Diocesan News

Concert Pianist Recalls Terror, Healing After Anti-Asian Attack

During the discussion led by Pastoral Associate John Heyer (right) Donna Weng Friedman grew emotional as she recalled how a man harassed her in Central Park because she is a Chinese-American. (Photos: Paula Katinas)

Mass was dedicated to Asian American Pacific Islanders

CARROLL GARDENS — Concert pianist Donna Weng Friedman knows first-hand the vicious anti-Asian hatred that erupted in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On a bright, sunny day in March 2020, she was walking her dog in Central Park when she was accosted by a man who came up to her and screamed vile anti-Asian invective and insults. Among his taunts: “Go back to China!”

Weng Friedman, a Chinese-American who grew up in Forest Hills and has played in concerts at Carnegie Hall and worldwide, feared for her life. 

“He was so big and I’m so small. I thought at any moment he would hurt me,” she said. Luckily, at that moment a group of people walked past the confrontation and the attacker fled.

Weng Friedman discussed her ordeal during a special presentation at Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen Church, Carroll Gardens, following the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday. The Mass was dedicated to the Asian American Pacific Islander community and served as a celebration to welcome Deacon Vincent Vu, a Vietnamese immigrant who is the parish’s new transitional deacon, having been ordained a week earlier.

Weng Friedman recalled that after the incident, she didn’t leave her Manhattan apartment for eight months. Part of that was due to the lockdown ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo under which New Yorkers sheltered in place. The other reason: She was afraid to go out and risk encountering another attacker.

“I didn’t want to be seen,” she recalled. 

What Weng Friedman experienced has become all too common on the streets of New York since the start of the pandemic, which spawned a surge of attacks on Asian-Americans by people unreasonably angered by reports that the coronavirus originated in China.

According to the NYPD, hate crimes against Asian-Americans have risen 395% in 2021. Between Jan. 1 and July 11, there were 104 anti-Asian attacks reported to the police while during the same time period in 2020, there were 21.

The rise in incidents led the NYPD to work with the FBI to create public service announcement videos to encourage people to report anti-Asian hate crimes.

Donna Weng Friedman treated the church parishioners to her musical gifts by playing Chopin on the piano.

Weng Friedman urged her audience to speak out against prejudice and to take a page from young people who are not afraid to voice their opinions. “I see the young people today are more vocal,” she noted.

Msgr. Guy Massie, pastor of Sacred Hearts & St. Stephen, called on his parishioners to step up to fight hatred. “All it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing,” he said, using a phrase attributed to Edmund Burke.

In his homily — his first as transitional deacon at the parish — Deacon Vu spoke of the importance of love for one’s fellow man. “Learning from Jesus, we should love others,” he said. Through Jesus’ love, “we see the dignity of others,” he said.

Weng Friedman said music, which has been a part of her life since she was a child, helped heal her wounded soul.

“Music helped get me back on track,” she said during a discussion after the Mass led by Pastoral Associate John Heyer.

Weng Friedman, a graduate of The Juilliard School, got together with musician friends and recorded an album, “Heritage and Harmony: Silver Linings,” featuring music from the Asian-American and African-American communities. She is donating the proceeds from the sale of the album — available on Spotify and Amazon — to the Korean American Community Foundation, a group that promotes understanding between different cultures.

She ended her presentation by walking over the church’s piano and playing Chopin’s “Waltz in C-Sharp Minor,” crying as her fingers touched the keys.