Detroit, 1982

This story is a dramatized account of the murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American man who was killed in 1982 in Detroit, bludgeoned into a coma with a baseball bat by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz.

The club is labyrinthine. Men gander at the rows of women who flip like acrobats, legs spreading and closing like scissors, maneuvering the towering poles, winking at the hungry faces staring from below. Men throw dollar bills at the women. One woman, Racine, crawls over to my friend and snatches a five dollar bill out of his hand with her teeth. She has spunk. There is a fog machine spewing mist around the girls, obscuring the faces of the guys like me who look up at these women on pedestals, enthralled by their sexuality. I know it’s dirty. But hell, this is the last time I can do this, the last time to stare these girls down. It’s a tradition and I have to go out with a bang. It’s been years, coming here after work with the guys. In the haze of the club I can only see Starlene’s pulsating body, her legs wrapped around the pole, strumming the sleek metal like a violin string. Her swarthy legs are long and lean, her silhouette in the dim light of the club excites me. I am kind of tipsy but I am okay. We had a couple of shots, but this is my bachelor party, so I deserve it.

I am getting married. I am getting fucking married. I am going to marry Vicki. Victoria Wong. The words tingle on my tongue. They dance out of my voice box, wiggle up my throat, and my tongue sends the sweet sound out for the world to hear. Vic-tor-i-a. I am the victor, the man who has won the trophy. I am going to take your porcelain hand in mine and we will take a trip to Lake Erie and camp out in a cabin on the shores. We are going to splash in the freshwater of the lake in naked feet, granules of sand between our toes. The water will cover our ankles and recede, cover and recede. My toes will wrinkle and so will yours. I will caress your neck and we will lie down on a knit blanket and be together, just us, alone. I will look down at your legs next to mine. Yours: curved and bare. Mine: angular and hairy. I will tickle your nose with my nose and we will giggle. We won’t be able to help but smile until we start laughing, brimming with joy like an overflowing glass of good beer, because, shit, we’re together. We’re married.

But that’s not until next week and so now, I can put this dollar in Starlene’s thong. “Come here. Why are you being so coy? Okay, fine, fine, you don’t like Chinese guys, I get it. That’s fine. Then get outta here. I can do better. You’re not even pretty anyway, just a pair of legs. Shoo, get out of here.”  I just need another beer. Someone, gimme another beer.

* * *

Who is this punk shooing Starlene away? I swear nowadays every time I stop by this place I see another Jap through the smoke saying something stupid to these fine women. These are my ladies. They know me. Every time they give me a lap dance, I know they make it last a bit longer because they know what Ronald is packing. I love it when they wear silk. All I need is a lady wearing silk and a couple of shots and I am damn good.

My neighbor is out of work again and it’s because of these Japs. Three years ago, a swarm of the yellow horde came into my neighborhood and pushed that nice Italian family out of their row house. They used to cook spaghetti and invite me and Nita over, but now the only things that come out of that house are kamikaze lunatics waving their red fucking sun flags around the neighborhood, yelping like samurais. World War II wasn’t so long ago, and I feel like people forget that. They’re always out on their front porch, staring me down with their chinky little eyes. I wanna ask them, What are you looking at? Get the fuck back to your country. But I know that I can’t. Down at the Chrysler plant where I work, a lot of my co-workers are Japanese and word spreads fast in this devious little circle, so I got to keep my trap shut. I wouldn’t want them to do some sort of karate on my ass. That’s something they’re good at. Sometimes I just want to leave this compacted mess of people and factories and broken asphalt that we call Detroit and go back to my mother’s farm. There’s no Japs there.

Starlene is one of the most fiery girls up there on that stage. She knows how to move it. But damn, I think that guy with that blocky black mullet bruised her ego. There’s something off in her step now. He said she’s not pretty? That’s rich, man. Look at his yellow glow. Maybe some people like that look. I don’t know. But I swear those sort of eyes are ugly—that wide face something that only a mother could love. I mean, I really wonder sometimes: how are they stealing all these jobs making cars? I work with them and they don’t get things done any better or faster than me or my buds.

