looking back, looking forward

It’s the closing night at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific American Film Festival and one film — not a new film — really caught my eye this year.

On Saturday, the festival showed the 1987 documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? The documentary is a powerful staple of Asian American history which I had never gotten around to seeing. It is the story of the beginnings of Asian American activism, which came about on the heels of the end of a man’s life. In 1982, Detroit, Vincent Chin got in a barroom brawl with Robert Ebens. Ebens and his stepson then pursued Chin outside the bar; while his stepson held him down, Ebens beat Chin over the head with a baseball bat. Chin went into a coma and died four days later in the hospital.

Vicent Chin
Vicent Chin

Ebens was charged with manslaughter in a plea bargain and was given a $3000 fine and three years probation. He and his stepson did not have to spend a single day in jail, and people were angry enough to organize. That time in Detroit was a flush with anti-Japan sentiment; Japanese carmakers were taking a big chunk out of business for the big American companies. Ebens, it turns out, had just lost his job as a supervisor when the Chrysler plant where he worked was shut down. Chin was a Chinese American, but according to witnesses, Ebens said to him at the bar, “”It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.” The case was taken to federal court where Ebens was accused of violating Chin’s civil rights (there were no hate crimes laws on the books yet).  Ebens was acquitted on all counts, but by then, Chin’s story and the struggle of his mother, Lily Chin, had galvanized a generation of Asian Americans to demand rights as “real Americans”.

Fast forward to 2009, and Chrysler is in even bigger trouble. How have things changed for immigrants and minorities in America? Even director Renee Tajima-Pena, who gave a Q&A after the screening, did not quite have an answer. But she did say that there has certainly been progress; violence and the racism that fueled anger against Asian immigrants is not as prevalent as it was when Vincent Chin was murdered. But immigrants are still facing very big hurdles in this recession. A Center for Immigration Studies survey shows that immigrants have higher rates of unemployment than the general population; even well-educated immigrants have an unemployment rate of 6.3% compared to 4% of American-born degree-holders. A Committee of 100 survey (PDF) shows that “China fear” is alive and well in America. Concerns about protectionism and potential immigration policies are growing. As the discussions about how best to deal with growing unemployment and economic challenges get heated, the story of Vincent Chin is a timely reminder of the perils of xenophobia.

Global Lives #1: Project Kashmir

I did a story about the documentary film Project Kashmir for Asia Pacific Arts. You can see the story and all of APA’s coverage of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in their website. I also made my first attempt at making a podcast start-to-finish. I hope these will become more engaging as I keep practicing.

I’m working on getting my buggy website to work with a player, so for now you can listen and subscribe directly from my site on mypodcast.com. UPDATE: It works now!

Here’s the intro:

Welcome to the first episode of Global Lives, a show about the kinds of people who make the whole world their home. Today, I’m talking to Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel, the filmmakers behind the much acclaimed documentary Project Kashmir.

For more information about the film, visit projectkashmir.org. This episode is co-produced by the online magazine Asia Pacific Arts, asiaarts.ucla.edu. You can discover more Global Lives on my website, angileeshah.com.

You can easily subscribe to this podcast or share it on your own blog or website.

Listen to Global Lives #1: Project Kashmir

The best reporting on the Sichuan Earthquake you’ll never see

When I was at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea, I went to a hotel on the beach to meet a documentary filmmaker from Beijing. I was very impressed by his film, Who Killed Our Children.

Pan Jianlin was frank with his opinions and generous with his time. He chain smokes and makes self-depricating jokes. He offered me a beer at 9:30 in the morning. When I met him he was wearing a Slipknot t-shirt. I asked him if he liked Slipknot; he replied, “Who’s Slipknot?”

I wanted to write about him and his film. Two versions of the story ran, one in US-China Today and the other on The China Beat.

I wrote the headline, also the title of this post. I hope I’m totally wrong on that count.