Remembering Vincent Chin: Pete Hoekstra and Being Asian in America

[Photo from the film “Vincent Who?”]

UPDATE: Asian Pacific Americans for Progress is compiling a list of responses to the ad. [RESPONSES]

On the night of June 19, 1982 in Detroit, MI, after a confrontation at a local club where Vincent Chin was having his bachelor’s party, two auto workers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, beat Chin with a baseball bat until he slipped into a coma. He died four days later on June 23, 1982. During the investigation and subsequent trial it became clear to many that this was a hate crime, with Chin, who is Chinese, being blamed for the job losses in the United States and the rise of the Japanese auto industry.  The light sentences and drawn-out judicial process galvanized the Asian American community and brought into view the violence, intimidation and racism that many Asian Americans had been experiencing for generations.

One of the lessons of this incident was the real impact and the insidious nature of racial, cultural and ethnic stereotypes about Asian Americans.  The stereotype that we “all look alike” is not born from the wild imagination of a community, but from years of being asked some derivation of, “Where are you from?” “What are you?” or “What’s your nationality?” This constantly reinforced assumption about Asian Americans only reinforces the idea that, no matter how long we have been here, no matter what we have done, or no matter what we have declared, Asian Americans are not fully American.

From the preceding violence and passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 1800’s that halted immigration from China to Executive Order 9066 that interned over 100,000 Japanese American in 1942, Asian Americans have been told that they must choose between a connection to the culture of their ancestry and their commitment to their country. In a country that often sees race in terms of White America and Black America, like Latinos, Asian Americans live in a racial middle where we must choose between being Asian (or Chinese or Filipino or Indian) or American, but not both. For some reason we can allow folks to claim Irish pride without challenging Irish Americans’ loyalty to the United States or mistaking them for those Italians, Germans or Swedes. We lift up and celebrate the ancestral convergence of for many other groups, but for Asian Americans the wait continues.

I fear that this view of Asian Americans has taken another ugly turn with the recent upsurge in anti-China rhetoric.  Yes, the United States should hold China accountable for human rights abuses, environmental responsibility and global citizenship, but surely we can do this without appealing to a form of nationalism that we know can generate deplorable actions against Asian Americans.

Case in point, the recent ad by Pete Hoekstra, a senatorial candidate from Michigan . . . yes, Michigan.

After I watched this video, my immediate reaction was anger . . . flavored with a few choice expletives.  I have since moved to sadness. While Hoekstra’s use of Chinese sounding music, a broken-English script and a coolie hat certainly brings Asianfying to a new low, this is not the only time that we have seen this anti-China rhetoric being used irresponsibility during this election season.  Case in point, a person claiming to be a Ron Paul supporter, accused then presidential candidate, John Huntsman, of having “Chinese values” and not “American Values” because of his adopted Asian children. Hoekstra is not blazing any new trails here . . . he either doesn’t understand the implications of this ad . . . or he doesn’t care.

Now I have no problem with passionate debates on politics and culture and I know that political campaigns can get “dirty,” but the running of this ad only goes to show the insensitivity to issues of race in today’s world.  We, as a society, must be better than this and no public official should tolerate as part of his/her campaign. The fact that this is a candidate from MICHIGAN, precisely where Vincent Chin was killed, makes this even worse. Vincent Chin’s death took place in a highly-charged anti-Japan atmosphere that lead to his brutal beating and death. I fear that with public officials encouraging this kind of rhetoric, it is only a matter of time before someone, fueled by today’s anti-China outrage, will inflict violence upon someone else.

I have no delusions that Team Hoekstra will ever recant or apologize for this ad or its implications, in fact, I suspect that the outrage that has been directed at his campaign via TWITTER and FACEBOOK has only bolstered his credentials with his supporters. That said, I would hope that others who see this ad as dangerous would do all that they can to stop this kind of rhetoric from further shaping our national conversation on race and politics.

To to give equal time and assuage my ambivalence about giving this ad any more bandwidth that it already has, you can connect with and support his rival, current senator, Debbie Stabenow by signing her petition, volunteering on www.stabenowforsenate.com, following her on Twitter, liking her on Facebook and/or sharing this video response from the Michigan Democratic Party.

And lastly . . . please take some time to remember Vincent Chin.

