A Personal Reflection on Asian & Black Solidarity in Remembrance of 40th Anniversary of Vincent Chin

By Mabel Teng. Posted June 18, 2022.

On June 23 four decades ago, Vincent Chin died a brutal death at the hands of two white men.  What lessons have we learned and where do we go from here?

“The legacy of Vincent Chin and the campaign for justice offers lessons to all on how people of all races, including between Asian and Black Americans, and from all creeds and walks of life, can organize and come together to stand against intolerance of all kinds to build a beloved community that is safe and welcoming to all.”

“Today’s pandemic and anti-Asian hate has uncanny parallels to the anti-Asian hate of the 1980’s. American Citizens for Justice’s (ACJ) founding principles are an important part of Vincent’s legacy: our movement’s commitment to equal justice for all and a stand against racism and discrimination of any kind”.  “As Vincent’s mother, Lily, said on national television, ‘Our skin color may be different, but our blood is the same’”.  (Statement On Behalf Of The Vincent And Lily Chin Estate, quoted from Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication.)  Led by The Chin Estate, American Citizens for Justice and the Planning Committee, Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication convening is expected to unite justice leaders from across the country from June 16-19 in Detroit.

Rev. Jesse Jackson confers with Mrs. Lily Chen at Cameron House, San Francisco,1984. Partial view of Helen Zia to right. Mabel Teng speaks at podium on right. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.

The 1982 horrific and hateful killing of Vincent Chin by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, and the subsequent sentencing by Judge Kaufman for the two killers to three years’ probation and $3000 in fines awakened, and galvanized Asian Americans into action.  The justice for Vincent Chin work sparked the contemporary Asian American civil rights movement, which swept a seawave of activists to dedicate themselves to champion for multi-racial democracy.  America built a new consciousness as this generation of 80’s activists ran for elected office, built multi racial coalitions, became leaders in community-building, labor, civil rights, immigrant rights, women, LGBTQ, environmental justice and world peace.

I was among this new generation whose life was forever changed.  I worked with, learned from, mentored by, and fought side by side with many whom I consider lifelong friends.  Four decades after the killing of Vincent Chin, it is more relevant than ever to recall the lessons and inspiration sparked by the Vincent Chin movement, work with the Rev Jesse Jackson, Black Movement and the Rainbow Coalition. I humbly offer my personal reflections.

Rev Jackson and Justice for Vincent Chin

In 1983, Rev Jackson was among the first national leaders and an American presidential candidate to support the Justice for Vincent Chin movement.  He came to Cameron House in an historic gathering to meet Mrs. Lily Chin and they instantly connected.  Rev Jackson drew the parallel about the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year old black teenager accused of whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi in 1955.

Till was later abducted, tortured and murdered by a group of white men. At their trial, the jury was out for only 30 minutes and found the white killers not guilty.  Someone asked the jury, “why so short?” and they said, “well it would have been shorter except we stopped for a cigarette and a soft drink.”  The jury couldn’t imagine sending a white person to jail for killing a black teenager.  The woman who accused Emmett Till confessed before she died that she lied about the assault. It never happened.

Rev Jackson drew the parallel, that “they” couldn’t imagine sending white people to jail for killing blacks or Asians. In the Chin case, Judge Charles Kaufman handed out a sentence of 3-year probation and a small fine saying, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail…”.   There was no justice then, there is no justice today. Emmett Till triggered the Black movement in the South and gave birth to the Black Power Movement. Similarly, Vincent Chin’s murder triggered the contemporary Asian Civil Rights movement.

Asian and Black Solidarity 

When Jesse Jackson announced his candidacy for President in 1983, a whole new level of mobilization arose among Asian Americans in solidarity with the African American-led effort for greater impact.  Movement activists and organizations in California such as the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) in San Francisco and Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) in Los Angeles were the foundation for Asian activism in the Jackson campaign.

(Left to right) Pam Tau Lee, Ken Kong, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mabel Teng, Eddie Wong, and the Rev. Howard Gloyd at SF Chinatown rally, May 16, 1984. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.

SF Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square overflowed with over 1,000 people who came to hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson, May 16, 1984. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.

Along with Butch Wing, Eddie Wong, and Evelyn Yoshimura, and Mike Murase, I had the honor to be one of the founders of Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson in 1984.  In 1988 I served as the California co-chair of the Jesse Jackson campaign, worked alongside and learned from Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Cindy Ng served as the co-chair of the New York State Rainbow Coalition and later speech writer for New York Mayor David Dinkins. May Louie was chairperson of the Boston Rainbow Coalition, then chief of staff of the National Rainbow Coalition. Mike Murase served as California Campaign Director, later as Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ District Director.

