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tv   This Is Life With Lisa Ling  CNN  October 23, 2021 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

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given up on shared truths. if there is a way forward, it won't be found within the comfort of our own virtual bubbles but in the open, transparent and sometimes uncomfortable exchange of ideas. i've spent my career traveling the world to tell other people stories. now i am focusing on one that hits close to home. >> hate crimes against asian-americans are on the rise. >> nearly 3,000 incidents reported. >> victim after victim of asian descent attacked in recent months, weeks and days in the bay area.
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>> she slashed me from cheek to cheek with a box cutter. >> in atlanta, georgia, eight people dead, six of whom were asian women. >> i have a 7-year-old and 4-year-old and i honestly don't even know how to tell them there are so many people who are being attacked because they look like us. the virus was weaponized against us. >> the terrible china virus. >> and hate crimes against asian-american cities surged by 150%. i can feel the tension in the air here. people are hyperaware of what's happening. but now people are coming together in ways i could have never imagined. and exploring a forgotten history. >> to see asian-americans standing up for civil rights. nobody had ever seen that
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before. >> enough is enough. >> this is a story i've been waiting my whole life to tell. >> we're part of this incredible tapestry, with stories and histories from every corner of the globe. ♪ i -- i hated being chinese. i hated feeling different when i was a little girl.
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ours was one of the few asian families in the neighborhood and i was teased all the time. kids would come up to me and go, oh, lisa ring. when you are a little kid, you just don't want to stand out. you just don't want to be different. so when i was teased, i never told anyone about it, i never complained, i just repressed it. i had so much shame about being asian, and then i must have been 10 or 11 years old when my dad was reading the newspaper and there was a story about a young man in detroit who was brutally murdered because of his race. it just exacerbated that feeling of un-belonging for me.
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it was the 1970s, and detroit had been the automotive manufacturing capital of the world for decades. >> the city produces more automobiles than any other city on earth. >> over generations, millions of peoples' livelihoods depended on the industry. >> have a seat. >> including helen zea, the princeton grad went on to medical school but had a change of heart and moved to motor city during the boom where she immediately got a job in the chrysler plant. >> i was a large press operator. we stamped out metal car parts, you know, like a hood. a door. it was the highest pay i had ever received. >> but in 1979, helen and hundreds of thousands of workers felt the bottom drop out.
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>> oil is becoming scarce and far too expensive. >> detroit's auto industry was shattered by an international oil crisis. as the cost of gas skyrocketed, consumers turned to fuel efficient foreign cars. and the sale of american auto tanked. >> ford has laid off 50,000 as car sales last month fell to their lowest level in 21 years. >> the midwest was in a terrible depression. i was in those unemployment lines in the dead of winter, a michigan winter that snaked around the block several times. >> in 1982, 1 of 5 detroit residents were out of a job. >> few, far between jobs. how about you, you hiring? >> the only thing i can say is move somewhere else.
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>> suddenly after a lifetime of well-paying jobs, where they could afford a house, two cars, a recreational vehicle, a summer cottage, suddenly it was wiped out. >> the only answer is charity. >> people became destitute. the frustration turned into anger. people want to know, why is this happening to me? who can i blame? and in the end they kind of all reached a consensus. let's blame japan. >> japan, a former enemy during world war ii had cornered the market. >> so anybody who looked japanese suddenly a target on their backs. >> what was that like for you as an asian person in motor city when this anti-japanese sentiment was really starting to spread? >> it was terrifying because you knew that not only did you have the face of the enemy but the
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rhetoric was out there all the time not just in detroit but from the halls of congress about the enemy, the enemy. bomb them, kill them. what do you do with the enemy? you kill them. >> the car you're looking at -- >> local news covered events where detroiters took out their frustration on japanese cars. >> people were violent. it was not a great leap to think that if i ran into the wrong person i would be the enemy. >> i wanted to show you a couple of things. >> in this hate filled climate helen was read in the paper about the death of a 27-year-old chinese-american. >> in almost ten years in detroit i had never seep an article about anything related to chinese americans. and then to see this. the groom was killed just before his wedding, and his 400 wedding guests went to his funeral instead.
