Vincent Chin, Danny Chen, and Coping with Betrayal

Last weekend marked the 30th Anniversary of the murder of Vincent Chin. The week that lead up to it was filled with posts from across the blogosphere about Vincent and the legacy of how little Judge Kaufman valued the life of a Chinese American versus the lives of the two white men murdered who him. He said, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail.” And if he were alive today, I would ask him, “Was Vincent the kind man that deserved to be bludgeoned to death?”

Bao Phi’s opinion piece in the Star Tribune has been one of my favorite references when thinking about Vincent. Another favorite reference is Curtis Chin’s documentary, Vincent Who? Released several years before, Curtis’ film addresses the legacy of Vincent Chin and Judge Kaufman’s verdict.

(I think the opening of the trailer says it all.)

And of course, there is Christina Choy’s Who Killed Vincent Chin? It was the first film I saw about the case and (as far as I know) for a very long time the only film made about the case.

I was in high school in ’82, the year Vincent was murdered. Billy Idol and Duran Duran, I was dealing with my own issues at the time. But as much taunting and teasing as I got for the clothes I wore and the songs I listened to, race was rarely an issue. I grew up in racially, ethnically, religiously diverse Queens. It wasn’t until I meet Curtis several years after college in the ’90s that Vincent Chin became an “issue”.

But even after meeting Curtis and others since and learning more about Vincent Chin, I don’t know that I would have answered any differently if someone were to come up to me and ask me, if I’ve heard of Vincent Chin?

Judge Kaufman’s betrayal of justice ignited a national Asian American movement that positively changed the way I saw myself but Vincent Chin is not part of my daily psyche. I imagine, if approached, I would try to identify someone I might know personally before I would identify someone from modern history.

As a father, it my duty to tell my children that there are people out there who will hate them simply because they “look” Chinese. But my children are young, so I am just as responsible for imparting to them the faith that overall people regardless of race or religion are good. Among my challenges in fatherhood is maintaining the balance between my children having a strong sense of what the “real world” is like with what the “real world” could be. I want them to believe in their neighbors, while at the same time cautious with how quickly they embrace them.

I didn’t know Danny Chen but his death has had a lingering effect on me. Danny Chen, 19 years old, enlisted in the US Army (despite the protests of his parents), allegedly committed suicide after enduring months of humiliation and torture at the hands of his Brothers in Arms.

It definitely has something to do with how young he looks in the picture that the news uses whenever they speak about him. I know he’s 18 or 19 in the photo but with a little more fat on his face, he could be the same age as my kids (maybe a little older but not much more). His growing up in Chinatown and his parents speaking the same dialect as mine only adds to the sadness I feel and the worry — the worry that my kids might be the next victims…

As disappointing as it is to have to teach my children that inevitably they will have to endure racist comments, I’m confident I can manage it. But how do I teach my children about betrayal? What makes the Danny Chen case so much more upsetting — and why it lingers — is his tormentors were people he was supposed to be able to rely on — his Brothers in Arms…

Have you ever been cheated on? Have you ever felt betrayed? How do you teach that? How do you teach your children to deal?

I dug around online but the closest I came to “professional” advice was this post at Scholastic.com. It details the stages of friendship but does not offer any advice on coping with betrayal or when “clubs” shift. The author does say the parent should be supportive of the child and if there are problems go to the child’s teacher but there is no instruction on talking to your child about betrayal before it happens.

That’s why I like Nikki’s song so much. In addition to being musically good on its own, its lyrics are offer good advice on coping with betrayal.

And while the chorus is

The one you love might be the one to let you down every time.
That ain’t right, no, that ain’t right.
So just be sure you can survive without no one by your side.
‘Cause in life, the strong survive.

I don’t interpret it to mean “prepare yourself for a life of loneliness and antisocial behavior.” I interpret it as a statement on resolve — Be resolute and confident in who you are. Be yourself. Cultivate yourself. And Live.

They hurt you, they sliced at the threads of your life but what’s tearing
you apart is holding on to being right.
Forgiving is hard, like breaking through prison bars but the healing
wont start til you let go of the scars.
Strong people forgive and get the pain out their system
Weak people relive and they keep playing the victim.
People always told us keep our enemies close, but I’d rather keep my
distance than be phoney to a foe.
Best wisdom to own is knowing when to let go, but that’s something u
already know.

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