TITLE: Vincent Who? Pan-Asian Solidarity after the Murder of Vincent Chin
STANDARDS: Intended Grade Level: 11-12
Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
Key Ideas and Details:
2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas
3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
Craft and Structure:
6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
Text Types and Purposes:
2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.
3. Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
Production and Distribution of Writing:
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
OVERVIEW: This set of learning activities will concentrate on the murder of Vincent Chin and its effect on the Asian American movement, especially in spurring pan-Asian solidarity. Using primary source documents, students will analyze different interpretations on the significance of the Chin case from perspectives of both the Asian American and white communities, and be introduced to anti-Asian violence in the United States during this time period.
FRAMEWORK: This lesson plan should be preceded by a short lecture covering the historical context of the United States during this time period (i.e. the economic competition in the auto industry between Asian and American companies) to provide students with a more comprehensive understanding of the Chin case, its causes and impact. Students will be asked to critically analyze two primary source documents: a news article by Ludington Daily News and a magazine article by A. Magazine. In discussion groups, students will compare and contrast the perspectives of these two articles in representing the Vincent Chin case’s impact. Students should discuss how each article interprets what the Chin case revealed about social justice for Asian Americans in the United States during this time. Students will then write a 3-page paper, discussing and analyzing the impact of the Vincent Chin case in creating pan-Asian solidarity for the overall Asian American movement within the historical context of this era. It is important that students use both primary source documents in this writing exercise, as outlined by the California “Common Core” grade 9-10 standards for Reading and Writing Literacy in History/Social Studies. Lastly, as a final activity, students will compare the Vincent Chin case to present-day examples in a class discussion.
ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING: Although unbeknownst to most people today, the murder of Vincent Chin became a rallying point for the Asian American movement, publicizing anti-Asian violence and creating pan-Asian solidarity.
1. How did the socioeconomic conditions of the United States of this time period create an environment for anti-Asian violence?
2. What did the Vincent Chin case sanctions reveal about the social justice system for Asian Americans of the United States? Why did the Asian American community react in public outrage?
3. What was the white perspective on the Vincent Chin case? And how does it compare to that of the Asian American community?
4. How did the murder of Vincent Chin bring about pan-Asian organization and solidarity?
5. How have later Asian American activists used the Vincent Chin case? And to what purpose?
ACJ: ACJ is short for American Citizens for Justice, one of the most notable pan-Asian organizations founded in response to the murder of Vincent Chin in 1983.
Solidarity: union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples.
Self-determination: the process by which a person controls his own life
Sanction: a provision of a law enacting a penalty for disobedience or a reward for obedience.
Appeals court: a court whose jurisdiction is to review decisions of lower courts; it has the power to revert past judicial decisions.
INTRODUCTION: For the United States, the mid 1900s was an era marked by race-based violence and social injustices. The murder of Vincent Chin is an example anti-Asian violence, and its subsequent judicial deliberations reveal injustices in the United States’ social justice system against Asian Americans.
On the night of June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin, a twenty-seven year old Chinese American, had his bachelor party at the Fancy Pants strip club in Detroit, Michigan. There, Chin became involved in an altercation with Ronald Ebens, a white Chrysler factory foreman, and his stepson, Michael Nitz. During the fight, Ebens, reportedly said, “Because of you motherfuckers, we’re out of work .” Ebens, Nitz, and Chin were eventually thrown out of the bar; however, the dispute continued into the parking lot, where Ebens retrieved a baseball bat from his car. For the next half-hour, Ebens and Nitz hunted down Chin and his friends, eventually locating him in front of a fast food restaurant. There, while Nitz held down Chin, Ebens struck at least four blows to Chin’s head. While the Highland Park police arrested Ebens and Nitz, Chin was rushed to the hospital. Four days later on June 23, Vincent Chin died due to severe head injuries.
Chin’s death was seen as a result of anti-Asian sentiments generated by socioeconomic conditions of the time. Massive layoffs in the auto industry during the 1970s due to stiff competition from Japanese auto companies instilled strong anti-Asian feelings in the United States. Ebens and Nitz murdered Chin, mistaking him for Japanese. The lenient sentencing of these two men resulted in public outrage by the Asian American community over the murder, which was seen as an act of anti-Asian violence. Ebens and Nitz initially faced a charge of second-degree murder, but were convicted in a county court for manslaughter. Furthermore, Ebens and Nitz served no jail time, were given three years probation, and fined only $3780. In 1987, Ebens appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a Cincinnati jury found him not guilty and cleared him of all charges.
The case became a rallying point for the Asian American community, as several prominent pan-Asian organizations were created in response to the court’s lenient sanctions. One such group was the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), which spearheaded the legal fight for a civil rights suit against Ebens and Nitz. The ACJ sought to involve other Asian sub-groups, such as Koreans, Filipinos, and Japanese, in their struggle, creating pan-Asian unity. Soon, other pan-Asian organizations across the nation were founded, modeling after the structure and goals of the ACJ. Years later, the Vincent Chin case was still used by many Asian American activists to rally further pan-Asian support and organization.
Chin Case Still Rankles– news article by Ludington Daily News
A Movement of Parts– magazine article by A. Magazine, up to “Fixing the Image”
I. Introduction: Students will be provided with needed background information on the United States during the mid 1900s, as mentioned earlier in the Lesson Plan. Topics of interest may include: the economic conditions of the auto industry, other examples of race-based violence (i.e. Emmett Till), anti-Asian immigration laws, etc.
II. Main Activity:
1. Students will individually read “The Chin Case Still Rankles” and “A Movement of Parts (only up to “Fixing the Image”)” and annotate articles with comments, questions, and reactions.
2. Students will break up into discussion groups and compare both articles, analyzing how each article interprets the Vincent Chin case. Students should also discuss what each article reveals about the authors’ point of view on the Chin case to develop an understanding of how each respective community (i.e. white community for “The Chin Case Still Rankles” and the Asian American community for “A Movement of Parts”) viewed the case’s significance.
3. As a class, students from each discussion group will share their group’s main points.
4. Students will then be assigned a three-page paper, analyzing the significance of the Vincent Chin case in spurring pan-Asian solidarity. In this writing exercise, students should use background knowledge about socioeconomic conditions of the United States previously provided to show a more comprehensive understanding of the Chin case. As mentioned earlier, it is important that students use both primary sources, citing relevant evidence to support their argument. Some questions to guide this writing exercise are:
-What impact did the sanctions to the Vincent Chin case have on the Asian American community?
-What are some actions the Asian American community did in response to the Vincent Chin case?
-How did the Vincent Chin case create pan-Asian unity?
III. Conclusion: After turning in their papers, students will engage in a final activity, relating the Vincent Chin case to present-day examples. In a class discussion, students may share relevant current events similar to the Vincent Chin case. Students are encouraged to discuss their thoughts, opinions, and reactions to these events. Some discussion questions for the teacher to ask are:
-Why do you think race-based violence continues today?
-How should we move forward? What can we do to prevent these incidents?
Yen Le Espiritu, Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), 134-160.
Michael Liu, etc. al., The Snake Dance of Asian American Activism: Community, Vision, and Power (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008), 121-142.
Roland Hwang, “Killing Spawned Asian American Civil Rights Movement: 34th Milestone to Highlight Vincent Chin Case,” Michigan Bar Journal (2009): 30- 31.