Racist Fetishizations and “Chinese Laundry”

By Guest Columnist Mar 18, 2008

by Samantha Erskine The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) is urging people to take action against racist marketing used to publicize a new Asian fusion restaurant owned by Chow Fun Food Group, Inc., in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The restaurant, called Chinese Laundry, was built on the site of a former Chinese laundry business, Sam Sing Laundry, which closed six years ago. Because of the outrage by Asian-American activists, Chow Fun Food Group owner John Elkhay finally pulled the offending ad. In a press statement on the restaurant’s website, he said that his goal was “to create a sensual dining experience with art that celebrates the feminine form.” To further illuminate Elkhay’s racist marketing tactics, “for the VIP party only,” he served sushi platters using a model, “scantily clad in red silk, to serve as a live platform for the food.” Now, while it was all fun for Elkhay and his guests (according to the above-mentioned press statement) – and get this, Elkhay even hired pretend paparazzi photographers for the event – it is not humorous that Elkhay exoticizes and commodifies Asian women. He also appropriated the name "Chinese Laundry" without recognizing the significant oppression endured by Chinese Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when many were forced to enter the laundering business because of discrimination that prevented them from seeking other forms of work. The fact that he pulled the ad is inconsequential and merely hints at an apology because his subsequent marketing tactics continued to perpetuate centuries-old stereotypes of Asian-American and Pacific Islander women as objects of submission, foreignness and sexual exoticism. He is exploiting Chinese culture, in general, and popularizing oppressive and offensive images. This is a restaurant, not an escort agency or massage service… Or maybe the restaurant operates as a front for a sex work agency? But, either way, Elkhay’s business tactics seem to purposely use dominant culture’s fascination with fetishizing Asian women to draw patrons to his restaurant. What is even more surprising is that this restaurant has been able to flourish in liberal college-town like Providence, Rhode Island. Click here to sign a petition denouncing the ad calling on Elkhay to issue a formal apology and discontinue this "business practice." To read NAPAWF’s blog.