I was speaking over the weekend to a friend in Vietnam and I told her that someday I’d like to visit southeast Asia. I asked her about life in Vietnam.
“I hate it here,” she said. “We don’t have freedom of speech like you do.”
So, naturally, I asked her if she’d move to the United States if given the chance.
“I’d never go to the United States,” she declared. “It’s not safe there for Asians.”
Without question attacks on Asians in the United States are way up. By 150 percent by one estimate. Many people in the Asian community believe the actual number is higher.
“Many of us don’t like to complain to the police when we are harassed,” says Dr. Julie Kwon Evans who is active in efforts to combat hate crimes against Asians in Michigan.
Evans says she has been harassed several times since the start of the pandemic. At first she reported the incidents to the police but seemingly nothing was done. So now she just ignores them and goes on with her life.
Of course, fortunately for Evans, she’s remained unscathed. The same can’t be said for an Asian American man on a Brooklyn subway.
The NYPD released a video of the attack, hoping someone can identify the assailant.
The video shows the guy beating and choking the Asian man. He choked him until he passed out.
Other passengers did nothing to intervene. Although several yelled at the guy to stop.
I participate a lot on social media and I have opportunity to speak to people around the world. It’s evident to me that so many in the Asian world, like my friend in Vietnam, are so aware of these attacks in the United States. The last time I can recall such interest in treatment of Asians in the United States was when Vincent Chin was killed outside a strip club in Highland Park Michigan.
Chin, who was born in China, had just gotten engaged. His friends had taken him to the club to throw a bachelor party for him.
Two white guys, Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler plant supervisor, and his stepson Michael Nitz, a laid off autoworker were there. At the time, in 1982, there was a lot of rage directed at the Japanese auto industry for outperforming Detroit’s Big Three. If you drove a car made by a Japanese auto manufacturer you weren’t allowed to park it in many of the UAW union hall lots. And Japanese cars were vandalized in and around Detroit on a regular basis.
It was apparent Ebens and Nitz, who were found guilty of manslaughter, thought Chin was Japanese. The three got into a confrontation inside the Fancy Pants strip club and it continued outside and then inside a nearby McDonald’s restaurant where Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Many in the Asian American community thought the duo got off easy with the manslaughter conviction.
I covered the story and it got a lot of play in the United States. But I had no idea how much attention it was receiving in the Asian world. Not until several years later when I met Nobi Shigemoto, a Japanese photographer assigned by Asahi Graphics Magazine to document crime in the United States. We became acquainted at Detroit police headquarters where he was looking for permission to ride along with the cops. When that was denied, he asked me if I would acquaint him with the streets of Detroit.
We were driving on Woodward Avenue through Highland Park, which is a Detroit enclave, when he suddenly asked me to stop the car. He wanted to photograph the Fancy Pants, which was familiar to him as the place where Vincent Chin had been attacked.
“You recognize the Fancy Pants?” I asked him,
“Everyone in Japan knows about the Fancy Pants bar,” he responded.
So it comes as little surprise that my Vietnamese friend is aware of all the attacks on Asians in the United States. This latest attack in Brooklyn makes it unlikely that she will change her mind and put the United States on her bucket list of places to visit.
Originally published at https://garybaumgarten.substack.com.