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i kept it because i knew there was something more to that story. >> it was on a summer night in 1982. >> vincent chin was out for his bachelor party and was going to be married in a few day. and instead he ran into the kind of person that every asian in detroit was afraid that they might run into. >> inside the bar, 43-year-old ronald ebens and his 23-year-old stepson, michael nitz, taunted chin, mistaking him for japanese. >> the confrontation turned physical and continued out on the streets. vincent thought he got away but the two men hunted him down outside a mcdonald's. as nitz restrained chin from behind, ebens wielded a bat. >> in front of so many witnesses
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four swings to vincent's head. they beat his brains out onto the street. >> that night in the hospital, the nurse told me that he's not going to make it. i saw that, you know, life can end in a moment. >> gary coy lost his friend of 20 years. while the details of vincent's death are difficult to recall, his early memories of vincent are crystal clear. how would you describe your relationship growing up with vincent chin? >> very close. we saw each other quite a bit. >> were you two a lot alike? >> no, we were not alike.
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i was quiet and shy, and he was very outgoing, talkative, and he got me meeting people and help me break out of my shell a little bit. he got to know people very easily, could talk to anybody. >> vincent chin was adopted at age 6 by a chinese couple in detroit. growing up, he had a diverse circle of friends and went onto become an engineer and got engaged to his long-time girlfriend. >> he was just trying to live the american dream. he worked hard and took care of his mother, and he was cheated. we all were. >> ebens was charged with second degree murder and pled guilty. his stepson nitz pled no contest to manslaughter, but their sentence sent shock waves through the community. >> the decision was short and to the point. >> i thought this is wrong, this is so wrong. i have to do something about it.
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two men recently beat a 27-year-old chinese-american man to death in detroit. >> the news of vincent chin's killers sentencing spread like wildfire through the city. >> plea bargaining reduced the charge from second-degree murder to manslaughter. ebens and nitz escaped a 15-year
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prison term. instead they were placed on three years probation and given a $3,000 fine. both had what the judge called stable working backgrounds. >> it is that sentence, the fact no one was sent to prison for even one day that has so many people outraged. >> even ebens was surprised by the sentencing. >> i'll be quite honest, i expected to go to jail. i pleaded guilty to manslaughter on that. i did just like anybody else, i went to take my licks because i thought sure i would go to jail. >> his killers got off scott free. i felt like all the blood drained out of my body. the message was you could kill an asian-american and it wouldn't matter. >> since there were many witnesses there was no deny g what ronald ebens did to vincent
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that night, and yet no prosecutors were present at the sentencing and vincent's own mother was not even notified about the hearing. >> lily chin lost her son in the most violent and horrible way. >> her only child. >> her only child. and it was as though he was killed again. these two white killers get fined less than what you would pay for a used car. i just was so furious and upset by that. >> i thought that race was a factor. justice isn't blind. >> so you think that if vincent chin were white the killers might have gotten a harsher sentence? >> oh, absolutely. they thought vincent's life was not worth as much as a white man. >> i just thought this is wrong. this is so wrong.
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i have to do something about it. >> helen zia joined forces with lily chin and other activists. they formed an organization called the american citizens for justice. they began a grassroots movement. >> in the absence of social media, no internet, no fax machines, we put out flyers, we put out news letters, communications. the police never even investigated. they never interviewed any of the witnesses at the bar. you know, they never did anything. we said we have to find out the facts of this case. we cannot call it racist unless we actually have information that this was a racially-motivated killing. >> one by one they started talking to witnesses, and soon found a dancer who heard something critical. >> i was close enough to hear mr. ebens say to mr. chin,
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because of you [ bleep ] we're out of work. >> that was never part of the police record or the investigation. and she said i heard, it's because of you mother f's that we are out of work, and was clearly pointing to japan and anybody that looked japanese. and so to our group -- >> that was the smoking gun? >> that was the smoking gun. he had race on his mind. >> armed with this new information, they mobilized. it was a rallying cry for equality that united asians of different backgrounds. >> east asian, south asian, waiters and laundry workers, engineers and doctors. all coming together to say we are asian-american, too. this is right outside of the federal building, and it's not fair is what vincent chin said
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as he lay dying. and it was really something different to see asian-americans standing up for civil rights. nobody had ever seen that before. >> the american citizens for justice asked the judge to reconsider the sentencing but were turned down. >> a decision was short and to the point, the three years probation and $3,000 fine will remain. >> but helen zia and lily chin would not give up. >> i will continue to seek justice for my son. >> their last hope for nitz and ebens to serve proper jail time was the challenge to the very definition of civil rights. they setout to prove to the federal government that vincent was targeted and ultimately murdered because of his race. >> to get the federal government
