox – growing in the region. These allegations were entirely untrue; poverty, not race, correlates more accurately with the spread of diseases.
Despite that, Canada created a Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration. It concluded that “Chinese quarters are the filthiest and most disgusting places in Victoria, overcrowded hotbeds of disease and vice, disseminating fever and polluting the air all around,” even though they knew themselves it wasn’t accurate (The Conversation). This spurred violence and hateful rhetoric but political changes, too: the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and Canada followed with their own Chinese Immigration Act in 1885. These were the first law for both countries that excluded an entire ethnic group (AAPF).
It’s important to note that the health, environmental, and economic issues that Asian communities are blamed for are indicative of shortcomings perpetuated by white supremacy, not Asian people. Addressing it takes dismantling the tired and toxic notions of white power and privilege and building collective agency for Asian communities to thrive.
• Forty years after the racially motivated hate crime against Vincent Chin, Asian communities are still experiencing rampant hate crimes.
• The onset of COVID-19 in early March set off a dramatic spike in anti-Asian racism.
• The U.S. and Canada have a history of accusing Asian Americans of as one of many ways to discriminate and incite violence against them.