Expert Profile ExpertProfile Stewart Kwoh Stewart Kwoh is the President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (APALC). APALC is the largest and most diverse legal assistance and civil rights organization targeting Asian Pacific Americans in the United States.
Mission of the
U.S./China Media
and Communications
Program at UCLA

Our mission is to create, promote, and disseminate a more balanced understanding of the interrelationship of the countries, peoples, and cultures of the United States and China through the tools of mass communication and public education.

Four strategic areas make up the U.S.-China Media and Communications Program, housed at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Will Anti-Chinese Sentiment in the U.S. Lead to more Vincent Chins?

By Stewart Kwoh

The increasing anti-Chinese, and anti-China attitudes in the U.S. are not new. Are these xenophobic attitudes a result of racially biased reporting and racial profiling by the mainstream media—or does mainstream media merely reflect the skewed state of American society today?

Let's take a lesson from recent American history, from a pivotal event that galvanized the Asian American community into action and ultimately led me to establish the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) of Southern California in 1983. The mission of APALC is to protect and extend the legal and human rights of all peoples.

What was the event that forced Chinese Americans into action?

1982. This year marked the brutal killing on June 19, 1982 of Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American by two Detroit auto-workers. Ronald Ebens, a plant supervisor for Chrysler, and Michael Nitz, a laid-off autoworker. Ebens taunted Vincent with racial slurs and was overheard saying, "It's because of mother*ckers like you that we're out of work."As Ebens provoked Vincent with racist obscenities, the two men became embroiled in a brief fight. Vincent and his friends left the bar and Vincent was subsequently chased and beaten to death with a baseball bat.

Vincent's murder took place during a climate of intense anti-Asian sentiment in the United States in the early 1980s that no doubt contributed to the circumstances leading up to his death. In 1970, Asian Americans made up around 1.5 million people in the United States and the number of Asian Americans more than doubled by the 1980's. In Detroit, the Asian American population was small, at around 8,000 out of 1.2 million people, but was growing slowly, according to Helen Zia.

Suspicion and anger were especially directed towards Japanese people because of the influx of Japanese imports and investments in several industries that had been previously dominated by American companies. Anything that was Japanese or looked Japanese was a potential target. Americans vandalized Japanese cars and Asian American auto-workers faced threat and hostility from fellow workers.

2008. Today, 30 years later, the tide has turned dramatically: Americans wait in line to buy fuel-efficient Japanese hybrid cars, and U.S. auto makers readily admit their mistake in not developing fuel economy cars—electric or hydrogen powered— soon enough. Japanese cars have taken the lead in American consumer demand.

Who's the new culprit?

China is at times made the new culprit, allegedly exporting inferior products to the U.S., sending undocumented migrants to our shores, competing with U.S. workers. Finally, Chinese Americans and Chinese foreign students are sometimes seen as besting American students in math and science competitions and entering the University of California campuses and the Ivy Leagues. All this is amplified by the U.S. media often not looking at the complex roots of U.S./China relations and the interlinked history of Chinese Americans in this country. The mainstream media reportage, unchecked, is leading to an increasingly strong undercurrent of anti-Chinese attitudes and racial profiling against Asian Americans.

Will history repeat itself?

Yes, and No. We can open our eyes and minds to learn the lesson of Vincent Chin: We can continue to organize against injustice for those individuals and groups who have been at the brunt of racial, gender, sexual, and class discrimination and actions.

In Los Angeles after the LA riots of 1992, it was Rodney King who asked: "Can't we all just get along?" Getting along may not be quite enough, today Americans we must educate ourselves and others about the societal cost of racism and racial profiling against any and all groups. Racism and racial acts directed against one minority group without grounds leads to a narrowing and stunting of the truer vision and actual meaning of "liberty and justice for all."

[keywords: xenophobia, anti-Chinese attitudes, APALC, racial profiling, discrimination, justice]

© Copyright 2008 by Stewart Kwoh