There has to be something, because they sure as hell don’t got shit on us real Americans. Maybe there’s some Jap shrine these people are praying to. I hear that family down the street uttering wild things sometimes. Maybe they cursed my son, yeah, that’s why he got laid off. They wanted his spot. Or maybe there’s some demon up above fighting for these yellow bastards. That’s the only way that a horde like this could ever elbow my family out of the Chrysler plant. Jeez, man, when I get drunk, I know how to speak the truth. I’m gonna tell that man what he needs to know. “Boy, you don’t know a good thing when you see one!”

* * *

Jesus Christ, why is this idiot yelling at me? He’s wasted, it’s not worth it. But he keeps yammering on. He’s here with his son. How classy can you get, bringing your own son to a strip joint? There’s no way his wife knows he’s here. Or does he even have a wife? Probably not. Too ugly a guy, too tomato-colored. Ha. He thinks that I don’t know a good thing when I see one – he hasn’t seen Victoria. My lady. Y’know, I’m here leering at these chicks along with my brothers, but all I can really think about is Victoria.

Vic-tor-i-a. Her first syllable, staccato, like a quick dive into the lake. We will dive in together. The second is longer, like a drawn out embrace. It’ll be like we are hovering across all of Lake Erie together, our sides grazing the water, my eyes locked on hers. The last two syllables almost meld together, like all the moments since we first met. It has all passed so quickly and we are almost there, the point where I sweep you off your feet, my foot hits the gas, and the cans linked to the back of our car with yarn clink on the pavement as we drive south of Detroit, Just Married etched on the back window with your ruby lipstick, the felt tip gliding against the glass. Mother will be at the wedding. The pastor will translate everything into Mandarin so that she understands. And Dad will be looking down at us from above.

My buds keep nudging me to look up. Yeah, that is a nice ass. I can admit it. It’s my bachelor party, and fuck, okay, I’m tipsy. But this guy is still yelling at me. He just screamed, “Because of you motherfuckers, we are out of work!” My temper: the air in a balloon just expanded and made it pop. I yell back.

“I am not a little motherfucker.”

“Okay, I’m just not sure if you’re a little fucker or a big fucker!”

This airhead needs a lesson. These types think they can get away with whatever the hell they want. A couple weeks ago, a guy – the type to drape Confederate flags on walls and wear jean jackets and jean shorts – pushed my mom on the bus and clamored “Ching chong, ching chong.”

I get up and make my way through the mist to this buffoon and give him a shove. He stumbles back; his breath reeks of a mix of beer and cheap rum and the way he fumbles backwards makes me think that he has had a bit too much to drink. He pushes me back. I almost fall. I should disengage, I know it. This guy is too wasted. But his son, who looks like he’s in his late 20s, gets up and wails on me before I can make a decision. I get a blow to the face, a blow to the neck, a kidney punch. They’re both on me and my eyebrow is bleeding. But I tell my friends not to get involved. There’s two of them, but I can handle myself. I get the dad in the stomach. He’s bent over, nursing the blow, and he’s unsteady and drunk. And I shove him again and he’s on the floor. Someone turned off the fog machine and now everything is visible. The girls in their thongs and bras scatter and shriek. I’m turned around and his son kicks me in the Achilles heel, a bolt of pain shoots up my right leg and I almost fall over. But I quickly grab a chair and whirl it at the crony. It clocks him on the chest and he falls over. I’m standing above them, my eyebrow bleeding, my jeans torn, but I’m still upright. I’m okay. This is some fucking bachelor party. I should’ve stayed in with Victoria.

I want a burger. My buddies and I get out of there quickly, and we drive to the nearest McDonald’s. Maybe I can get Victoria some fries too.

