Speaker to address cultural rights

Mary Wardell

In 1982, a 27-year-old Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was brutally murdered by two Detroit autoworkers, who were under the mistaken impression that he was Japanese and therefore to blame for job losses in the U.S. auto industry.

The men were sentenced to three months’ probation and $3,000 fines.

The documentary “Vincent Who?” is based on this appalling case and was awarded the 2009 Multicultural Media Award by the National Association for Multicultural Education. On Tuesday, Sept. 24, the film and its creator are coming to NMU for the eighth annual UNITED conference.

The movie’s creator, Curtis Chin (not related to Vincent), said in a Q-and-A on vincentwhomovie.com that he grew up with the case in the close-knit Chinese-American community of Detroit. He witnessed firsthand the impact Vincent’s death had on the people he cared about.

“It really instilled in me the need to always stand up for your own civil rights,” Chin said on the website.

Senior biology and philosophy double major Mark Surrell is student president of the NMU organization Platform Personalities, who selected Chin as a speaker for the conference.

Surrell said a student who found Chin’s message particularly interesting contacted him with the suggestion and the group all agreed he would be a compelling speaker.

“Learning about other cultures and appreciating them is an important thing,” Surrell said. “America is a diverse tapestry of different cultures. We all suffer so we can all appreciate these issues.”

Rachel Harris, the director of both the Center for Student Enrichment and Superior Edge has been advising Platform Personalities for 17 years.

“It is important at a higher education institution to bring in different thoughts, opinions, and experts,” Harris said. “It creates excitement and thought-provoking discussions that should be taking place during college.  I would encourage every NMU student to attend at least one or two lectures this year.” “There’s a lot of notoriety for African Americans’ struggle and women’s suffrage,” Surrell said. “But Asian-Americans get less exposure, so we thought Chin would be perfect for the UNITED conference.”

Events put on by Platform Personalities are paid for by the student activity fee, Surrell said, making the event free to students and only $2 for community members, according to the NMU events calendar.

According to his bio on vincentwhomovie.com, Curtis Chin has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the San Diego Asian American Film Festival. He co-founded the Asian American Writers Workshop and Asian Pacific Americans for Progress.

In 2008, Chin served on Barack Obama’s Asian American Leadership Council and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, NPR, Newsweek and other media outlets. He has personally traveled to over 200 colleges.

Platform Personalities encourages students to make suggestions regarding speakers they would like to see, Surrell said. They are also looking to recruit students to join the group.

Platform Personalities is excited to bring Diane Ravitch, “a rock star in her field” of educational policy and research, Surrell said, and Robert Gupta, an accomplished violinist and renowned advocate for the redemptive and regenerative power of music, on Thursday, Oct. 10 and Monday, Oct. 21.

“Platform Personalities meets on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and welcomes new members,” Harris said. “It is very rewarding work with, discussing, selecting, promoting and meeting the speakers.”