The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
The Asian Reporter's
From The Asian Reporter, V17, #15 (April 10, 2007), page 16.
Quirky, informative, and a lot of fun to read
A Day for Vincent Chin and Me
By Jacqueline Turner Banks
Houghton Mifflin, 2001
Hardcover, 119 pages, $15.00
By Josephine Bridges
Itís unusual to see my parents talking to each other when the sun is still out," reports Tommy, the narrator of A Day for Vincent Chin and Me, in the novelís very first sentence. Tommy is one of five sixth-graders in Plank, Kentucky who "have been best friends since kindergarten. We call ourselves the Posse, but we havenít had much success getting anybody else to call us that." Jacqueline Turner Banksí fourth novel featuring the Posse is both quirky and informative, and itís a lot of fun to read.
"From about three oíclock until five-thirty, our street is like a combination of the Indianapolis Speedway and a wild roller-coaster ride," Tommy tells us. While Tommy and his friends are hard at work trying to slow the reckless drivers down, Tommyís mother is making plans for a march on the state capitol to prevent America from ever forgetting about the killing of Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death in Detroit in 1982 by two autoworkers looking for a scapegoat.
Tommyís mother tries to explain to Tommy and his sister that Vincent Chinís killers blamed the Japanese auto industry for troubles in Motor City, but Tommy doesnít get it. "Being Japanese Americans ourselves, we all knew that Chin was not a Japanese name." Tommy also canít understand why his mother wants to call attention to the familyís ethnicity after heís spent twelve years trying to fit in.
Thereís some fascinating historical information about Asians in America here. Itís tough for Tommy, who confides that he can "feel the staring eyes of my classmates," when his favorite teacher begins a lesson by telling the class: "During World War II, only ten people were convicted of spying for Japan. All of them were Caucasian." Miss Hoffer goes on to explain the Webb Act, which even the clearly gifted and attentive Tommy hasnít heard of: "Apparently, by the early 1890s, Japanese immigrants in California were doing so well as farmers that white Californians were starting to feel threatened. In 1905 some farmers in San Francisco got together and had a meeting. By 1913 California had passed a law to keep Japanese from buying land."
A Day for Vincent Chin and Me has more than one serious theme, but that doesnít keep it from being entertaining, too. Tommy has a sophisticated sense of humor, and heís a good enough sport to make fun of himself now and then. He quips that some endeavor "makes about as much sense as me trying to grow dreadlocks," and uses an ethnically subtle reference to a floodlight that "throws off enough light to wake up my ancestors." Best of all, Tommy can change his mind, and itís a pleasure for readers to watch that process in action.