Film screening begins Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Vincent Chin was a 27-year-old engineer. He was about to get married, too. That changed on June 19, 1982.

That night he met Ron Ebens and Mike Nitz, who insulted him and yelled racial epithets at him.

‘They thought Vincent was going to take it,’ said Tae-Sun Kim, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. ‘They didn’t expect this Asian guy to be just as macho and just as American as them.’

Chin, a Chinese-American, confronted both white men that night only to be physically attacked by them afterward. Chin died several days later. A documentary about his death and the protests and trials that followed will be shown today at Watson Theater.

‘Who Killed Vincent Chin’ is one of the kickoff events for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The documentary chronicles the death of Chin and the ensuing trials of the two men who killed him. It was made in the 1980s, a time when American automakers were losing ground to their Japanese counterparts.

In 1982, Chin was celebrating his bachelor party when Ebens and Nitz blamed him for the loss of American jobs to Japanese competition. After they had all left the club, they found Chin and struck him several times with a bat.

Ebens and Nitz initially received a small fine and probation. But an outcry by Asian-American activists led to criminal charges. One man was found guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights. But both were later acquitted after an appeal and a new trial due to technicalities.

Kim wanted to show the film because of its connection to hate crimes.

‘It would help us contextualize hate crimes against Asians, that this is a historical pattern, that it is not an isolated incident,’ she said.

It also introduces audience members to Helen Zia, one of the key figures who fought to bring Chin’s killers to justice, Kim said. Zia is also the keynote speaker for APA Heritage Month.

The film calls into question the current treatment of minorities in the United States, something that is especially relevant after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Kim said.

Dearborn, Mich., has one of the largest concentrations of Arabs outside the Middle East.

‘After Sept. 11, the kids were beaten up, their stores were demolished and they weren’t even Arabs. Some of them were just South Asian,’ she said.

For Khuram Hussain, watching the documentary can help people realize racially motivated incidents are not isolated but connected.

‘As each and every one of these comes up, we need to make connections,’ said Hussain, a graduate student in the School of Education.

The deportation of immigrants and violence against Arabs and Arab-Americans are two examples that are connected with hate crimes, such as the one against Chin, Hussain said.

For Christina Parish, organizing and speaking up like Zia and other activists did is important, she said. Parish is an instructor in the English department who screened the film in her Race and Literary Texts class.

‘People really can’t afford to stay silent because that allows these situations to keep occurring,’ she said.

If you go:

‘Who Killed Vincent Chin’ will be screened at Watson Theater at 1 p.m.

Helen Zia will speak at 4 p.m. in room 304 of Schine Student Center.

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