“As bad as things were during the auto crisis, we didn’t have these mass assaults on Asians all over the country. It’s worse now. It’s absolutely worse now than it was 40 years ago.”
These remarks were made by James W. Shimoura, a Detroit-based Japanese American lawyer who had volunteered in the Chin case in the 1980s. Chin was a Chinese American living near Detroit and was clubbed to death with a baseball bat by some white autoworkers in 1982.
The brutal killing of Chin happened at a time when Detroit’s car industry was going down while the Japanese automakers were continuously rising. The frustrated autoworkers in Detroit had started attacking Asian people. Resultantly, anti-Asian racism in America rose to an extent that alarmed the Asian diaspora and forced them to speak out against this hate.
The incident triggered widespread anger among Asian Americans as 27-year-old Chin was killed at his bachelor party by two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who never got any prison time. One of the eyewitnesses had overheard the attacker saying, tell Mr. Chin that it was “because of you” that people like him were out of work.
Helen Zia, a Chinese American who led protests to demand federal prosecution in the Chin case, voiced the same concerns, “We saw it as a time when we were all feeling the stress of being scapegoated and targeted. The enemy was Japan, and Chin was a Chinese American. It didn’t matter. It could have been — it could be — any Asian American.”
Now, 40 years after the Chin’s killing, anti-Asian racism, hate, discrimination, and violence still haunt Asian Americans, and to some, it has reached an alarming level and the prime reason behind this violence is the same xenophobia that caused Chin’s death. Most importantly, anti-Asian hate crimes have exponentially upsurged after the coronavirus pandemic, and after the breakdown in US-China relations.
The outbreak of Covid-19 in China had added more to the voes of Asian Americans and they have been living under increased fear of racism, hate, and physical violence for more than two years. President Donald Trump and other members of his administration were using terms like “Chinese virus” and “Kung flu” to describe the novel coronavirus and had been blaming China as if it spread the virus across the world on purpose. Such a naive and ill-informed discourse encouraged some Americans to act out hatefully and opt for violence against Asian Americans.
According to the data released by Stop AAPI Hate, about 11,000 hate incidents have been reported against Asian Americans since March 2020 – when Covid-19 was rising in the US. The hate incidents included physical as well as verbal abuse with attackers blaming Asian Americans for the spread of coronavirus in the country.
Similar trends of rising violence against Asian Americans have also been observed by other sources including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The bureau reports that hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by 75% in 2020 while the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism finds an even greater surge of violence (150%) particularly in major cities in 2021.
It’s been 40 years since the unfortunate Chinese immigrant, Vincent Chin, 27 was beaten to death by two white Americans. The xenophobia that fueled Chin’s brutal killing has resurrected, resulting in increased hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans.
The most obvious reason behind the recent uptick in anti-Asian American violence is the discourse infused and propagated by former president Donald Trump who not only blamed the Chinese for spreading Covid-19 but also proposed anti-immigrant policies by saying: “They [immigrants] are taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.”We should not forget that similar words had also come out of the mouth of the Chin’s killer: “because of you, people like me were out of work.”
To end hate crimes against Asian Americans, the administration would have to play an active and more responsible role to eradicate the stereotypes used against this group. And this can be done by following in the footsteps of Illinois and Connecticut, which have passed bills to make Asian American History a compulsory subject for grades K-12. In this way, a more comprehensive and realistic image of Asian Americans can be portrayed that will help end hate against them.