Thursday, March 25, 2004

Life and Death of a Chinese Food Deliveryman

Yesterday I wrote about the chemical hazards faced by Korean nail salon workers. Today the hazards faced by another largely ignored group of workers -- Chinese food delivery persons.
Nearly six weeks have passed since Huang Chen, 18 years old, the youngest of three children and the only son of Ming Garden's owners, delivered a chicken dinner to a seventh-floor apartment in one of those brown buildings. Delivering takeout is how Mr. Chen died.

The authorities say that two 16-year-old boys decided to set up the deliveryman, that they stabbed him and beat him with a baseball bat for fear that he could identify them, that they wheeled his body out in a shopping cart before shoving it into his car, that they dumped his body in a pond about three miles away and that from this endeavor they realized about $50.

The boys were charged with murder, and the news media briefly revisited one of this city's continuing narratives, the victimizing of Asian food deliverymen. John C. Liu, a city councilman from Queens, who is Asian-American, called for a one-day moratorium on such deliveries, and suggested that while picking up their food, customers get to know the people on the counter's other side.

People needed to be reminded "that there are human lives and human faces behind the preparation and delivery of their food," Mr. Liu said this week. The reminder was necessary, he added, because he detects a racist component to the beating and killing of deliverymen - men like Mr. Chen.

"It's as though we're not American," Mr. Liu said, his voice rising in anger. "We're not human, even. We're not real people."