Today, June 23rd, marks the 40th Anniversary of my cousin Vincent Chin dying from fatal wounds sustained June 19th, 1982. I spoke on behalf of my family this Sunday at the Vincent Chin 40th Anniversary Remembrance in Detroit. You can read my speech below, watch the livestreamed video of the ceremony at the 24:18 mark, and see Detroit Free Press coverage with photos.
For context, one week before he was to be married, Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit in 1982 by two white autoworkers who blamed Japanese auto companies for the loss of American jobs. The two men paid $3,000 and didn’t serve jail time for killing my cousin. Vincent’s mother, my great-auntie Lily Chin fought back and started an Asian American civil rights movement which popularized the term “Asian American.” Vincent Chin’s murder was the first Asian American case to be tried in a federal civil rights case in America and was a landmark in Asian American and American history.
My Speech at the Vincent Chin 40th Anniversary Rememberance Interfaith Ceremony, Sunday June 19th, 2022
Today marks the 40th Anniversary of our cousin Vincent Chin’s brutal killing and death. My great-auntie Lily Chin’s life changed forever, my family’s lives changed forever, and our communities were changed forever.
My family came from China, many dozens of children, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, to various parts of America to make better lives. We sent for our families, we sent back money and resources, and we showed our lives with letters and photographs. Us in the younger generation vowed to love and support our elders too.
That was what my great-auntie Lily Chin wanted, her husband Bing wanted, and their son, our cousin, Vincent Chin wanted. 40 years ago today, Vincent was ready, with his then-fiance and his widowed mother Lily, to make that American dream happen, to be married in a weeks’ time, and build their family.
Vincent and Lily would never have that chance. Instead, 40 years ago today Vincent was taken from us, in an act of hateful and brutal violence. This, for our family, has been hard to bear. Lily’s sisters, including great-auntie and my grandmother, and their children, supported Lily through grief and anger. I can only imagine what my family and what our community witnessed and carried as they attempted to ease the tremendous trauma and burden Lily carried. I say imagined because I was born seven years after Vincent was killed and after Lily fought, in trial after trial, and finally lost, in that case for justice.
I never got to know Vincent. Most of my family moved to America after Vincent was killed and did not get to know Vincent either. Most of us standing here, and most of us listening, never got to know Vincent.
What we do know about Vincent, we know because Vincent’s mother Lily spoke up, hundreds of times, over and over again, to tell Vincent’s story. My great-auntie showed the world Vincent was right when he said his last words: “It’s not fair.” When Vincent was killed, less than one percent of Detroit residents were Asian. My great-auntie had to speak. She said aloud, when so many were afraid, “I want justice for my son.” She never wanted any mother to go through what she had.
Lily was able to do all this with so much love and support. I thank my family who stayed with Lily and stood by her side, and that include Helen Ziawho my great-auntie Lily considered a goddaughter and who my mother says I should call auntie. And I thank all the community members and organizations here and who stood forty years ago today who supported our family. While we lost the civil rights case, we won a much broader community that stops others from meeting the same fate Vincent did and builds power for all of us.
The story of my cousin Vincent and my great-auntie Lily Chin is often framed around loss and trauma. But we must remember all that Vincent and Lily gave to us. People have told me Vincent was mischievous as a child, outgoing and lived life fiercely. I was 12 years old when Lily passed away, so I did not know her deeply. My cousins who did get to know her say Lily was funny, made fun of them, would be a matchmaker and was kind. She was humble and apologized. She said things like they were. She always wanted to give back to the people who loved her, whether through food or something she knitted. She loved our family fiercely, and did everything she could to fight for justice so other families could live theirs. I am sure some of those or all of those qualities went to her son Vincent who I’ve been told was mischievous as a child, was outgoing, and lived life fiercely. He wanted so badly wanted to give his mother and then-fiance a growing family and home they wanted to build together.
As we face yet another wave of anti-Asian hate, it is easy to despair. I’ve often thought, in hard times, in times I feel hopeless, “What Would Lily Do?” (I’ve even considered tattooing that on my wrist, WWLD, but know my parents would hate that, so I won’t.) When I was younger, and even now, I haven’t always known the way forward. Then I think of Lily and how, in her way, she led us. Lily said, “Our skin color may be different, but our blood is the same.” That blood runs through my veins. And that blood runs through all of us.
Thank you, great-auntie Lily, for everything. Because you fought, because you spoke up, we will forever know Vincent Chin’s name. Cousin Vincent, while many of us never got to meet you, you will never be lost to us. And we will never forget to make this a better world. On this 40th Anniversary of your murder, cousin, I promise we will live our lives fiercely, love our family fiercely, fight for the life you should have had, and for the life you and your mother Lily wanted for all of us here.