Here in Los Angeles, yesterday, April 11 began with a downpour of rain, and ended with a deluge of tears over the close-range murders of USC graduate students Wu Ying and Qu Ming from China.
The moment I heard the news, I grieved, for these two students, so full of hope and courage, coming to America to further their education. I grieved for their parents, suffering through every parents’ worst nightmare. I grieved for all the other Chinese students studying here in the America thinking “that could have been me.”
Then, my mind could not help racing to some high-profile murders of other Chinese:
- I thought of Vincent Chin, who in 1982 in Detroit was beaten to death by two white men who, while killing him screamed, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” in reference to U.S. auto manufacturing jobs being lost to Japan, despite the fact that Chin was not Japanese. Vincent Chin’s killers at first received no jail time, outraging and galvanizing Asian-Americans for the first time that we needed to become politically active.
- I thought of 24-year-old Jim Loo, who in 1989 in North Carolina was murdered by two white men who, while killing him screamed “gook” and “chink” and blamed him for American deaths in the Vietnam war. At the time, I was a marine biology major, and driving regularly back and forth alone across North Carolina between Duke and the coastline where the Duke Marine Lab was located. Stopping in restaurants to go to the restroom on my long drives, I always felt alone and exposed as all the white (they were always only white) people would put down their utensils and swivel their heads to silently watch me walk between the entrance and the restroom.
- I thought of the shocking deaths in the past year of Private Danny Chen and Lance Corporal Harry Lew, two Chinese-American soldiers in the American military who committed suicides following extended campaigns of racial harassment and physical assaults by their fellow American soldiers.
Vincent Chin, Jim Loo, Harry Lew and Danny Chen all died because they were Chinese. There has been no evidence the murders of Wu Ying and Qu Ming were based on racial hatred. But I do wonder. Did their being Chinese play any factor in their deaths? What went through the mind of their killer when he picked them to rob? Would he have picked them if they were white? Would he have picked them if they were black? Did the killer assume that since they were Chinese, they were rich? Did he assume that since they were Chinese they would meekly hand over their possessions and not fight back?
In other words, if they were not Chinese, would Wu Ying and Qu Ming still be alive today?
Then again, did their being Chinese have anything at all to do with their murders? Did the killer even see their faces before he struck?
Here is one of the continuing facts of life of being Chinese in America. No matter how “insider” you become, from time to time, things happen to remind you that there always will be Americans who see you as “other” than fully American, even if you are American, like I am. Remember Alexandra Wallace, the UCLA student who made that anti-Asian video?
In my experience, the vast majority of Americans do not condone hatred of any sort, and become just as angry and you and I do over any kind of race-based harassment or violence. Yesterday’s deaths of Wu Ying and Qu Ming were big news everywhere, and yesterday wherever I went, my American friends expressed outrage and sorrow over the killings. Americans everywhere want the killer brought to justice. To that end, I sincerely hope that any witnesses to the killings will step forward to help the LAPD identify and arrest the killer.
But events like this serve as a reminder that America is a democracy, and democracies are built through participation. It is important for us as Chinese to become just as politically active as any other group in this country. The Chinese here always have had a reputation of being silent and therefore powerless. We can empower our selves by coming together and projecting our own voices.
In the past 30 years since the murder of Vincent Chin galvanized our community, Asian-Americans have increased our share of power in the United States. CAUSE, the organization founded and led by my mentor Charlie Woo, has been at the forefront in spearheading the empowerment of Asian-Americans. One of the really important roles that CAUSE plays in our community is by creating direct access for Asian-Americans to those in all power in local, state and federal government throughout America.
In the same way as did Vincent Chin’s murder, perhaps the murders of Wu Ying and Qu Ming will galvanize Chinese students in America.