Katelyn Khounsourath, a talkative 14-year-old, took an interest in her personal heritage and turned it into a winning History Day project at the local, district and state levels.
Now, her project, titled, “The Death of Vincent Chin: Tension Between Asian and American Autoworkers,” is headed for National History Day competition in June.
“I knew I wanted to do something on Asian history,” she said. Her parents, Stephanie Thakhamho and Kevin Khounsourath, came to America from Laos in the 1980s, before she was born, and they became United States citizens. Katelyn has lived in Nevada since starting school here in kindergarten. She has two older half-siblings, who already graduated from high school, and one younger sister, Melanie, who is in sixth grade at Nevada.
When students are looking for a History Day project, there is a website they can go to with lots of ideas on it. Each idea comes with a little information about the topic. Katelyn said reading about the death of Asian-American Vincent Chin in 1983 captured her interest. “I wanted to know the how and why of why he was killed,” she said.
According to the thesis on Katelyn’s project website, “Vincent Chin, a 27-year old draftsman, was celebrating his engagement at a bar near Detroit when racial comments were targeted at him by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz and a fight started. The fight eventually led to the death of Chin. After their lawyers reached a compromise with prosecutors, Ebens and Nitz agreed to a plea deal of manslaughter charges, with a sentence of three years probation and a fine. This lenient sentence led Asian-Americans to join together in protest for justice for Chin, sparking the beginning of the Asian-American civil rights movement.
With the assistance of long-time Nevada History Day helper, Karen Ross, a retired teacher, Katelyn’s research started off by tracking down people she could interview. Through articles — “I’ve read a lot of articles,” she said — she was able to contact a friend of Chin’s who was at the bachelor party when Chin was killed, a man who was part of the Justice Department at the time of Chin’s death and a second cousin of Chin.
It was the interview with Chin’s second cousin, that was the most interesting part of the project for Katelyn. “She’s a lot like me, and she really helped me with the impact of the project and how some of this (racial divide) is still going on today and it’s not just Asian-Americans (but other races and cultures as well). She’s an activist, and it was exciting to email her and talk about these things and that she was related to him (Chin) was pretty cool.”
Students are given a variety of ways they can present their History Day projects, one of which is the choice of creating an Individual Website. It’s also the choice of each student whether they want to work alone or as a group.
Katelyn said she wanted to work alone on this project. “With other people, you’d have to negotiate a topic for the project.” She already knew what type of topic she wanted. She also found Mrs. Ross to be a great help in designing her website for the project, which can be can be accessed by everyone at: http://71479449.nhd.weebly.com/. The website offers people the opportunity to learn all they can about this incident in American history, as Katelyn has it very well organized with various drop-down menus.
After about six months of work on the project, she will take it to Washington, D.C., this June. She leaves June 9, along with her parents and Nevada Middle School history teacher Randy Davis and his wife. Nevada has had only a small number of students reach the national level over the years. It’s definitely a big accomplishment.
While in Washington for several days, Katelyn said it’s important to her that she gets a chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial, which she’s heard about. And, she added, “Who doesn’t love to shop?”
It might seem early to ask an eighth-grader what she plans to do with the rest of her life, but Katelyn has already been thinking about that. “I want to be a kindergarten teacher,” she said. “I love to work with kids and since I’m a people person … I’d like to do something exciting and help build kids’ education.”