When the sky is an industrial patchwork of stoney grays and every living thing that previously managed to sprout between cracks in concrete just can’t do it anymore, words can be insufficient. While the salt methodically erodes mounds of dirty snow and our soiled winter soles, there’s born a certain point after which words are moot. Superfluous. Irrelevant. How many times can we shriek at heavy puffs of smokey, overbearing clouds before we realize that we are irrevocably planted in the Earth we continuously poison; before we realize that there are too many things to fix, and not enough of us to fix them.
There are many of us who have done a lot of shrieking, and I stand in awe of all who continuously think, who relentlessly speak, who doggedly pave the way toward humanity – an attribute that I’m sure will never permeate society during my lifetime. In this grim landscape of the brusque, crude, self-absorbed and murderous, there are glimmers of light if one can tolerate the enduring fog and search hard enough. Some dazzling strokes of luck have led me to some of the sources of my most intrigued, joyous moments of hope, and none of them came from any damned politicians (exceptions: Charles Barron, John Liu, and John Avalos, who actually have given me such glimmers). Don’t believe the talking head/politico hype – great artists are the authentic bearers of truth and wisdom; to wit, Gentrified Minds and Jomama Jones. Such gorgeous fighters, the both of them. They enter the ring and craft their battles so differently, but both work from an explicitly deep love of people and place. Snot-faced Zuckerberg’s little contraption has proven to be of marginal use to me through connection with some of the best Facebook friends on the planet; razor-sharp hell-raisers who regularly pound the pavement and believe in every person’s self-determination. At this very moment, while I watch my Forty-Fuckin’-Niners wipe the field with some Giant ass, one of those friends is chastising all of us who are indulging in this inane, corporate-funded tradition of watching uber-macho big boys in shiny tights run and tumble their way to the Super Bowl. My friend is right for doing so. Cheering on a football game is not one of my shining moments. It’s only for today; because my Niners are playing for San Francisco – a city of traditionally staunch supporters of aversion to all things considered “normal;” the city where Jose Sarria and Harvey Milk unabashedly yanked GAY out of the closet. And because they’re red and gold – which is important. There are no two colors that mean more in the Chinese culture than red and gold; the combination signifies infinite “double happiness;” it wrings life’s golden sponge until it’s bone-dry and bestows its wearer/receiver with every last drop of the best luck available to all humans everywhere. That’s the power of the red and gold. Tonight’s midnight will usher in the Lunar New Year 4710 – the Year of the Dragon. What an auspicious sign for the new year if the red and gold team wins tonight.
But I imagine that Chinese New Year celebrations will mean little to nothing for Su Zhen Chen, U.S. Army Private Danny Chen’s mother. The last time I saw Mrs. Chen was at a press conference called by OCA-NY (Organization of Chinese Americans – New York) on January 5th, where they reported what the family has learned so far from the Army Brass. To see her in person addressing her son’s death is to have your heart ripped out of its rib cage and fed to hungry animals while it’s still beating. Her anguish is palpable, and it’s frightening how much pain a non-parent can glean from a mere few minutes of being in her presence. There wasn’t a lot of information available when I was first trying to learn as much as I could about Danny Chen’s murder, but through the persistent efforts of OCA-NY, the Army has been forced to charge eight white soldiers in connection with his death, and acknowledge the fact that their claim of Danny’s having committed suicide is not fact – something that the usual culprits of mainstream media refuse to recognize while they continue to call Danny’s death a suicide. Thanks to a recent article by Jennifer Gonnerman, a good journalist whose absence has contributed to the formerly ass-kicking Village Voice‘s steady downfall toward being an inconsequential rag, we now have some flesh and bone on Danny Chen’s pre-Army life.
According to Gonnerman’s article, Danny was a dedicated son who was very close to his mom. Danny made the decision to join the Army based on his aspirations to become a member of the NYPD, which, based on his 19 years of life experience, would enable him to catch bad guys, make the world a better place, and earn a steady paycheck – part of which he wanted to use to help his parents. He was smart, shy, and over six feet tall, and like most Asian kids in New York or any metropolis, was no stranger to violence and racism in the big city. While most of his peers in Chinatown or the LES were cared for by grandparents while parents worked long hours in restaurant and garment industries, Danny’s mom, a seamstress, managed to drop off and pick up Danny from school, and keep him focused. Gonnerman relays that Su Zhen Chen was a doting mom by all accounts, and despite the small family’s economic hardship, she and Danny’s father, Yan Tao Chen, a waiter who worked 10-hour days, did everything within their power and knowledge to be great parents to him. Despite his parents’ desires for him to pursue a safe, traditional life path, Danny was given to expressing a powerful sense of individuality that, in my experience, does not come easily to a 19-year-old from a Chinese American family. “I want to live for myself,” he said. “Not for anyone else.”
There was a comment on my last post that at least partially blamed Danny’s death on bad parenting; the criticism was that the parents failed to warn him of the dangers of life’s ills. Plenty inflamed by this cheap shot at blaming the victim, I managed to keep a lid on my ire while asking the poster – who claimed to be an activist – what s/he is doing to raise awareness in addition to blowing off misguided steam online. Anyone who’s serious about activism is serious about discourse – particularly when it comes to exchanging ideas on how to address the unending diarrhea of racism, sexism, classism, and other parasitical -isms that keep us indefatigably reaching for the super-sized plunger. I didn’t expect to receive an answer, and apparently I was correct in doing so.
Last Sunday, on Dr. Martin Luther King’s 82nd birthday, the first of the eight accused murderers, 32-year-old Spc. Ryan Offutt, faced an Article 32 hearing in Afghanistan to determine whether he’ll be court martialed on formal charges. I’ve heard nothing about that hearing yet, but am hoping like hell that the indicting-a-ham-sandwich-in-the-grand-jury theory holds true here. According to the January 5th press conference, the most severe charge, negligent homicide, carries a jail sentence of 10 years. Dereliction of duty, with which two officers – Staff Sgt. Blaine Dugas and Lt. Daniel Schwartz – are charged, carries a sentence of one year. If Danny’s murderers are convicted, the most any one of them will pay for stealing Danny’s life is 10 years. Ten years versus the 60 more he may have lived. The rest of the officers will face their Article 32s until February 20th. There’s barely been any mention in the press (except for dependable locals like dnainfo) of the hearings in Afghanistan, which seems like a neat little way for the Army to put on a show to placate the few of us who are paying attention, then find that court martials for all eight of the suspects would be unfounded. All I know is, there better be a fucking trial, and it better be in the U.S., fully accessible to everyone.
My Forty-Fuckin’-Niners went into OT with, and subsequently lost to, the New York Giants. There will be no Niner-inspired red and gold revelry to accompany the Dragon’s entry. The Chen family’s anguish and loss rages forward, along with the agony experienced by hundreds of other military families whose sons and daughters were quietly killed by racism in our ranks. Let this Dragon make its grand entrance, and let us be the ones who breathe into it a pandemic, multi-alarm fire. Too fast too strong too bold. That’s the red and gold.