The story of Pvt. Danny Chen is such a tragedy. He was a smart and determined kid from Chinatown. All he wanted was to join the Army. Now he is dead:
Nine months later, he was found dead in Afghanistan of what the Army has described as “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.” Since Danny Chen’s death, details of his story have slowly emerged, relayed by Army officials to his family. A group of his superiors allegedly tormented Chen on an almost daily basis over the course of about six weeks in Afghanistan last fall. They singled him out, their only Chinese-American soldier, and spit racial slurs at him: “gook,” “chink,” “dragon lady.” They forced him to do sprints while carrying a sandbag. They ordered him to crawl along gravel-covered ground while they flung rocks at him. And one day, when his unit was assembling a tent, he was forced to wear a green hard-hat and shout out instructions to his fellow soldiers in Chinese.
His story is heartbreaking. It’s moments like this where I am ashamed to be an American. Pvt. Chen swore to protect his country, yet he wasn’t safe among the men who were supposed to protect him. Those white soldiers didn’t see him as American. They didn’t consider him one of them. Not even in the Army, where brotherhood and loyalty are meant to be staples. They saw him as a laughingstock, and reduced him to subhuman. Simply because of how he looked and his unusual last name. In Afghanistan, Pvt. Chen had an enemy the rest of them didn’t have– his fellow soldiers who sworn to protect him.
Asian-Americans often walk around everyday, very aware that we are different. People often treat us differently just because of the way we look. Ranging from the seemingly innocent “Do you speak English?” to the hurtful racial slurs, we still have that identity of the perpetual foreigners to most white Americans.
Danny Chen’s story can make us wince, but how will we respond? Will we shrink back again, not making any controversy? Will we lash out in anger, resentful? Will we seek to educate others?