CHINATOWN – Pvt. Danny Chen, the U.S. soldier from Chinatown who committed suicide in 2011 after facing racially-charged hazing while serving in Afghanistan, will be remembered at two events this week.
A section of Elizabeth Street will be named in his honor this weekend, while the creators of a new opera based on Chen’s life and his experiences in the military will participate in a panel discussion on Thursday night at the Museum of Chinese in America.
Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, who wrote “M. Butterfly,” and composer Huang Ruo, will talk about their opera, “An American Soldier,” which is scheduled to premiere at the Kennedy Center in June.
Rachel Cooper, the director of cultural programs and performing arts at the Asia Society, will moderate the discussion.
"It's a really meaningful program," said Maureen Hoon, the museum’s public relations and communications manager. "The topic itself is very serious and its historical and it's also very much relevant to the immigrant experience, but it also showcases how culture and the arts can really champion issues or can bring some issues that are sensitive to the forefront."
Hoon added that the arts can foster "meaningful dialogue" about hot-button issues such as race — particularly in the case of Chen, who grew up in Chinatown and went to school in the Lower East Side before enlisting in the military. Chen soon found himself in Afghanistan, where he faced escalating hazing at the hands of his fellow officers. He was found in a guard tower with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in October 2011.
Eight soldiers faced court martials in connection with the physical and verbal abuse Chen faced leading up to his death.
Hoon said there has been so much interest in the program that the classroom where the panel will take place has already reached capacity. The museum will also show a live feed of the event in one of the museum’s galleries, she said.
The event is free, but attendees are asked to RSVP on the museum’s website. After the panel, guests will have the opportunity to meet Hwang and Ruo, Hoon said.
Chen will also be remembered Saturday during the unveiling of Pvt. Danny Chen Way at Canal and Elizabeth streets. City Council voted to rename Elizabeth Street between Canal and Bayard Streets in December.
A breakfast reception and march to the corner of Elizabeth and Canal, sponsored by the Organization of Chinese Americans' New York office and several community groups, will take place before the unveiling.