Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a month to reflect about action

By Roland Hwang, American Citizens for Justice, Special to IMDiversity


Editor’s NoteFor our May 2009, American Pacific American Heritage Month edition, the editors invited Roland Hwang to reflect on the history of civil rights organization American Citizens for Justice, Inc. (ACJ). ACJ was born of grassroots organizing, in protest of the 3-year probation and $3,000 fine sentence given to the two killers of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken for Japanese and slain in 1983.  Now also known as the Asian American Center for Justice, ACJ continues its civil rights work, which has recently been recognized in a new documentary film, “Vincent Who?” touring the country this spring and summer.

ACJ co-founder Roland Hwang moderates discussion during a screening of Vincent Who?


May 2009 – Ann Arbor – For American Citizens for Justice, Inc., American Pacific American Heritage Month is a time to think about the continuing relevance of the Asian Pacific American civil rights movement. Yes, we can reflect on the movements of the past — and the role that ACJ played in fueling a pan-Asian American civil rights movement 26 years ago.  But it is also an opportunity to reflect about activism in your own community, today.

As film producer Curtis Chin was inspired to do a film about the Vincent Chin case, in the aftermath of the Vincent Chin remembrance events of 2007, ACJ hosted the screenings and discussions of the movie, “Vincent Who?” in April in Ann Arbor, and in metro Detroit, in Dearborn and Madison Heights.  We look back and see the present climate, too.   As we struggle with a recession and a dismal economic climate currently, more severe in Michigan and in Detroit, the Motor City, than elsewhere, a recession much like that of 1983, we look to the Vincent Chin case and the coalition building, fund raising, and rallies as a template for action should similar cases of anti-Asian violence arise.  There have already been instances of vandalism against foreign cars in parking lots this year.  Violence against “foreign-looking” people could be next.

It is a time for reflection.  On April 18, ACJ past president, journalist and author Helen Zia returned to Michigan for a reception for American Citizens for Justice.  That event, a sort of homecoming for Helen, brought together several of the volunteers that led the crusade for justice for Vincent Chin.  They included Jim Shimoura, Jeffrey Jenks, Mabel Lim, Joyce Leon, Parker Woo, and several others who planned rallies, Justice Update newsletters, and prepared press releases.  During the event, several recalled how press releases were distributed, by driving them around town to news outlets, before the days of telefaxes, cell phones, laptops, e-mail, and Facebook.  We are beyond that era in terms of getting the word out.

It is time to look ahead.  American Citizens for Justice continues to provide civil rights advocacy and multicultural sensitivity educational talks on behalf of the Asian Pacific American community in Michigan.  The issues have multiplied as we have matured as a community.  Beyond Asian-bashing, issues such as immigration reform, immigrant rights, and the health and safety of Asians in detention are the new issues that now demand attention from the Asian Pacific American community.  For that reason, ACJ works in coalition with other civil rights organizations for the advancement of Asian Pacific Americans and other communities of color.  ACJ has joined with NAACP Detroit Chapter’s Allies, Issues and Actions forum.  ACJ has also joined the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s BRIDGES group that tackles immigration and immigrant rights issues.  ACJ has recently taken on Rush Limbaugh’s use of the term “slumdog” to describe all workers in India, as an issue to address.

Under the leadership of ACJ president Lawrence Almeda, American Citizens for Justice/Asian American Center for Justice expects to advance its work in civil rights advocacy and race relations education and other ways to engage in dialogue on the plight of the APA community and immigrants.  What are your organizations and support groups doing?

ACJ co-founder Zia at ACJ’s April 18 Evening with Helen Zia

As you read this, you should be thinking about whether your respective community, whether Asian Pacific American or not, is engaged and tackling the issues of tolerance, multiculturalism, immigration reform, immigrant rights, and the health and safety of people in immigration detention.  We should dedicate this month of May to think about ways to engage.



Also of Interest from the Archives

  • “Vincent Who?”
    By Roland Hwang, American Citizens for Justice, Special to IMDiversity
    Remembering the Historic Importance of the Vincent Chin Case of 26 Years Ago
  • Ready or Not — My Own Brush with Violence
    By Helen Zia, Asian-American Village Columnist
    Two decades after speaking out for the APA community in the 1982 Vincent Chin murder case, Zia revisits anti-Asian hostility to gauge how far we’ve come…and how far we have yet to go. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.