60 comments

  • Pat68  

    I was just having a conversation with a friend this morning who accused me of still being angry with the church that I left last year. It was then that we had an honest conversation and I told her there were some things she didn’t know about my experience and to affectively tell someone who’s been hurt to “get over it” just adds more hurt. As we parted ways, I thought about the fact that this is how churches stay dysfunctional. The core issues are never dealt with. We just want people to get over it without ever really addressing the problems. I suspect that part of the problem is that no one likes being made uncomfortable. So rather than dealing with the issues, we just issues some platitudes in hopes of placating and smoothing things over so we can move the unpleasantness. But as painful as it can be to face our issues, there really can be healing on the other side of it.

  • Barbara Johnson Coop  

    You might also try the book “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. My husband (at 61) lost 20 lbs and lowered his cholesterol and blood pressure. I fight my weight and blood pressure continualy so I know how difficult it can be, even though you know what you should be doing, it is not always easy. Good Luck and stay well so the rest of us can enjoy your good counsel – but especially so your family continues to have you.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks for the encouragement and the book suggestion. I’ll check it out.

  • PattiD  

    Love Dr. Fuhrman’s books, go for it, it will only do you good! You’re worth it!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      So far I am liking it and the six-week plan is pretty easy to follow.

  • Deborah Arca  

    Oh Bruce! So sorry to hear you hit the ER today. Healing prayers coming your way, my friend, as well as prayers for learning to love french fries less (a prayer i pray often for myself).

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks. Lord hear our prayer . . .

  • Boardermom  

    On the tweet, “God helps those who help themselves,” just remember, it does not mean that if you ask for the mashed potatoes, God will move the gravy a little closer to your reach.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      LOL.

  • Houston Hodges  

    I found I respond best to stark terror. God gave me Type 2 Diabetes 12 years back, and it’s saved my life: “Do you want a dog or a cane?” was one question. Got to me. Now 40 pounds less, and not on insulin yet.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Hey Houston! Love the “dog or a cane” questions. Pretty powerful.

  • Jill R  

    Feeling your pain, Bruce. Had to go to the ER for the same reason a little less than a year ago. Was put on meds, kicking and screaming, but was convinced because I want to be around to be a mom for my kids. Stinks getting older…and “deconditioned.”

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Solidarity!

  • pammarino  

    I have read that book, Bruce. It’s OK. I think he’s a little too overzealous in some aspects. I don’t think that all dairy, wheat, etc. is bad. However, I will say that if you follow his diet, you will lose weight, your blood pressure will come down, and you will feel better. In fact, I’m planning on doing the diet for six weeks starting next week. I can do six weeks of no dairy and bread, and I’m already a pescetarian, so I won’t miss meat. I did a similar diet from Dr. Ian Smith—super high fiber—with good success. My advice would be to buy two books, Eat to Live, and Dr. Andrew Weil’s Eight Weeks to Optimum Health (or maybe even his book Healthy Aging, which I’m about to read). I highly respect Dr. Weil and think he’s a little more balanced than Dr. Fuhrman in his approach. Read both and then make your own judgements about what will work best for you. Hang in there! Very glad for the wake up call and this opportunity to restore your health! And know you’re not alone!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yeah, I figure it’s a good first read and the six-week is a good way to shift habits and mindset. We shall see how I can adjust and adapt afterwards.

  • Don Ashburn  

    Glad you’re okay Bruce. I was going to write something satirical — but “The New Out-Of Shape” beat me to it. :-) Be well!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks. Yeah, not sure it gets any better then “de-conditioned.”

  • Robin  

    For my body, my blood pressure isn’t as big a problem as my blood sugar. When I find eating healthy, tracking my food intake or exercise, or whatever, to be too time consuming, I ask myself, would I have time for this if I developed diabetes? And the answer is yes. So I can make time for it now before I develop diabetes.

    My second tip is encourage one of your daughters to take up some sport you don’t hate. Then practice with her regularly. Three birds with one stone.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks. Good idea and glad to hear you too have found some good ways to shift habits. Tough stuff.

  • Doriene D. Marshall  

    Dear D.-I’ll be thinking of you as my re-conditioning begins on Sept. 1. My 21-yr.-old son, (youngest) have both had the wake-up call, but not as scary as a trip to ER. Be well!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks. Re-conditioners Unite!

  • Aaron Doll  

    From one pastor to another… let me also recommend the app called “My Fitness Pal”
    http://www.myfitnesspal.com/
    This is the only thing that has helped me loose weight and keep pounds off.
    Oh, and its free!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Thanks, others have also mentioned this. I’ll have to check it out.

