Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Release: NAPAWF Denounces Ad Campaign for "Chinese Laundry" Fusion Restaurant

March 18, 2008

METRO WASHINGTON, DC - The National Asian Pacific American Women's
Forum (NAPAWF) joins community members and activists in expressing
deep objection to an ad campaign printed in February and March of this
year to publicize a new Asian fusion restaurant owned by Chow Fun Food
Group, Inc.

A print advertisement in last month's Providence Monthly magazine
signaled the upcoming opening of Chinese Laundry, an Asian fusion
restaurant in downtown Providence, RI, built on the site of a former
Chinese laundry business that closed six years ago. The advertisement
prominently featured a black and white image of a faceless nude female
torso with traditional Chinese characters tattooed down the side of
her body, and a black banner containing the text "see what you are
missing" across her breasts. A bar of text across the top of the
advertisement read, "good things come to those who wait." Earlier this
month, the advertisement was again printed in Providence Monthly, this
time with the words, "the wait is over." See www.napawf.org/blog to
view the actual advertisement.

In an apparent response to public objection to the advertisement led
by Asian American activists, Chow Fun Food Group owner John Elkhay
recently announced that the ad campaign will be pulled.

This is only a first step. NAPAWF denounces the Chow Fun Food Group
for leveraging, in this marketing campaign, the lowest common
denominators of Asian female exoticism and the commodification of a
generalized Asian culture. NAPAWF is also disturbed by the flippancy
with which the restaurant appropriated the name "Chinese Laundry"
without recognition of the significance that line of business played
in Chinese American history and oppression.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese Americans were
largely forced to enter the laundering business due to intense
discrimination that closed the door of opportunity to most other forms
of work. Chinese Americans came to be associated with the laundry
business because, as with railroad work during the mid-19th century,
it was one of the few available industries that Chinese workers could
enter into to pursue a livelihood. Mr. Elkhay clearly missed the mark
in naming his restaurant "Chinese Laundry" to "honor the time honored
traditions of those before us," as Mr. Elkhay has stated.

Similarly, the advertisements' evocations of passive, faceless
hypersexuality resurrect the struggles that Asian American and Pacific
Islander women have historically fought against. For centuries, Asian
American and Pacific Islander women have been represented as objects
of submission, foreignness and sexual exoticism. The advertisement is
proof that this "orientalism" continues today.

NAPAWF calls on Mr. Elkhay to take seriously his own proclaimed desire
to respect the cultures that he seeks to profit from, by acknowledging
their histories and realities rather than by packaging them into
offensive and oppressive pop culture quips. We urge Mr. Elkhay, as a
successful business owner, to wield his powers of publicity in ways
that are constructive to dismantling, rather than propagating, culture
and gender oppression.

Send a message to the Chow Fun Food Group! Go to
http://www.petitiononline.com/providen/petition.html to sign a
petition calling on Mr. Elkhay to issue a formal apology and
discontinue this "business practice."

Please contact Bonnie at bchan@napawf.org for more info or if you would like to get involved in
local campaign efforts.