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to pay attention we had to talk about whether an immigrant like vincent chin could be protected by federal civil rights law. we had arguments with constitutional law professors, members of the aclu and national lawyers guild who said, you know, this has nothing to do with race because vincent chin is not black. civil rights laws only protect black people. and we said, no, vincent chin's civil rights should be protected as well. >> and to their surprise they weren't the only ones who thought that. >> our hearts are made heavy by a mother who sits here with us whose son was brutally killed just because of who he was. what can we do in the aftermath? those who live, we must redefine america so everybody knows everybody fits in the rainbow
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somewhere. >> the american citizens for justice had garnered support far beyond the asian-american community. >> every religion and walk of life came together -- black, white, latinx, lgbt, jewish, muslim saying we are with you, we stand with you. >> with the high exposure and growing pressure the department of justice finally caved. >> a federal court in deis getting ready to decide whether two local men will ever have to serve a jail term for a killing they have already admitted to. >> it was the first federal civil rights trial involving an asian-american in u.s. history. >> if convicted both face life terms in prison. >> and just after three weeks the verdict was announced. >> one of two men has been found guilty of aiding and abetting
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and violating the civil rights of vincent chin. >> the judge then sentenced ebens to 25 years in prison. >> but ebens and his attorney quickly appealed. >> so the appeals court ruled that there had been some errors in evidence and there was too much pretrial publicity. so three years later a new trial was granted. >> we really feel confident that if the full story is told then the jury will come to the only conclusion possible. >> which is what? >> that he was killed only because he was an asian-american. >> but in the end five years after vincent's death his killers were ultimately found not guilty. >> all appeals all went this is
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it, ron ebens is a free man as of tonight. >> and so -- >> he never served a day of -- >> he never served a day in jail after all that. it was heart breaking. it was very clear that for asian-americans there were so many hurdles to have to cross. justice had not been done. >> vincent lost his life because of the way he looked. japan was an easy target and he paid the price. sounds familiar, right? today asian-americans are being scapegoated for everything from the coronavirus to china's economic rise. so we know that attacks on asians have gone up astronomically, and we are about to meet an asian senior who got a pretty big shock in the middle
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call today. this oakland neighborhood seems quiet and off the beaten path, but several months ago at
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3:30 a.m. two cars suddenly bursts into flames. they belonged to the only asians on the block. >> oakland fire doesn't currently have any evidence to confirm there was foul play. >> one of the car owners doesn't want to be identified, but the other, 72-year-old mr. chang, is willing to share his story with me. so mr. chang, this is where your car was parked here? >> yes, my car here, and you can see black. >> yeah. >> you can see, burned the street, too, black and dirty. see? >> so when you come out of your house and you see this -- >> i think, what happened? my car, who do that to my car? the fire department coming but it's too late. >> makes you sad? >> yeah, i'm sad right now. >> so the only cars that burned
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that night was your car and another asian man's car? >> yes. >> do you think it may have to do with the fact that you are asian? >> i don't know. 100%, i don't know who did the fire to the car, i don't know. >> mr. chang was born in cambodia. in his late 40s with nothing in his pockets he came to america to start over from scratch. why did you come to america? >> i come over here because my country had hard times and can't afford for family. when i come here it's good, you have peace, better for life. >> over the next 20 years, he built a life for himself here, working as an airport taxi dispatcher. he thought he made the american dream when he bought a brand-new car for the first time.
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but now he and his loved ones are absolutely terrified. >> i stay home. we don't feel our freedom like before. >> so you are staying inside a lot more because of the -- >> yeah. >> -- fear? >> yeah, you stay inside. >> i see the camera up there now. >> i put it out to protect because nighttime it's scary. >> i am so sorry this happened, mr. chang. >> thank you. yes. >> but the targeting of asians started long before the 1982 murder of vincent chin. this pattern of discrimination and violence against asians has actually been going on for nearly 2 centuries. it all started in the mid-1800s when 25,000 chinese immigrants journeyed to the u.s. for a chance to strike it rich in california's gold rush. i sit down with historian and author jeff chang to dissect
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this history. what was the typical profile of the chinese people who were coming? >> most of the people who were coming to the country were poor, and so the allure of instant wealth in the california mountains was really irresistible. everywhere they go they're welcomed at first and they setup china towns. >> while these hopeful immigrants flock to california, americans were rushing to unite the west with the rest of the country. they needed manpower. they found it in cheap chinese labor. >> chinese are brought in tens of thousands to work on the central pacific railroad. along with other asian-americans, south asians and japanese-americans, they are really the unsung workforce that builds the west. but then sentiment turns pretty
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quickly. >> americans feared for their jobs. >> this idea that they're coming here to take over. they're taking the best gold mines. they're taking the best jobs. they're working in the factories. they're displacing us in the mills. if we continue to allow these invasions of these immigrants, the entire country will be overrun. >> in 1882 the u.s. government responded to those fears with racist legislation, the chinese exclusion act. and for the first time in american history the doors closed on a population because of where they were from. chinese immigrants who were already in the u.s. became the target of vicious attacks. >> people show up on the chinese settlement en masse with pitchforks and guns.
