- Most White Americans think that there is no such thing as “American food”, and that Americans are cosmopolitan and worldly, because they are exposed to foreign foods. For many White Americans, an example of “foreign food” is chop suey. This is ironic, because it actually reveals American insularity.
- When White Americans think of “Chinese culture” (and assume that all Chinese Americans have retained their ancestral culture), most White Americans think of “Chinese” American food like chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and fortune cookies. However, chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and fortune cookies are actually examples of how Chinese culture has been lost and replaced by commercialism.
- Many White Americans think that they are knowledgeable about Chinese culture (and not racist) because they eat at “Chinese” restaurants and order dishes like General Tso’s chicken. What many White Americans think as racial knowledge is actually racial ignorance.
- In American movies and TV, Chinese identity is often represented by chop suey. For example, in Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Flower Drum Song (1961), which is arguably the only major Hollywood film with a predominantly Asian American cast as protagonists, the Asian American actors sang a celebratory song called “Chop Suey”.According to Arthur Dong, “Songs like ‘Chop Suey’ became an embarrassment for politicized Asian Americans. It didn’t matter that Flower Drum Song was based on a book written by a Chinese American; it was, in the end, a white man’s concoction.”
- In American movies and TV, Chinese culture is often represented by fortune cookies. Sometimes non-Chinese Americans infer from the nonsensical messages in fortune cookies that Chinese thinking is nonsensical, mystical, and inscrutable. (That’s racist!) However, fortune cookie messages are manufactured in the United States for commercial purposes, to entertain mostly non-Chinese recipients. The messages are not ancient Chinese proverbs.
- It is not uncommon for a White American to meet a Chinese American for the first time, and attempt to “relate” with her by informing her that he loves chop suey. This is offensive for multiple reasons. White Americans think of Chinese people as a stereotype (“Chinese” food), the stereotype is based on White American experiences rather than Chinese American experiences, the stereotype is not even accurate, the White American thinks that the Chinese person identifies with the racial stereotype, the White American thinks that Chinese ethnicity is represented by an American racial stereotype, etc.
- LFO had a song called Summer Girls with a chorus that includes the lines, “New Kids On The Block had a bunch of hits. Chinese food makes me sick.” Many White Americans conclude that they “don’t like Chinese food” after eating one type of dish, and that dish probably did not originate in China. Whatever negative associations that White Americans have about Chinese food should actually be blamed on American culture (and American preferences for deep-fried food), not foreign Chinese culture.
- Some White Americans use “Chinese food” as an example of Chinese people being unassimilable and not adapting to American culture. (Some White Americans even believe that the popularity of “Chinese food” in the United States shows how Americans accommodate and embrace minority cultures.) The reality is that “Chinese” American food is an example of how Chinese immigrants bend over backwards to create dishes customized for White American tastes.
Jennifer 8. Lee