Opera commemorates the life and tragic death of Pvt. Danny Chen of NYC

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Friday, May 10, 2024
Opera commemorates the life and tragic death of Private Danny Chen
CeFaan Kim has details on the opera commemorating Private Danny Chen.

LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- If opera is an art that captures tragedy, then Army Private Danny Chen's story was made for this stage.

The 19-year-old soldier from Manhattan's Chinatown who was bullied into suicide by his own squad while on deployment in Afghanistan in 2011 was brutally hazed for being Chinese-American.

Composer Huang Ruo says Danny's story isn't only Danny's story, but the story of a community's struggle.

"This was not one isolated incident," said Ruo. "It was the result of many years of discrimination in history. It started even before the Chinese Exclusion Act."

Civil rights attorney Liz OuYang is a member of the Committee to Keep Pvt. Danny Chen's Legacy Alive.

"It's a story of an American soldier who paid the ultimate price to show his loyalty to America, and this is how he was treated," she told Eyewitness News. "Our stories of Asian American contributions to America must be told."

Danny sought to serve his country, only to find his biggest threat was the very people who swore to protect him.

Tony and Grammy winner and librettist for this opera David Henry Hwang came up with the title: "An American Soldier."

"Danny wanted to be an American soldier," said Hwang. "He was not allowed to be fully an American soldier, but in many ways he exemplifies what an American soldier should be."

"It's hard to say how... what Danny would feel today, but I imagine Danny would feel somewhat proud," said Banny Chen.

Banny was Danny's cousin and best friend. He's now an FDNY firefighter, carrying on the family legacy of service.

"None of this was imaginable, not even the thought of Danny passing away in the military," said Banny. "All of this happening, the opera being made about him... you know, this is unimaginable."

"An American Soldier" has its New York premiere next week at the Perelman Performing Arts Center in Lower Manhattan.


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