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they force people out into the dead of night and literally thousands of folks are massacred because of this violence. >> why don't we ever hear about this in american history books? >> it's not something that is part of this great mythology of settling the frontier. >> and a great nation is built. >> it's not something that makes us look good. but we created this powerful prosperous country on the backs of a lot of people. >> the chinese exclusion act was repealed 60 years later but only after another group of asians landed in the cross-hairs. after the bombing of pearl harbor the u.s. determined that any japanese person could be
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dangerous. >> evacuations. >> 120,000 japanese are forced into concentration camps. places very, very far from the homes these families have made. >> all those people who were forced into camps, they literally lost everything. >> you have to start again. and the trauma of that echoes down the generations. because asian-americans are seen as folks who don't belong here. >> when you think about the wars fought by the u.s. the faces of the enemy were often asian. after japan it was korea then vietnam. many have always believed asians to be perpetual foreigners in america, and it's never stopped. >> attacks against asian-americans appear to be on the rise. >> in 2020 hate crimes against
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asian-americans surged to an all-time high. >> thousands of incidents from verbal attacks to physical assaults have been reported. >> but some concerned citizens are reacting and are risking their own safety to stop the violence. ♪ si acelero no me paran el viento pega en mi cara ♪ ♪ ♪
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we have our flyers so you can hand it to them and talk to them about what we're doing here. you might get rejected, and that's okay. just them knowing you're here for them really means a lot. >> this is compassion in oakland. >> and you'll head out this away. >> an organization that escorts vulnerable china town patrons on their errands. >> we're walking people that might not feel safe just by themselves. when we started this it was really scary because it's like asians are taught to stay quiet, to not make any waves, not make any noise and just keep your head down and speak out -- >> don't get involved. >> don't get involved. but ipreality what makes it worse is not using your voice because my family didn't emigrate here for me to not use my voice. >> carson is a local volunteer
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who shows up even though he could be a target. >> translator: my parents don't want me here. they're like why would you go out there, right, it's dangerous. but then the whole point of us being here is for us to make it less dangerous, right? go down this way? >> we'll go down this way. >> 22-year-old kenyatta was one of the first volunteers to step up. >> we offer serves if you don't feel safe in your location. >> i grew up in this area and seeing all the attacks on the news it was breaking my heart. >> when you first started volunteering with compassionate oakland, could you give me a sense how people were feeling? >> the fear was pretty palpable. like when i was walking down the street everyone noticed. people across the street sometimes if they see me walking i've had people be afraid when i'm handing out the card. they'll like flinch. >> with black and asian communities living side by side
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in oakland there's been a long history of solidarity but also tension between them. >> there's a deep-rooted issue that goes back and forth between the asian and black communities where it's like both sides have kind of contributed. >> the asian community feels very vulnerable right now so help from non-asian volunteers is not always welcomed. >> it's hurtful because i'm here to help them, but i try not to take it super personally because a lot of it is coming from a place of fear. >> many elders here keep their heads down, but this couple now feels safe enough to stop and share their feelings of gratitude. >> of course, ma'am. >> be careful. >> they acknowledge that there is tension between the two
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the american auto industry and its army have targeted japan as a major source of its problems. >> in the '80s fear of japan's economic dominance caused a spike in racism and the death of an innocent man. >> a chinese-american beaten to death by unemployed detroit auto workers angered over japanese car imports. >> back then china wasn't a perceived threat. today it's a different story. >> china is now the nation's most pressing national security threat. >> they intend to be the world's super power. >> the u.s. has long relied on imports from china and cheap labor from their work force.
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but the tables are turning. >> the longer-term almost existential challenge is going to be china. it just is. >> we're in competition with china and other countries to win the 21st century. >> but what if instead of fearing each other competing nations tried collaboration? on the edge of the mohave desert is lancaster, california. in 2013 the unemployment rate here was 12%. and a chinese company called b.y.d. short the build your dreams bought an old motor home factory and revitalized it. today it's the largest electric bus factory in north america. >> hello.
