An axis for artistic and creative-types of the Asian persuasian… Redefining Otaku Culture.

President Obama signs bill eliminating ‘Oriental’ from Federal Law

U.S. President Barack Obama signed a bill Friday that modernizes the terms used for minorities.

NBC News (by Stephany Bai):

President Barack Obama has signed a bill eliminating all known uses of the term “oriental” from federal law.

The bill, which was sponsored by Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY), was passed by the House of Representatives unanimously on Feb. 29 and again by the Senate on May 9. It was co-sponsored by 76 members of Congress, including all 51 members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said in a statement that she was “proud to have seen this effort through.”

After months of advocacy in both chambers of Congress, derogatory terms in federal law will finally be updated to reflect our country’s diversity,” she said. “Mahalo to President Obama for his quick action.

Oriental” had still existed in Title 42 of the U.S. Code, which was written in the 1970s. It will be replaced with “Asian Americans.”

In a statement, Congresswoman Meng expressed relief that “at long last this insulting and outdated term will be gone for good.”

Many Americans may not be aware that the word ‘Oriental’ is derogatory,” she said. “But it is an insulting term that needed to be removed from the books, and I am extremely pleased that my legislation to do that is now the law of the land.

Gold, Panda, Dragon, Jade, Phoenix… Stats on words used in Chinese restaurant names, by the numbers.

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INTRODUCTION

It is not too bold of an assumption to say we have all eaten at a Chinese restaurant named Golden Dragon or Hunan Garden at some point in our lives. The English names of Chinese restaurants are notoriously unimaginative and often totally reductive. They typically contain one of the following: bland sentiment (Nice Time Cafe), callous boasts (#1, Supreme, Top, Super, etc.), or some amalgam of the following elements: precious metal + prestigious animal + widely popular Chinese food item + powerful leadership role (Jade Empress, Noodle King, Phoenix Palace).

But what can trends in Chinese restaurant naming tell us about Chinese America?

The pre-existing research on this topic is slim and possibly nonexistent (this assertion based on a few half-hearted Google searches performed shortly before publication). I found few Chowhound threads, a Yahoo Answers page and this amazing (and only slightly racist) Chinese restaurant name generator.

This “study” seeks to identify some basic trends in Chinese restaurant naming, then use the findings to fuel a discussion of what drives these trends. DISCLAIMER: This is not a real study. Don’t take it seriously.

METHODOLOGY

Our data comes from my occasional lunch partner David Chan, a Los Angeles accountant and attorney who has eaten at more than 6,300 different Chinese restaurants over the past three decades. Entries begin in the 1980s and are current as of June 20. The bulk of the data comes from Southern California, but Chan has also eaten extensively across the United States and the world. There are 6,317 restaurants included in this “analysis.”

Relevant terms for “analysis” were established by scrolling repeatedly through this list in Excel and writing down any commonly occurring terms that I could identify before my eyes began to water. The spreadsheet was also uploaded into Google Refine, a data-cleaning and analysis tool that can cluster like terms and count commonly occurring words. Using the filters, I counted whatever search terms occurred to me over the course of two Saturday afternoons and one Sunday night.

The most commonly occurring terms are gathered for “analysis” below (discussion follows infographic).

RESULTS

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DISCUSSION

As expected, our results show that Chinese restaurant names are uncommonly repetitive. Some surprising results: the most commonly occurring restaurant name was “China Express.” Dragons are more popular than pandas. The use of the word Oriental seems to have declined as society places higher value on political correctness.

What produces this naming monotony? My first thought is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and also the most brazen form of competition. Chinese restaurant owners are notoriously cutthroat. A $5.95 lunch special is usually followed by a $5.75 lunch special across the street, and in the same vein, a 101 Noodle Express is one-upped by a 102 Noodles Town, and a Hunan Garden is easily topped by #1 Hunan Garden. Perhaps the repetition in names is just an outgrowth of that competition. Brand-name recognition is often worth the copyright lawsuit, as evinced by the number of restaurants calling themselves Panda Express who are not officially licensed franchises of the national chain.

My next theory is that there is a demographic of Chinese-restaurant owners who really don’t care what their English restaurant names are — those who are comfortably situated in a majority-Chinese community.

Many cities in the San Gabriel Valley require a certain amount of English on the storefront sign. These laws are oftentimes relics from the 1980s and 1990s, when politicians besieged by waves of Asian immigration tried to use municipal code to hold back the tidal wave of demographic change. Perhaps the half-considered English names are a kiss-off to these laws. If you’re catering to a largely Chinese clientele, your English name goes unused. It’s just another box to check off on the business-permit application. Names with prestigious acronyms like NBC, ABC, CBS, in addition to piggybacking on brand-name recognition, have the added benefit of being short — which means fewer letters to purchase.

But perhaps the repetition in naming says more about us than it does about Chinese restaurateurs. Chinese restaurants have to use English words that the average American can associate with Chinese food or culture. That makes for a depressingly small pool of applicable themes and words, likely fueled by pop-culture tropes, stereotypes and maybe a TNT replay of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon if we’re lucky. Perhaps the monotony in Chinese restaurant naming just reflects how impoverished the knowledge of Chinese culture is here.

My mother’s favorite restaurant, for example, is Nice Time Cafe in Monterey Park, a Taiwanese eatery that has a decent gua bao and and $3.95 che ga mi noodle that she loves for obvious reasons. She introduced me to the place, and I’d never been inside because the name was so bland and boring. I’d literally roll my eyes as I walked by. But the Chinese name of Nice Time Cafe, my mom tells me, is hao nian dong, a Taiwanese phrase (literal translation of 好年冬: Good Year Winter) that idiomatically means gratitude for a good year and a good harvest.

Maybe instead of rolling my eyes at “Happy China Cafe” or snorting at “Golden Chopsticks Palace,” I should just learn to read more Chinese.

Longtime announcer for the Chicago White Sox uses the term “Oriental” to describe an Asian pitcher two nights in a row


Angry Asian Man:

Hawk Harrelson is on a roll. Oh, what has he done now? This week, the longtime announcer for the Chicago White Sox used the term “Oriental” to describe an Asian pitcher on two occasions, two nights in a row. Classy.

During the broadcast of Wednesday night’s game against Boston, Harrelson referred to Red Sox pitcher Junichi Tazawa as “oriental.” On Thursday night, he did it again. I guess Hawk didn’t get the memo, or perhaps just crumpled it up and threw it in the trash can. Many, many decades ago. 

On this past Wednesday’s game, Harrelson first says “Asian” then quickly says “Oriental,” as if he’s correcting himself. You’re going the wrong way, sir

You might recall a moment earlier in the season, when Harrelson provided some colorful commentary about Cleveland pitcher Chen-Chang Lee, describing one of his pitches as “typical Asian motion. Deception involved.”

Big deal, you say. You can argue he’s an old timer, a broadcaster from another era who can’t be bothered to keep up with what everyone is calling themselves these days. 

But Ken “Hawk” Harrelson isn’t just the elderly man you encounter at the gas station, or your cranky uncle at the dinner table — the people you tend to roll your eyes at and try to ignore. He’s a broadcaster for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago who is paid to talk and/or, at the very least, not say idiotic things.