* * *

My head is aching and my stepson is on the floor and this Jap thinks he can just walk away. He thinks he can do this shit in my territory. Oh, I’ll show him. I lift up my stepson by his armpits and we hobble to the car. We get our energy back the closer we get. By the time I’m in the driver’s seat, my body’s feeling okay, the adrenaline is healing my wounds. I’m drunk but I can drive. I’ve done this enough times that I could close my eyes and beat him to wherever he’s going. I kind of miss my lady, Juanita. She’s at home, I think. I’ll go see her after this.

His car is already out on the highway next to the club, but I see it, an emerald Mercedes, that rich motherfucker. He probably can afford it on the money he gets from kicking my son out of the factories; his horde probably pooled its money together so that he can show off to the chicks and make up for his yellow skin, his gook eyes. Ha. But Starlene didn’t want him. They’re still Japs to the bone.

The Detroit night is buzzing. Lots of black people are walking on the side of the road, blasting their music from boom boxes held on their heads. That dude’s hair is fucking huge, ha ha, and his afro is almost covering his boom box. I hit the gas and now we’re a couple cars behind him.  I think his eyes are too small to see us.

He is pulling into McDonald’s. I see him. He is getting out, he is with a few of his friends. Two go into the McDonald’s to buy food and the Jap and a white dude are standing outside of the Mercedes smoking cigarettes. I look my stepson in the eye and he knows, he knows what’s coming to this guy. We station our car on the other side of the McDonald’s parking lot and I grab my wooden baseball bat from the trunk. My head is still pounding but I can walk without limping because my body is high on adrenaline, pumped up on the chemicals rushing to my brain because I know I am about to take this Jap out, this invader who has come into my city and pushed my boy out of his job, this little yellow shit who has come and polluted my neighborhood.

My son runs at the white dude and shoves him on the floor, kicks him in the stomach, in the face, he’s writhing on the floor, he can’t do shit, can’t save his friend. Then my son grabs the Jap’s arms and holds him straight for me. I look this yellow little shit in the face and a mass of energy consumes me and I am at once transported back to the days of middle school little league and am also in the present moment. I am in seventh grade and the pitch is coming to me. The pitcher throws curveballs, screwballs, fastballs, but I am the best hitter we got. The pitch goes and I steady my bat, swing it and I hit it full on, all my force flying through this chunk of wood, and I hit it so good that I do it again, and again, and again. There is blood spraying everywhere, I am getting blood on my face, but where the fuck is the blood from, this is a baseball. No, this is a fucking Jap, a Jap who deserves this shit. That’s his nose, his forehead, his eyes, caving in. I hear a loud crack. I am doing it. It is all caving in! My bat’s broken. Mom, take me to buy a new baseball bat! HE BROKE MY BAT!

* * *

History of Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin died four days after the attack. Starlene, the stripper described in my account, was an actual witness during Ronald Ebens’ trial. My story is told in the first-person, switching between Chin and Ebens’ viewpoints. Ebens was motivated by resentment towards the Japanese-American community in Detroit for having taken many competitive factory jobs; his stepson, Michael Nitz, had been laid off three years prior to the murder. He brawled with Chin in the strip joint called “The Fancy Pants Club.” “It’s because of you motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” Ebens yelled. Chin escaped, but Ebens and his stepson tracked him down and smashed his skull with a baseball bat. Ironically, Chin was not Japanese; his murderers were uninformed about Asian-Americans and mistook a Chinese-American for a Japanese-American, killing someone who did not play the role in the supposed workforce competition of Detroit in 1982 that the perpetrators had assumed. Chin’s murderers were never jailed for their crime, even after a second trial on the federal circuit. Today, the murder of Vincent Chin is considered to be one of the critical events in the formation of Asian-American identity, an event around which AAPI community organizers gathered in solidarity. Christine Choy and Renee Tajima created the documentary film “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” in 1987, and it was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. Chin’s legacy lives on in numerous scholarships, including the Asian American Journalist Association’s (AAJA) Vincent Chin Memorial Scholarship. To learn more about Vincent Chin and his legacy, take a look at AAJA’s Timeline of the Vincent Chin case.

Nick Sexton

Nick Sexton is a Politics major who freelances for NBC News. Follow him on Twitter @_nick_sexton_.