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>> ceo stella lee, a 22-year veteran of b.y.d. heads up the lancaster plant. >> each station we have five to six people. california is the pioneer state in the world to push green initiative, and the housing cost is low. everybody on the production line, they can afford a house. lancaster is the place they can achieve this dream. >> though b.y.d. brought in chinese management most of the team is now made up of locals. and after agreeing to work with the unions, b.y.d. began training anyone that needs it. today they employ over 500 people, and that workforce is extremely diverse. >> we have a lot of latino here, a lot of african-americans. we have a lot of single mom, single dad and then second chance employee. >> so people who were formerly
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inc incarcerated. you give them on opportunity to work here. >> yes. if you want to work hard, if you want to change your life, here's the job for you. >> 36-year-old danny doesn't look like your typical department lead. >> grew up on the streets. pretty rough lifestyle. from juvenile hall to county jail to prison. >> what's the longest you've spent in prison? >> at one time probably four years. >> prison had a revolving door, and danny would enter it again and again. >> get out for like a month or two weeks and then right back. >> danny has three kids he never saw. he realized if he wanted to have a life with them he needed stability. but his past made finding a job nearly impossible. then a friend told danny about b.y.d., and to his surprise they hired him on the spot.
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>> i started as a technician and went straight to the top as a manager with no experience. they basically trained me for everything i'd do, they trained me. >> one of the chinese engineers has become a role model for danny and a friend. >> he's always 100% there. thank you, sir. have a good day. >> since we started hearing about all the attacks on asian people, do you worry about -- >> i worry about them outside of work because you never know who you're going to cross paths with. >> tell me about what it's like to operate a chinese business in the united states during a time when tensions exist between our two governments. >> it's a challenge because i
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think u.s. and china are competitors. we're never enemy. two countries fight for some political reason, but it should not impact business. >> now chinese companies like b.y.d. are under the microscope. last year in the name of national defense congress prohibited who can purchase from chinese companies like b.y.d. and how. >> these companies have the unfair advantage of the financial support of the chinese government. >> they're also capable of spying on passengers and our infrastructure network. >> b.y.d. is not state owned. we're not a government agent. we're private owned, public trade company. we are pure, transparent company. no different like ford, apple, amazon. >> despite b.y.d.'s attempts to
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prove to lawmakers they're here to do good, the ban on bus sales will go into effect later this year. is it possible you might have to close down operations because of what's going on politically? >> that's my biggest concern. >> i want to see b.y.d. succeed because they have created so many opportunities for people just like myself to completely change their life. and not only that but we're building electric buses that are impacting the world for the positive. that's good, right? >> vincent chin's death was caused by fear of asian stealing jobs, now an asian company is providing work for unemployed americans. for me this inclusive b.y.d. model seems like the perfect ant d ic dote to generations of rage and hate. >> shut up you blank.
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comcast business powering possibilities. since this episode was
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filmed, attacks on asian-americans have continued and attacks on our elderlies. it has been devastating. out of this crisis, something incredibly powerful is happening. >> it's un-american. it must stop. >> asian-americans have the right to be recognized as americans, not as the other. not as them but as us. >> asians of all different backgrounds are refusing to stay silent. >> we can't stop speaking out. we can't stop fighting. >> this kung-fu has to stop and we really need to express that loudly and we are. #. >> it's a movement that has been
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growing since the death of and the injustice happened in his case. we are writing a new chapter of asian-american history. >> our pain has been invisible and the attack in our community has been invisible. >> it's chapter in, we refused to remain invisible and we belong. >> we are made invisible. and the results is that we are per perpetually made to feel foreign. our story matters. >> learning about our history. >> should chen's story be in an american history book?
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>> absolutely. >> people came together fighting for justice in the all american justice system. something worked and some things didn't. how that all comes together is a lesson that all americans can learn from. >> one night early in december, 1941, japanese people were forced the leave their homes in schools and jobs. one thing is for certain, now more than ever, we need to talk about hard things. they were forced to live in and surrounded by guarded fences. >> can you believe that? because they are japanese, they had to leave their homes. how we have been scapegoated for more than a century. it's time for all of us to change that. today is asian people, tomorrow it could be your community. it's pretty sad, right? >> uh-huh. >> we have to make sure that
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nothing like this ever happens to anyone again. we have to stand up for people no matter who they are and what color their skin is, right? >> >>. hardly a day goes by without hearing news of killings. >> two huge explosions happen at the boston marathon. >> now with the golden state killer who terrorized california. >> we immediately want to know who did it. but, behind every violent offender, there are family members who must live with their

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