Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Q&A with Cayden Mak

Monday, June 19th 2017

This week marks the 35th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s tragic beating and subsequent death. Asian Americans Advancing Justice commemorates this anniversary by sharing conversations with people who were involved with or were affected by Vincent Chin’s case.

Today’s conversation is with Cayden Mak,  Executive Director at, where they have worked since 2012 to build tools, best practices, and opportunities for Asian American social movements online. Their work has often grappled with technology and what it means to be human through popular education, play, and participatory design.

They blog at and can be found on Twitter @cayden. They live in Oakland, California.


What does the Vincent Chin case mean to you?  

For me, the Vincent Chin case is weirdly personal. I was born in the mid-eighties in Southfield, Michigan. My dad was part of the early waves of young Chinese immigrants after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. My mom, born and raised in Detroit, is the daughter of a white autoworker. I think also about the tenacity of Vincent's mother, Lily Chin, and what she endured in the aftermath of her son's murder, and parenting in a racist world.

It also seems very distant from my childhood in southeast Michigan. I didn't learn about Vincent Chin until I went to college, and it really wasn't until after I left Michigan that I truly grappled with its implications. I also think that Vincent Chin's murder stands out especially now as evidence of how important revealing the deeper currents of things like racism, globalization, and capitalism are to creating peace and justice.

How do you think Vincent Chin's case affected the AAPI community?

It's clear that this case was a clarion call for a renewed Asian American organizing movement. The injustice was very plain, easy to see. It also made it clear that the courts, the police, don't work for us -- the bias inherent in the criminal punishment system did not hide itself, so it led a new generation of Asian American to grapple with these questions.

What are lessons to learn from the Vincent Chin case? Are there any specific lessons that you think are especially relevant now, at this particular moment in time?

For me, there are two lessons that I've come to. Both of them have to do with how power works.

The first is that appealing to the courts for justice is a fool's errand. Power has a self-preservationist impulse and will retaliate when threatened. It will go to great lengths to protect itself.

As a result, we need to ask some hard questions about what the criminal punishment system can do for us in moments like this. I've written about this before, but the short story is that the courts were never going to give Vincent justice. This case inspires a hunger in me to figure out how to foster justice without relying on the penal system -- without relying on the state. Angela Davis offers some very approachable analysis around this idea in her small, important book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”

The second is that we are stronger together. When we keep organizing, learning, and challenging ourselves to show up for each other, act with grace and courage in the face of great violence, we can find our own power to challenge both racist violence and the state. I really believe that it's through this collective work that we will find healing. I think it's through building community together that we can find justice.

What do you think is Vincent Chin’s legacy, 35 years after his death in Detroit?

Vincent Chin's legacy is alive! It has to be. Today so many of our friends live in the shadow of white supremacist violence. There's hope today that we can, and will, interrupt the cycle of violence and build a new vision for community.

But I also think we have a responsibility to put Vincent Chin in context: that of struggle around racial and economic justice in Detroit, in the United States, and globally. In other words, we need to be willing to confront power, not just instances of racist violence in isolation. This moment, and any movement for justice, demands we be willing to speak the truth about how racism is about who has the power to control the lives of others, and how that power is preserved. This is our responsibility to his legacy.



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