A national town hall to mark the 30th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death

"Vincent Who" is a documentary about the death of Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin was beaten with a baseball bat 30 years ago on June 19 in a Detroit suburb, and died four days later.

At the time, I was three years out of art school, managing a paint store, and was a budding young rock critic writing for a Denver newspaper. I didn’t follow any news coverage about the attack on Vincent Chin, and I was clueless about the importance of his tragic death. I was still a “banana” — yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. Like the name of the 2009 documentary film about the impact of Chin’s murder on the Asian American community, if you had asked me then about him, I would have said, “Vincent who?”

Today, Vincent Chin is very much on my mind.

In the decades since his death, I’ve become aware and much more appreciative of my ethnic roots, culture and history as a Japanese American, which I used to take for granted. I’ve also become much more aware of my place in the much larger Asian American community.

Chin’s death still resonates three decades later, like the murder of Emmett Till resonates within the African American community as one of the driving forces of the civil rights movement. The 14-year-old Till was murdered in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
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Denver’s Bhutanese, Burmese community need your help

It’s amazing how many coats and jackets a family can accumulate over the years, and how many are left hanging in the closet, hardly ever worn. This week, I took a bunch of coats to the Asian Pacific Development Center to be distributed to one of Denver’s newest immigrant communities, the Burmese.

The APDC is a non-profit that offers health and social services to the local Asian communities, and Erin serves its the board of directors. The APDC conducted a food and goods drive for the Burmese over the holiday season, and is still accepting donations at its three locations: 1544 Elmira Street in Aurora, 1825 York Street in Denver and 6055 Lehman Drive, Suite 103 in Colorado Springs. Last summer, the APDC helped collect donated school supplies for students from both the Burmese and another Asian immigrant community, the Bhutanese.

Because many Asian communities have been in the U.S. for two, three or even four or more generations and we’ve assimilated into American society, it’s easy to forget that there are recent immigrants from Asia who are not as fortunate as those of us from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and other countries, whose families came here to seek better opportunities. In the case of the Burmese, and also the Bhutanese, another recent Asian immigrant group, they’ve arrived in America as refugees, like the waves of Vietnamese, Laotians and Hmong in the 1980s and ’90s.

The Bhutanese and Burmese refugees fled an oppressive regime or have been resettled from refugee camps across the globe.

But unfortunately, once here, they’re facing more oppression: In the past year, both Bhutanese and Burmese students were singled out and attacked in the Denver area. The first attacks were reported last spring; on December 11, a group of Bhutanese students were beaten and robbed after getting off a bus and one required emergency room treatment. The Denver Police Department distributed special cell phones to Bhutanese that are set to dial 911 in case of future attacks, but the community understandably would prefer the violence just stop. In the Denver Post story following the attacks, one Bhutanese refugee said:

“If they kill me and my son, what will my daughter and wife do?” said Dambar Bhujel, father of an 18-year-old victim, who is now wary of letting his son go to school.

“At first, I was happy to come to the United States. After one year, I’m feeling very bad and I don’t want to stay longer. But we can’t go back to Bhutan and we can’t go back to Nepal,” Bhujel said. “They told us America was secure.”

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