Vincent Chin, killed 40 years ago, to be commemorated with events in Detroit this week

Chin’s death at the hands of two autoworkers sparked a movement against Asian American hate crimes that is all too relevant today

click to enlarge Vincent Chin. - COURTESY OF THE ESTATE OF VINCENT AND LILY CHIN
Courtesy of The Estate of Vincent and Lily Chin
Vincent Chin.

On June 19, 1982, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was celebrating his bachelor party at a Highland Park strip club when two white autoworkers picked a fight with him; one of the men, apparently mistaking Chin for Japanese, said “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” referring to the economic downturn at the Big Three. The workers then stalked Chin outside of the club, fatally beating him with a baseball bat.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman brought the charges down to manslaughter, sentencing the men to three years’ probation and a $3,000 fine with no jail time — resulting in outcry in the Asian American community. A movement for justice, led in part by reporter Helen Zia, who covered the story for Metro Times, spread beyond metro Detroit and reverberated across the nation.

Flash forward 40 years later, and hate crimes against Asian Americans have grown, including a killing spree in Atlanta spas in 2021. Amid this backdrop, a 40th anniversary Vincent Chin Remembrance and Rededication series of events will be held this week in Detroit.

Things kick off at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Detroit Film Theatre, which will screen the documentary Bad Axe by Asian American filmmaker David Siev, which discusses his family’s struggles to keep their restaurant afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s followed at the same time on Friday by a screening of the newly restored film Who Killed Vincent Chin?, including a Q&A with director Renee Tajima-Peña, associate producer Nancy Tong, executive and producer Juanita Anderson.

Zia will be on hand for a panel discussion, “National Conversation on Asian Americans, America, and Democracy,” slated to start at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 at the DFT. Later at the DFT, an evening of cultural performances from Asian American artists starts at 7 p.m., including poet Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, the Electronic Music Ensemble of Wayne State, dancer Joori Jung, and singer and activist Nobuko Miyamoto, composer Derek Nakamoto, bassist Juan Perez, and singer and percussionist Asiyah Ayubbi.

On Sunday, the Remembrance and Rededication panels will be held, starting at 11:30 a.m. at the Detroit Film Theatre, which will also include Zia as a speaker, among others. It concludes with an interfaith remembrance ceremony that begins in the DIA lobby at 1:30 p.m. and departs to the gravesite of Chin’s father, a World War II veteran, where a U.S. flag will be unfurled.

Events are free with registration; more information is available at vincentchin.org. The Detroit Film Theatre is located at 5200 Woodward Avenue (John R entrance); 313-833-7900; dia.org.

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About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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