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Asian American leaders kick off commemoration events honoring Vincent Chin

vincent chin ceremony
Nate Pappas
Founding member of American Citizens for Justice Helen Zia speaks at the Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication Official Kickoff, on Wednesday Jun., 15, in Detroit, Mich.

A four-day series of events starting Thursday will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the brutal murder of Vincent Chin. The Chinese American was beaten to death while celebrating his upcoming wedding on June 19 after two white autoworkers mistakenly thought he was Japanese, who they blamed for auto job losses.

“Detroit is about to experience a great convening of cross-generational community leaders, local leaders, as well as national leaders, celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander history and solidarity with other communities as vitally important lessons for all of us today from that legacy,” said Helen Zia Wednesday during a news conference kicking off the series of events in what used to be Detroit’s Chinatown. Zia is one of three co-founders of American Citizens for Justice, which formed in response to the lenient sentences Chin’s killers received. Chin’s case catalyzed activism in the Asian American community.

Zia also announced the debut of the Legacy Guide, a new teaching tool and a discussion guide that can be used in classrooms to teach students about that history of activism and its roots in Detroit. The Smithsonian Institute’s Asian Pacific American Center helped develop questions for classrooms and communities to spark conversation about multiracial and multicultural unity amid a rise in anti-Asian sentiment since the onset of the pandemic that is similar to what was happening around the time of Chin’s murder, when the importing of Japanese automobiles was blamed for the loss of as many as 250,000 jobs.

The guide will help students better understand the historical depth of hate crimes against Asian Americans, said Suchiraphon McKeithen-Polish, bilingual education program director and Title III consultant with the Macomb Intermediate School District.

“This Legacy Guide is one of the tools that will help to educate students and educators to recognize and stand up against hate by raising awareness and acknowledge that anti Asian racism exist, and that we need to do something about it,” McKeithen-Polish said.

A mural in Chin’s honor was also unveiled on Wednesday. Anthony Lee is the artist who created the artwork. He said Chin’s story hit him really hard, not only because he’s Chinese but because the 27-year-old was about to get married and his future was cut short.

The mural depicts an offering to a framed portrait of Chin, with an American flag behind him.

“When we all grew up as kids, we all learn how to show respect for our ancestors. And one thing we do, and we we lay down incense, and we lay down offerings of food and stuff, but the gesture is so that they can have a particularly good meal that day in the afterlife,” Lee says, adding, “but it’s not even really about food. It’s really just about sending love to the other side.”

Various ceremonies run Thursday through Sunday. It will feature panel discussions, film screenings and an interfaith remembrance ceremony.

For more information on the events, go to the Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance and Rededication website.

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