Review of From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement

From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian American Movement
by Paula Yoo
High School    Norton    384 pp.    g
4/21    978-1-324-00287-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-324-00288-8    $17.48

Who was Vincent Chin? The brutal 1982 killing of the young Chinese American in Detroit by two white men occurred during the U.S.-Japan auto trade wars, a time when anti-Asian hate ran high. Outrage over the killers’ sentencing — a $3,000 fine and probation — mobilized Asian Americans into protesting. The subsequent 1984 federal civil rights trial sparked reforms in victims’ rights and hate-crime reporting. In this extensively researched account — based on news articles (many reproduced here), court records, documentary films, and her own interviews — Yoo skillfully retells the life story of Vincent Chin, an engineering draftsman who was about to get married; his mother, Lily Chin; and everyone else involved, including the killers, witnesses, police, attorneys, judges, family friends, and community members. Yoo reconstructs the night of June 19th when Chin and his friends went to a strip club for his bachelor party and got into a fight with autoworker Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, ending with Chin’s fatal beating outside a McDonald’s restaurant. The narrative follows the aftermath, from the federal trial up to the present day, with updates on the lives of Ebens and others. An afterword observes how anti-Asian discrimination and violence in America continue today with COVID-19–related attacks and racial profiling, but Yoo reminds readers of Chin’s legacy “to fight back against hate.” Back matter includes a detailed timeline, meticulous source notes, and an index (unseen).

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee is a young adult librarian for the New York Public Library.

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