  • John Cushman  

    “Younger next year, Bruce!” Glad you dodged this one. John

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yep.

  • George  

    Take your iPad or Kindle to the elliptical machine. You can read pretty easily – so you feel productive – and get a good sweat on. Take care.

  • afmorgan53  

    Blessings on the folks who knew how to care for you and that you are OK!! Deep breath; relax:) Hub and I (We’re Emily Morgan’s parents–she blogged for you a while back?) had similar experiences several years ago. I now use http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ to keep track/honest daily (I actually find this fun!) and he’s a perennial South Beacher. Other helpful thing for me is to use the web for fitness–since I’m on anyway. I tune into “walking exercise” on youtube; it’s cool and easy. I started with the 3 minutes every hour–getting up and using Leslie Sansone’s desk break, but now do the 15 minute mile 2x day. (I skip her sound and use my own music.) Try it!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Woohoo, thanks for the encouragement and tips. And thanks alos for raising such a great person!

  • Lindsey  

    I’ve read Eat To Live and it has done amazing things for people (I haven’t been strong enough to stick with it totally, though I still use many of his recipes). A lot of people don’t want to keep up the way of eating because it is heavy, heavy, heavy on plant food. Dr. Furhrman suggests that a salad be the main course of your meal. But this is a big honking salad with lots of stuff in it. It’s just hard for a lot of people to make the transition from sandwiches and chips to salads for lunch. He also has a book set called Eat for Health that I’d recommend first. In it he talks about how the Eat for Health plan is a slower track for people who can’t do the full Eat to Live plan right away. His message boards are also good places to find recipes. Honestly, the food is pretty good and if you’re eating the amount of food he suggests you won’t really be hungry. It’s just hard to transition from burgers and fries to green smoothies but I think most people will say it’s worth it. Good luck!

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Yeah, as i have gotten into the book, I suspect that the first six-weeks will be more about shifts habits and perspective. I need both.

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  • David Rabinovich  

    Mr. Chow,

    I remember the late 70s and early 80s pretty well and remember that the rhetoric was pretty hostile towards Japan. There were union sponsored smash ups of imported Japanese cars and in some places you would have your tires slashed or worse if you drove a Japanese vehicle. These days I think there is widespread knowledge to most Americans that the migration of jobs overseas most assuredly is being decided by individuals within the US. In many cases there is not even an option to buy a US cell phone, laptop, or for that matter about 80% of the things you can buy in Wal-Mart. (A company founded originally with the philosophy of promoting US made goods…)  How do you think a US citizen should address the ongoing off-shoring of jobs to not only China but to other parts of the world..?

    I can understand your reaction to this ad, although I really doubt it would result in a violent reaction among many Americans, more likely younger US males would rather date the woman in the ad than go out and beat up the first Asian that they meet. (In a different context I would have thought that the ad was a joke.. it clearly sounds like she’s an Asian American mocking a Chinese immigrant’s accent…)  

    Personally I think the ad from Hoekstra (in a very poor manner…) critiques his opponent as effectively aiding the Chinese. I see it in the same vein as similar comments from the Republican candidates towards Obama as being beholden to Europe and the like. It’s moronic and tasteless but not incendiary in my eyes. 

  • Diana  

    This post was lovely and insightful. Thank you for it.

  • Yu Clan  

    Thank you for putting what I was feeling in writing so elegantly.

  • daniel so  

    Bruce, Thanks so much for this important post. As a Michigander who lived there when Vincent Chin was murdered, I still can’t bring myself to watch this ad from Hoekstra. We definitely need voices like yours if we’re ever going to move forward as a nation.

  • Mary  

    I find “Pastor” Chow’s selective attention to facts & details what should be truly alarming, not based on sadness for the loss of Mr. Chin’s life, but rather to exploit his murder. Just as he seeks to speculate on why the US restricted immigration, et al.. in the past. “Pastor” Chow, himself makes use of stereotypes, so as to paint “white” Americans to suit his own hatred, and racism…  he reveals a hypocrisy and a desire to marginalize and oppress that is the true problem.. “Pastor” Chow views all of us, and I happen to believe all, including US citizens who happen to be black, brown and all the shades in between, the same. Mr. Chin was killed by two leftist union members, whose union was rattling sabres about the Japanese… you know the same unions “Pastor” Chow won’t bother to mention, whose rank and file monsters, attempted to beat teaparty members to death back in the summer of 2009.

