Fire Department Holiday Party, Baby Birthday or Army Private Vigil

“‘Feb. 27, 2011: Since I am the only Chinese person here, everyone knows me by Chen,'” read Banny Chen, a cousin od Danny Chen. “‘They ask if I’m from China a few times a day… They also call out my name Chen in a goat-like voice sometimes for no reason.'”

Last night the Fire Department Holiday party, my friend’s son’s birthday in the Bronx and a vigil for an Asian American soldier who died in Afghanistan all fell on the same night. It was a very easy choice for me which one I was going to.

So last night I went to the Army Recruiting Station at 143 Chambers street to a vigil for Danny Chen. The vigil is featured in this segment by NBC and NY1 news. My mother mentioned this news story several times in the past few weeks about a 19 year old private, Danny Chen who died in Afghanistan on October 3 of non-combat related causes. Pentagon officials have said nothing of their investigation. But his family and community leaders strongly believe his death was related to hazing. The excerpt above was taken from a letter Danny wrote home during boot camp.

My mother said that luckily your father talked you out of going to the military because if you did go you would have probably ended up like Danny. Last night over 400 people turned out for this march from the Army Recruiting Station in New York City to nearby Columbus Park in Chinatown to demand a thorough and transparent investigation. At Columbus Park several community leaders, including Comptroller John Liu, New York Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Grace Meng and the President of OCA, Elizabeth Ouyang spoke.

“The minimum they could do is conduct an investigation.” Squadron said. Ouyang gave an emotional speech which talked about the prominence of racism in this day and age against Asians in the military. She also berated superior officers for either their involvement or turning a blind eye to this. Ouyang said that if superior officers caused this hazing or allowed it to happen then they should be disciplined severely. And if they are not, instead of encouraging our children to join the military the Asian community will just protect their own against the military.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez was not there (as usual). However if she was I would stated personally the following to  her. If community leaders are serious about getting the hazing and racism of Asian Americans to stop, education and awareness programs are not enough. She should consider getting Pentagon officials to give my application serious consideration instead of having her staff members tell me they are not interested in helping me.

If these political leaders claim that the United States military is racist then the only way to change that is not just education workshops without real world experiences. In order to eliminate racism against Asians in the armed services they need to not only have awareness training but Asian-Americans in leadership roles.

And that should start first by getting my ass in there as an officer.  I am immune to hazing (pot, marijuana and poison ivy also). I know these statements would be met by hysterical laughter but it is actually true. And you can be sure as my coworker used to address me as China man at work. This China man will be looking forward to the day fellow military members call out my name in a goat-like voice especially for no reason. And knowing myself I will definitely be the only Asian person there.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Fire Department Holiday Party, Baby Birthday or Army Private Vigil

  1. Grover Mannings

    Dick,

    Good post.

    If I could offer an alternative theory for Asian hazing: Many of the Warhawks in the government – particularly in the military community – are already gearing up for some sort of standoff with China in the coming years. A picture of a Chinese aircraft carrier is already circulating the web.

    Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Chinese-Americans serving in the military are getting abused. It would be comparable to a Vietnamese-American serving in the armed forces during the Vietnam War. Without a doubt, the guy who looks like the enemy in the bunk next to you is an easy target for stupid hazing rituals.

    There is no excuse for this sort of behavior, especially in a professional military. Soldiers are paid to fight and represent our country. Honey-dipping the guy that looks different does nothing for unit cohesion or for morale. It is an embarrassment to the country and to those that honor the uniform. It is a waste of tax dollars.

    Think about it: who would you rather have covering you in a firefight: 1) A fellow soldier whom you’ve bonded with and trust with your life; or 2) A fellow soldier you’ve bullied since boot camp? The obvious choice is 1, so it’s better to treat your comrades with respect and decency than disdain. Who knows? Maybe Chen would have looked the other way when sniper fire was being directed at his abuser? Would such a situation be illustrative of a finely tuned fighting machine? Absolutely not.

    Best,

    Grover Mannings

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