Juneteenth’s relevance to Asian Americans
If you’ve dismissed Juneteenth as irrelevant to you, pare, you’re missing out on the hope. There’s a lesson for everyone in America, Asian American Filipinos too, when pro-slavery forces couldn’t prevent all of the U.S. from getting the truth. The Truth wins out.
But here’s why you should care.
Juneteenth is as close as Asian Americans get to a national holiday commemorating the fight against anti-Asian American violence.
Yeah, that’s right.
But we weren’t slaves, Emil…
No, but I’m not taking anything away from Juneteenth.
I’m adding to it.
You’ve got to admit it’s a strange holiday.
In fact, to be true to the spirit of Juneteenth, maybe we should celebrate it not on June 19, but maybe on the 29th.
Or maybe, just put it off, like for three years.
That would adequately mock the reality that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on September 22, 1862, ended slavery.
But no one told the slaves in Texas until June 19, 1865—nearly three years later.
Was that a paperwork error? Slow wi-fi? Whites were so reluctant to give up the immoral activity of slavery in Texas that they gaslighted the Emancipation Proclamation.
I remember hearing about Juneteenth when I lived in the Lone Star state in the ’70s and ’80s. (BTW, that’s the 1970s and 1980s.)
But isn’t it amazing how the push to make it a national holiday didn’t succeed until 2021–156 years after 1865?
And even when the holiday was announced, most people still happily lived in ignorance. Two years ago, a Gallup survey found that more than 60 percent of Americans know “nothing at all” or only “a little bit” about Juneteenth.
What you need to know is that 14 Republicans voted against it, for the most part the same folks mucking things up for current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who deserves to be mucked up, but for other reasons, not Juneteenth.
You may also like: What Vincent Chin means to us, 40 years later
And so, for the record, this is the original Congressional Juneteenth Hall of Shame, the Republicans who voted against the federal holiday, which leaves them looking like pro-slavery Republicans: Mo Brooks (AL), Andy Biggs (AZ), Andrew Clyde (GA), Scott DesJarlais (TN), Paul Gosar (AZ), Ronny Jackson (TX), Doug LaMalfa (CA), Thomas Massie (KY), Tom McClintock (CA), Ralph Norman (NC), Mike Rogers (AL), Matt Rosendale (MT), Chip Roy (TX), Tom Tiffany (WI).
Some of their weak excuses? Rep. Roy believed Juneteenth divided our country by “creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one’s skin.” Rep. Tiffany said the Democrats were “fueling separatism by creating a race-based Independence Day.” All laughable, if there weren’t so many people who support them.
These are the same folks who want to stop the teaching of U.S. history claiming it’s “critical race theory.” Of course, It’s nothing of the sort. The holiday simply makes us appreciate that truth and justice eventually do win out.
The good forces have been working overtime to bend that arc of justice ever since Juneteenth.
That’s why we get the day off and should remain vigilant forever
The Vincent Chin coincidence
So we respect Juneteenth, but we point out one particular coincidence of justice delayed that took place on June 19 in 1982.
That’s when Vincent Chin crossed paths with Ronald Ebens in a strip club in Detroit.
Ebens, a white auto worker in an industry under siege by Japanese imports, saw Chin, and his brain must have registered “Japanese,” even though Chin was Chinese American.
I asked Ebens about this in 2012 and he denies the racial subtext of the incident: “It had nothing to do with the auto industry or Asians or anything else. Never did, never will. I could have cared less about that. That’s the biggest fallacy of the whole thing.”
Really? Chin’s friends, who were there, testified to the contrary.
But Ebens may have told me all that to lessen the racial aspect.
He couldn’t deny the most important fact. After leaving the strip club, he hunted down Chin, found him, and then swung the bat at Chin’s head resulting in his death.
Now 41 years after, Ebens has never served time for the murder. Nor has Ebens–ordered to pay $1.5 million to the Chin family in a wrongful death settlement–paid off his debt to the Chin family.
He’s avoided justice even when he knows he’s at fault.
“I’m as much to blame,” he admitted to me. “I should’ve been smart enough to just call it a day. After [Chin and his friends] started to disperse, it was time to get in the car and go home.”
But he didn’t.
Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, got to Chin in that McDonalds parking lot, and as Nitz stood behind Chin, Ebens swung the bat and delivered the fatal blow.
“I went over that a hundred, maybe 1,000 times in my mind the last 30 years,” Ebens told me in 2012. “It doesn’t make any sense of any kind that I would swing a bat at his head when my stepson is right behind him. That makes no sense at all.”
The murder doesn’t make sense. Nor does the application of justice, which has only benefitted Chin’s killer.
Chin was in a coma at the Henry Ford Hospital on June 19th, the 20th, the 21st, the 22nd, and then on the 23rd, he didn’t wake up.
But an entire generation of Asian Americans did.
For those born in the Civil Rights Era, Chin was the call to social justice, an awakening. It was just the first wave.
Since then, the Asian American population has grown to more than 23 million people, with Filipino Americans at more than 4 million. And now, a new generation is discovering the impact and the importance of the Chin case, at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans have exploded.
In 1994, I wrote a column proposing that the four days between June 19th and the 23rd give Asian Americans a period for reflection. And not just on the Chin case, but on what it means to be an Asian American now.
What does it take to stand up for ourselves? Our community? Our personal and public identity? What does real equality, real justice, mean today? Have we reached that place? Are we still far short? Why are some of us still asking “Vincent Who?”
We may not get a federal holiday, but the coincidence of Juneteenth and Vincent Chin’s murder gives us some time for thought. .
Starting on the 19th, I’ll once again begin a personal public retreat, going over what I’ve written about the Vincent Chin case in my columns on Inquirer.net, podcasts social media, etc. I’ll talk about it live at 2 pm PT on my EmilGuillermo.Media Facebook page, with recordings on www.amok.com.
You can email me to interact. Or on FB chat.
It’s not a re-litigation, more like a meditation. A way to understand what’s happened, and what’s yet to be done now, to bring us closer to a sense of truth, justice and peace that we all seek as a nation.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.
Emil Guillermo writes a column for Inquirer.net’s North American Bureau.