    Let’s talk about that Chinese exclusion act. The United States had every reason and right to cut emigration from any country it chose to. Especially since China was unstable, rife with crime and the United States was seeing evidence of what the massive waves of Chinese immigrants brought to the US. Innocent US citizens murdered by Chinese gangs, including one who was shot to death merely because he accidentally was caught between 2 rival Chinese gangs shooting it out in California in the 1800s. China’s history is chock a block with corruption and exploitation, yet no one has demanded “Pastor” Chow atone for that.

    How I see things is, that all societies, all nations have their good and bad points. If “Pastor” Chow truly believes that stereotyping is wrong, then he needs to stop doing so himself, and if he wantse behind the title, “Pastor” he needs to start acting like a Christian, and less like a hateful racist. If he wishes to rationalize stereotypes, then he needs to accept being saddled with the stereotype of what he best exemplifies, and it’s not anything he’d be proud of .

    Frankly, I wasn’t raised to stereotype people, and despite the fact that people of all sorts of races have murdered, raped, abused white Americans, I don’t assume that it’s acceptable or even right to blame all members of the related races or ethnicities should be held guilty and culpable for those crimes. I’d like to know if “Pastor” Chow feels he deserves to be painted as guilty for the murders of the family of that US olympic coach who were killed by a Chinese man, in Beijing during the last olympics? Or the Chinese as well as other Asian immigrants whose racism against black Americans has caused so much anger and resentment for decades now.. does he feel he is guilty of that, and needs to be held accountable?

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Mary…thanks for taking the time to come on over to my blog. It means that you are in this for more than flaming or trolling, which is what I think is not often not helpful about SFgate comments.

      Not sure where to begin on this. Obviously I disagree with many of your assessments of me, my faith or my intentions.

      I will say that issues of race bring up much passion and fire in so many. The anger from those who like yourself as well as those who might disagree with you only goes to show the deep need to keep talking and find ways to bring some understanding of perspective to one another.

      Also, my Christian faith is what gives me great foundations in the constant struggle for justice in the world. I also know that there are many version of what it means to be Christian today, but no matter how mean-spirited or wrong any of us can get, I will always see the other as a child of God and bother/sister in Christ.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope some good dialoge can come out of this. 

      • Mary  

        I’m not angry, but someone for whom these issues are real, and not disposable banners to wave and discard. I am angry at those who hypocritically exploit real issues, reducing them to meaninglessness. In all seriousness, if you truly care about these issues, then it’s encumbent upon you to actually address all these wrongs, all over the world, rather than reduce them to brickbats to lob at America, or white (whatever that means) Americans. I’ve seen the good and bad, in all our races and ethnicities, I don’t make value judgements based on surface level details, but on substance.

        If you don’t like stereotypes, then don’t use stereotyping as a cover from which to hide behind and lob flashpots. Those who do, are only acting out of their own hatred and bigotry. If you want to have a conversation, than do so based on engaging in honest debate, and not trying to fake the high ground while you wrap yourself in your own hate and prejudice… that doesn’t work with me, as an unhyphenated US citizen, who loves her country, is half indigenous American (Abenaki), and one quarter English and Irish. My eyes are open, my brain is fully functioning and I don’t dance to the tune of race baiters. I was raised by a mother, and grandparents who taught me to think for myself, to question and research, so as to be fully informed and no one’s fool.

        • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

          Mary. With all due respect, I think that the your critique of what I do NOT  sets me up to never be able to find common ground with you. Can’t realy “win” the ” . . . oh yeah, but your don’t talk about x.” argument.  There will ALWAYS be thing that we all cannot address. No one person can do so and we must all find those places where our voices can be best heard. Also, please do not question my love of and commitment to country, that in itself is a the lobbing of a flashpot, don;t you think. Our country’s ability to have debate and critique even itself is what makes our country so great.

  • sheri t.  

    i totally and completely agree. i’m glad i’m not the only one who saw the link between this crap that hoekstra put up and vincent chin.just because racism is no longer obvious (hanging people, separate water fountains, putting people in internment camps) does NOT mean that it is no longer there. racism is evolving, and unfortunately, a lot of people might not even realize it’s there. i graduated with a ba in american ethnic studies, so i know i have a… different way of viewing the world/events/advertisements than many. it is very easy for me to see how disturbing/insensitive/racist/offensive/disappointing/upsetting/etc this advertisement is, and i hope that something good can come out of this! discussions (and articles like yours!) are a start, and help me restore some faith in people. :)

  • Garrett Chan  

    Great commentary… thanks Bruce!

