Drafting Our Own Existence: On Vincent Chin, Activism, Community, Blogging, Loss, And Adoption

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

From a chapter written in 2021 on Vincent Chin, Community, and Blogging. While I think it turned out different than originally planned as I couldn't help but find these tethered pieces of adoption and loss that also started to permeate my writing--I like the dual conversation.

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I think Vincent Chin has stuck in the minds of the Asian American community and activists--as it should--because his murder and the reasons behind it were so blatant, so transparent, and so brutal. If we couldn’t get justice where two men could beat a man to death because he was Asian American, his killers tried three times with the same result of no jail time, when would we ever get justice?

In 2007 during APIA Heritage Month, I started the blog “Slant Eye For The Round Eye” (aka Slantyapolis). It was my way to contribute to the dialogue that was happening online in a larger, more connected way. The name was a nod to pop culture, tongue-in-cheek because the site was for and by the Asian American community, and my way of saying if people still wanted to be racist to us just because we were Asian American, I’d do the same. Along with the pseudonym “Slanty”, it was both a representation of what the blog’s overall tone was going to be—irreverent, sometimes profane, double meanings, a place where I would, and could, say anything I wanted—as well as misdirection. If some people came to find new Asian American music or entertainment, pop culture, or simply to see a litany of four-letter words scrawled across the digital space, at the same time they would find fact and history, numbers and data, somber moments from shared experiences and those who fought against those moments and ones like them.

When I think about Detroit and that night Vincent Chin was killed, I can’t begin to understand the fear, the loss, the rage—all the emotions he must have been feeling with each blow to his head that would end his life, realizing he wouldn’t make it to see his wedding day only a short week away.

As far as I can remember, I was always an observer. Vigilant. When I had the words and understood the landscape around me, I would use my voice to do what I could to help right the wrongs I saw, or to help show who we could be, who we were—sometimes on a more personal level, and sometimes with the hands of others across the community. From late night conversations and writings, to protests and community work, to just trying new things from another point of view (because while we can build on the history and work of others, we also need to blaze our own paths to continue movements forward)—blogging and outlets of that same ilk, was and continues to be, an extension of that observer. Still vigilant. Still in part a survival mechanism.

I never knew you, but we share that bond of the first family being taken away from us. You much older, those bonds that much harder to make, your life realized with something you had looked forward to, only to be taken away again. Your life, once more, out of your hands.[1]

Through blogging and online activism that bled into on-the-ground activism and community organizing, I was able to meet so many great people in the Asian American community across so many diverse paths and locations in the U.S. and around the world. Because it was intentional to highlight the Asian American community (as well as the motherlands), to talk about racism and racist structures, and to try to do it on a regular basis--at every turn I got to know something new about our community. At every turn I got to know someone new in our community. Musicians, writers, activists, politics, films, books, directors, journalists, other bloggers, chefs and foodies, actors, businesses—so many people and places that were pushing the faces and ideas of Asian Americans into a larger view—an ever-evolving ledger of who we were as individuals and as a community, connected at both the micro and macro. One of the first interviews I ever did on my blog was for The Slants, an Asian American band from the Portland area pushing their own sense of dance rock music, who over a decade later, went to the Supreme Court over their name and the right to call their band however they saw fit. What started out as a group’s desire to showcase Asian American music eventually turned into something that would affect more than the Asian American community. It’s those small ripples, making waves and crossing ponds, and the way they fit into the dialogue of our community and the movements that we encompass that I think is the most important.

Unlike you, I’m still alive. While I’ve known White Hands around my neck trying to squeeze the life out of me, an adopted mother’s eyes filled with rage when I was still a kid, I’m still breathing. While I think to myself that I’ve been fighting Whiteness and colonization since the day I came here, a product of the Vietnam war, but not Việt Nam’s war, I understand there is still work to do because even though we both found life outside of an orphanage, your life was taken away from you—the people who loved you denied the simple fact of knowing who you could become. Unlike you, I’m still alive.  

Malcontents with good hearts, thinkers and newshounds, people who didn’t quite feel represented, sometimes even among our own kind, “blogosphere” and emerging YouTube channels were showcasing who we were, tackling tough conversations, and shedding light on our communities. The Antisocial Ladder, Bicoastal Bitchin, The Minority Militant, Disgrasian, Degenerasian, 8 Asians, Strictly Platonic, Angry Asian Man, Nikkei View, Hyphen, YOMYOMF, channelAPA, MANNA, AArisings, Alpha Asian, Asian-Nation, NEAATO, Big WOWO, YellowBuzz, Original Spin, Sepia Mutiny, Kimchi Mamas, Rice Daddies, MetroDad, APA’s For Progress, Racebending, A Fistful Of Soundtracks, AAA-Fund, Reappropriate—the list goes on with many of the above still in existence in their current forms or spread to other media—I like to think of those blogs, during my early years especially, as this golden age of a generation who took to digital spaces to spread their truths.

I wonder what Lily Chin would say if she were alive today? To see the crimes against Asian Americans become more and more commonplace because of COVID-19. To see us being blamed, like her son was blamed, for something so far out of our control.

While I can talk about the merits and power of using online community building and a way to spread messaging far and wide in a way that individuals never had the power to do before its existence, there’s also the power of physicality. Seas of individuals washing over streets, shutting down interstates, coming together to fight against a common cause. It’s easy to delete a thousand e-mails if you don’t want to read them (regardless of if you’ll eventually have to deal with them)—but it’s much tougher to ignore a group of protestors standing in front of you day after day.

The two work together. There’s a balance. An intersectionality.

If the online world was where I could draft my own existence, the physical world was where I would help grow that existence into what it is today--adding a voice and a face to Miss Saigon protests, Fong Lee protests, shutting down streets and standing with communities for Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, George Floyd—with so many other names that could be added to that list—there is a power in standing in your own skin, in the light of day, next to someone else you may or may not know, but standing together for what you believe in.

I think to myself that Ronald Ebens is still trying to get away with murder. That somehow if he tries hard enough, he can abscond away with history, without paying his debt to you and your family. And while I think that is an important lesson—that hate exists without remorse and that we have to be prepared to defend ourselves, because the world is not just—I take comfort in the community that watches over you. The community that defends you.


[1] Vincent Chin was adopted at age six from an orphanage in China. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2002-jun-14-me-chin14-story.html