The spring breeze wafted against my face. I walked hurriedly through the shade cast by the buildings situated on the westside of Michigan Avenue.
It was early on a Sunday morning, and I was on my way to a Spanish restaurant to enjoy brunch with a law school classmate.
Down the sidewalk, several feet in front of me, a man stood, facing me, and shouted, “Asians and beggars, kill them all!”
I froze. My heart pounded. Was he aiming these words at me? I looked quickly to my left and right. No one else was nearby.
He turned and ran a few steps to the corner, then disappeared around the building. A backpack hung from his shoulders.
The date was April 22, 2013, the weekend after two men detonated backpacks filled with explosives among the crowds gathered to cheer on the Boston Marathon runners, a domestic terror attack that killed three people and injured approximately 264.
What was in the man’s backpack, as he ran around Chicago, spewing hatred at me because of my appearance, my Asianness?
Forty years ago this week (June 19, 1982 – coincidentally, Juneteenth), three men got into an altercation at a bar. Two were white, one was of Asian descent. After Vincent left the bar, and even after he left the parking lot, the two men paid someone to drive them around the neighborhood to look for Vincent. When they finally found him, the older of the two men beat Vincent’s head repeatedly with a baseball bat until his head cracked open.
Witnesses testified that the older of the two had shouted at Vincent, in the bar, “It’s because of you mother-f– that we’re out of work!” Presumably, the two white men, unemployed Michigan auto workers, had mistaken Vincent for Japanese, and identified him with the Japanese auto industry dominating the global vehicle market.
Vincent Chin had been targeted, and killed, because of his Asianness.
Four decades before Vincent’s murder, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, legalizing the forced removal and confinement of thousands of Japanese Americans to internment camps. This was eighty years ago. Yet, the topic still riles people.
Last year, I attended a Continuing Legal Education event on professionalism and ethics. The topic was, broadly speaking, diversity. The Illinois Supreme Court requires 30 hours of continuing legal education credit, six hours of which must be professional responsibility courses. Of that number, one hour must be of diversity/inclusion education, every two years, of attorneys licensed in Illinois.
While the speaker waxed poetic about his topic, in the chat another conversation was unfolding. One attorney felt that the internment was justified, due to the security threat that Japanese Americans posed during World War II. Attorneys opposed to the former jumped into the chat, arguing their side. A judge called on the debaters to stop. More than once.
At the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) taking place in Denver next month, the Asian American Law Librarians Caucus will host a screening of the documentary, Alternative Facts: The LIes of Executive Order 9066. The film reveals the “false information and political influences which led to the World War ll incarceration of Japanese Americans” (Alternative Facts, PBS). The following day, Monday, the Asian American Law Librarians Caucus, Black Law Librarians SIS, Federal Law Librarians Caucus, Government Law Librarians SIS, Jewish Law Librarians Caucus, and Social Responsibilities SIS, in alphabetical order, are sponsoring a program featuring the film’s director, John Osaki, and Lorraine Bannai, one of the legal team of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Korematsu v. United States, 584 F. Supp. 1406 (N.D. Cal. 1984).
The day of Vincent Chin’s beating became a federal holiday last year, not because of that tragedy, but in celebration of the ending of another – legalized slavery in the U.S.
On May 14, 2022, a heavily armed white man, wearing tactical gear and body armor, shot thirteen people in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, ten of whom died as result. The shooter was charged with federal hate crimes on June 15, 2022.
In a press conference, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, in announcing the federal hate crimes charges, asserted, “No one in this country should have to live in fear that they will go to work or shop at the grocery store and will be attacked by someone who hates them because of the color of their skin.” Buffalo Shooting Suspect Is Charged With Federal Hate Crimes, New York Times,Jun 15, 2022, Jesse McKinley and Glenn Thrush.
As I debate whether to travel to New York City to visit relatives and a friend, I Google: New York City Asian hate incident, and come across the following headlines:
- Man Hit Woman in the Head 125 Times Because She Was Asian, Officials Say By Ed Shanahan. Published March 14, 2022 Updated March 16, 2022. New York Times, in Yonkers, New York.
- Asian woman, 68, chased down, punched to ground on Manhattan street in possible hate crime By Rocco Parascandola. Police Bureau Chief. May 02, 2022 at 2:10 pm. New York Daily News, in Chelsea
- Woman wanted for pepper spray attack, making anti-Asian remarks in Manhattan, police say. June 15, 2022, 4:11 AM CDT. By Chantal Da Silva. NBC News, in Chelsea.
We shouldn’t have to live in fear of going to work or shopping at the grocery store and being attacked by someone who hates them because of the color of their skin. At least sometimes, though, this law librarian does.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.