For the next two decades, we worked with the African American communities and Black churches.  Eddie Wong and Butch Wing continued to staff Jesse Jackson and Rainbow/PUSH until Butch’s recent retirement.   I was among those who ran for office to be a voice for bridge building and grassroot empowerment.

Evelyn Yoshimura, Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson, at podium with Warren Furutani and Burt Nakano seated to her right. Little Tokyo rally for Jesse Jackson, 1984. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.


New York Asian Americans for Jackson at rally in 1988. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.

There are valuable lessons on Black-Asian solidarity and coalition building:

The mutual respect and relationship built was transformative.  Jesse Jackson often told us that when we invited him to the Day of Remembrance program, he had a chance to hear first-hand from Japanese Americans who had been interned.  When he came to Chinatown and met the “lo wah que,” he felt our shared pain. Similarly, Jesse brought us to the Black church and took us on a tour of his neighborhood in segregated Greenville, South Carolina where we spent time together, broke bread, and shared our stories of sorrow and joy.

Coalition building is a long-term relationship based on embracing each other’s histories, heritage and aspirations. We no longer live in our little silos and the attempt of the Rainbow was to find out what we shared in common, to connect our histories and to strengthen our struggles. Lifelong trust and relationships were built as we won and lost battles in the fight for greater multiracial democracy.

Today: We must tell our story and bring the siloed pieces together

America is more polarized today with the rise of White Supremacy and the Right-Wing Tea Party fueled by four years of Donald Trump in the White House.  Asian Americans, blacks, Latinx, Muslims, Jews, queers and people of color have been the target of hate violence and killings.  A valuable lesson is that we must find the capacity to fight for others rather than among ourselves.  That is where our collective strength will be.

What was relevant in the 80’s, i.e., to build community and political power, to run for office, to fight for the oppressed, to be a voice for the poor, to stand in solidarity with blacks, people of color and queers, Jews, Muslims and to stand tall against the Right Wing onslaught, continues to hold true today.  Jesse Jackson often said, “We must tell our story and keep building so the next generation is empowered knowing what we did for them, and what they can do for the future.”

Jesse Jackson for President rally in San Francisco, 1988. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.

Let “us” become a movement and a school of thought.  Let “us” be the undercurrent in the ocean that will never go away.


Author’s bio: Mabel Teng was inspired to run for office after her work with Jesse Jackson, becoming the first-ever elected Asian American woman of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in a city–wide election in 1994. In a pioneering public service role, Mabel cultivated a broad network of political leaders and government officials. This network allowed her to leverage her years of grassroots leadership in the social justice movement, from organizing, advocacy to community building. Mabel’s public service in elected office spanned from 1990 – 2015 when she retired as the Assessor of the City and County of San Francisco. She parlayed her career in public office to return to Chinatown to support young leaders and serve the people.

Cover Photo:

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mabel Teng at Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson fundraiser at Far East Restaurant, SF Chinatown, 1988. Photo courtesy of Unity Archives.

1 Comment

  1. Ravi Chandra on June 19, 2022 at 7:50 am

    Thank you, Mabel. I’m glad to know more about your history of activism and engagement, as well as others whom you’ve mentioned and who I’ve known over the years. I love this passage:

    “Coalition building is a long-term relationship based on embracing each other’s histories, heritage and aspirations. We no longer live in our little silos and the attempt of the Rainbow was to find out what we shared in common, to connect our histories and to strengthen our struggles. Lifelong trust and relationships were built as we won and lost battles in the fight for greater multiracial democracy.”

    Our journeys of identity, belonging, wellness and meaning are very complicated – but also in a sense very simple, as they rely on respecting, affirming, validating and upholding human dignity in all the ways, every day. Basic needs such as safety and mental health are in fact radical visions in a culture that has been intent on erasure and devaluation of all falling outside the dominant culture of White Male “Christianity”, or put another way, those who don’t adhere to the social dominance orientation that life is all about accumulation of wealth, power, status and possessions – but instead hold their bonds of relatedness to family, community and humanity higher than short term material gains. The goals of my own radical visions in mental health are synonymous with the goals of achieving true equality, equity and social justice across all the lines of social division – because “disconnection is at the root of suffering – and the opposite of suffering is belonging.” The pathways and effects of disconnection are complex – and carrying and cultivating the mind of connection and belonging is our only path forward.

    Thanks again for your work, and for these reflections.

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