By Marie Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly
It has been almost four months since the murder of Donnie Chin. The sensationalism of the story has waned from the general media as other stories have come to the forefront of the news. But for the people who live and work in the Chinatown-International District (C-ID), the profound loss and adjustment is keenly felt daily and is still discussed as being “tragic, senseless, untimely, and as an immeasurable loss.”
In some ways, the July march and rally demanding “Justice for Donnie” reminds us of the 1982 Detroit murder of Vincent Chin. So far, justice hasn’t happened. Unlike the Vincent Chin case, where the perpetrators were identified, the responsible person or people who took Donnie from all of us remain unknown. Ultimately, “justice” was not served in the 1982 case, but people in the C-ID hold to the promise of such by the Seattle Police Department.
In personal accounts and public events, people have the common concern of “what will happen to the C-ID without Donnie Chin?” That question is shared amid poignant recollections of who Donnie was to each of us and what he did in the neighborhood. Some knew him for his role in co-founding the International District Emergency Center (IDEC), helping our seniors, mentoring young people, responding to neighborhood emergencies, promoting public safety as a liaison between the community and fire, police, and medical personnel, attending and tending to all neighborhood festivals and events, and always looking for any opportunities to bring people together. Few, including Donnie, would identify him as a teacher but clearly he was.
The Donnie I knew was an unparalleled historian who knew more about the details of Chinatown’s development than anyone I have ever met. He could trace family lineages in the district, with his own extending more than 1,000 years back to China. His knowledge was deeply embedded in his “living” the neighborhood. He credited his grandfather as the person who taught him the importance of understanding history as part of his personal identity. Any object that Donnie found in the district conjured a connection, a story that he could share about the meanings behind the urban artifacts that he regularly collected from the deserted building spaces and events of the C-ID. Through his father, he learned commitment to public service. It was a value that Donnie passed along by example to everyone who knew him.
There may be some small comfort in accepting the idea that no single person can be found to do what Donnie did in the neighborhood. To say he was “unique” is an accurate yet understated fact. We cannot and should not try to replace the irreplaceable life of Donnie Chin. But the answer to the question “What will happen to the C-ID without him?” can be found within the context of how each of us knew him. In every setting, there was a spirit of service to the community that Donnie deeply understood as something that was greater than the identity of any one individual. With so much work that is yet to be done in public safety, design, and social needs in the C-ID, there is no shortage of venues in which to be of service. For every individual action that is directed toward the common good, civic responsibility, and extending kindnesses that address human needs, we honor Donnie’s memory and his motivation to make the C-ID a better place. In this way, his spirit continues to walk with all of us in the streets and alleys of the neighborhood. (end)
Marie R. Wong, PhD, is Associate Professor, Urban Planning, Asian American Studies, Institute of Public Service, Seattle University.