  • Erwin  

    Why don’t you allow comments on your sfgate blog?

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Sometimes I do, but when I think there will be interaction that is not all that helpful to larger conversations – proven over and over again on SFGate, esp around issues of race – I create one more level of filter. I have no prob with folks pushing back, but I try not to “feed the trolls” as much as I can. Judgement call.

    • Mary  

      Because were he to accept comments on the sfgate blog, others might have a chance to see the fact that he is unwilling and incapable of engaging in honest debate, before he has a chance to delete them.

      • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

        Mary, actually it is more that there is better balance of comments off the SFGate blog especially around issue of race. You can check out my comments policy as I usually only block comments when they are obvious spam or use unwarranted profanity. My children read these comments, after all. I think it is safe to say that the gate has delated far more comments than I ever have.

  • Anonymous  

    That is pretty desparate to blame whitey by bringing up a 30 year old crime.  How about Jinghong Kang, Huan Zhou Chen, Tian Sheng Yu, or the un-named 57 year old Asian woman attacked by blacks on a MUNI platform?  You ignore recent attacks on Asians by blacks, but dredge up two union Democrat thugs from 30 years ago to attack whites as racists.  You should be looking closer to home.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Not sure that I am ignoring as much as wanted to make the point that someone from MI should be especially aware. You are absolutely correct tho, happens all the time even in San Francisco. Not sure that my point is any less important and if this ad has been produced by an African American candidate during the superbowl, I would have addressed it as well. thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      I saw your post in response to my post and hope that you’ll allow my comment to be listed as I have yours here. You may want to make at least one change as I am not from the Chinese elite in the Philippines. The whole Chinese/Filipino part of me comes from separate immigration stories, one side from China and the other from the Philippines. 

      You can check out my wikipedia page to confirm some of that.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Reyes-ChowAnd for those who would like to see Federale’s “Blaming Whitey” response it can be found here. http://federaleagent86.blogspot.com/2012/02/blaming-whitey.html

    • David Rabinovich  

      To Federale:
      That is pretty desparate to blame whitey by bringing up a 30 year old crime.

      How is Mr. Chow “blaming whitey” when he doesn’t mention the race of the perpetrators in the murder of Vincent Chin…? I believe he is addressing American prejudices against Asians in the US which would include Black Americans. 

  • Paul Matsushima  

    Thanks a lot, Bruce! Your insights and connections to AsAm history are greatly needed, esp. in light of the coming of the Japanese American community’s Day of Remembrance on Feb. 18th.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Very welcome.

  • Ahtsf  

    The pathetically inappropriate punishments that the brutal animals that murdered Vincent Chin got, is a sicking affront to justice 30 years later. You have to wonder if the judge was evil, or just had Alzheimer’s or something to that effect?

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Really is hard to believe. Even if it was NOT a hate crime as some have argued, those sentences were grossly lacking.

  • K L  

    “to Executive Order 9066 that interred over 100,000 Japanese American in 1942″

    It should be “interned”, not “interred”.  “Interred” is what you do to dead bodies.

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      KL – Got by three sets of eyes, so thanks for catching that!

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  • Jen  

    I appreciate your post on this and your social media presence generally.  I think in this post the sentence about Huntsman needs to be cleaned up – a person claiming to be a Ron Paul supporter made the accusation, it seems.

    Another thing the ad does is place someone’s nasty words in the mouth of a young woman on a bicycle.  She doesn’t even get to have her feet on the ground, much less her own ideas.  

    • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

      Jen – I heart editors, really do! Made some changes.  A whole other angle is the actress herself. I am all for people working and understand that Asian Actors will sometimes have to play parts that they might not otherwise want to play, but WHEW . . . I question this one. I wonder where they found her and if she understands the implications of this ad.  Sometimes I job is NOT just a job. My daughters all act and I told them in no uncertain terms that this was not okay. Maybe harsh, but I would hate for one day to have to blog about one of my babies in such a racist ad. :-(

  • Mark Koenig  

    Thanks Bruce! There is a place on candidate Hoekstra’s web page where people can leave comments. I did. I hope others will too.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    Yep. Not giving up for sure!

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