“Ching Chong, Chinaman”: The De-Americanization of Asian Americans


This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

Eight US soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been arrested in connection with the apparent suicide of Pvt. Danny Chen, a 19-year-old infantryman who was Chinese American. The arrests came after family members pressured the Pentagon to investigate allegations that Chen had been repeatedly taunted with racial slurs. The alleged anti-Asian bullying and taunting started during basic training when fellow soldiers used a mocking accent while calling him Jackie Chen; others allegedly told him to “go back to China.” The eight soldiers have been charged with dereliction of duty and manslaughter.

Pvt. Danny Chen

Asian American history is replete with examples of the de-Americanization of its members by vigilante racism. For some, the ostracism started immediately. Consider the poignant autobiography of Mary Paik Lee, a Korean immigrant who described her family’s arrival in San Francisco harbor in 1906:

“As we walked down the gangplank … young White men were standing around, waiting to see what kind of creatures were disembarking. We must have been a very queer-looking group. They laughed at us and spit in our faces; one man kicked up Mother’s skirt and called us names we couldn’t understand. Of course, their actions and attitudes left no doubt about their feelings toward us.”

Throughout their early life in the United States, Lee and her family were greeted with “For Whites Only” signs everywhere. Public restrooms, theaters, swimming pools, and barber shops were off limits. On Lee’s first day of school, girls circled and hit her, chanting: “Ching Chong, Chinaman, Sitting on a wall. Along came a White man, And chopped his head off.”

One of the more notorious, de-Americanizing, vigilante hate crimes of our time involved the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American man who lived near Detroit, Michigan. Chin, who was out with friends celebrating his upcoming wedding, was confronted by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, two unemployed auto workers. Ebens made racial and obscene remarks toward Chin, calling him a “Chink” and a “Nip” and making comments about foreign car imports: “it’s because of you little m – f – that we’re out of work.” The Court of Appeals noted that Ebens “seemed to believe that Chin was Japanese” and may not have distinguished Asians of “Japanese and Chinese decent since there is testimony to show he made references to both.” A fight ensued and in the end, Chin was beaten to death by a baseball bat-wielding Ebens, while Nitz restrained Chin. Chin, who was a native of China, was adopted at the age of six by a Chinese American couple and became a US citizen in 1965. Yet he was targeted because he represented J…