[Ed. Note: Readers, please welcome Jenny Rain to Hay Ladies! Jenny Rain (or just "Jen," as those on familiar terms call her) is a writer, activist, people observer and Twitter-lover living in Austin, Texas. She's into philosophy, art, media, feminism, progress and tearing down social constructs. She adores colors so much she puts them in her hair and under her skin. She blogs at marginallyinsane.com.]
Nearly two years ago, I found myself standing one of the trendiest streets in Austin, Texas, literally about to lose my lunch. I stood incredulous, gawking at some of the most heinous Orientalist imagery I’d ever seen, desperately trying to swallow the anger that was rising up from my belly, traveling through my esophagus, and leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
In front of me sat a new pan-Asian fod trailer on posh W. 5th Steet, an exciting sight in an otherwise homogenized and somewhat flavorless part of downtown Austin. The trailer was decorated with psychedelic-colored paint, evocative of the “Keep Austin Weird” ethos that permeates this town.
On the side of the trailer facing 5th a buffoonish, bald Asian man in all pink clothing was beckoning to passersby, holding up a steaming hot bowl of noodles, with the words “ME SO HUNGRY!” (in mock-Asian-character typeface) emblazoned above his head. On the other side of the trailer, a scantily clad Asian woman wearing a cheongsam (or traditional Chinese dress) and chopsticks in her hair sat in a sexually suggestive pose, biting her index finger and winking. She echoed her separated male counterpart: ME SO HUNGRY (sans exclamation point)
After gawking for some time, I eventually left the deserted trailer (which wasn’t open for business at the time), trying in vain to do what a lot of people do when confronted with something so blatantly offensive it seems unreal: put it out of my mind.
Later, I would tell everyone I knew about the trailer. I would sit around with my Asian American friends and our allies and scorn it. We would talk of defacing the images with spray paint in the middle of the night, of distributing multicultural, counter-cultural and feminist literature to customers during regular business hours, of staging a mass protest, none of which, for whatever reason, ended up happening.
What I did do was write emails to the Me So Hungry trailer, pleading with them to be sensitive and change their name and redecorate their trailer, none of which were ever answered. And I started a blog. And I never stopped being angry, not even when they moved to the hipster-run East Side, hidden in the darkness behind Cheer Up Charlie’s, a bar where few people would be apt to shake their fists.
Now, two years after I wrote my first blog post on the subject, Me So Hungry’s business seems to be booming due to all those drunk, hungry hipsters. They’ve upgraded their website and included a pandering picture of their ethnically diverse team, but it still features the sickening slogan “We feed you long time!” What’s worse, some people are even defending the brand on Yelp, giving the standard response: the owner, Christina Alfonso, is a hapa Asian woman and therefore not a bigot, so all you Asian people should shut up about the subject.
But I won’t shut up. Instead, I’ll enlighten people who just don’t understand why my damn Dragon Lady panties are in a bunch.
As everyone should know by now, “me so horny” and “me love you long time” originated from the 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket by Stanley Kubrick—a movie that has been roundly critiqued by many notable feminists. (In her book, Remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam War, Susan Jeffords argues that the film “reinstates a clarified rejection of the feminine and restitution of the masculine.”) In the film, the Da Nang hooker, played by British actress Papillion Soo Soo, who is of French and Chinese descent (hello, racebending!) utters the offensive phrases, triggering mass hard-ons.
Following the success of the movie, rap group 2 Live Crew came out with “Me So Horny,” a little misogynistic ditty inspired by the line in the film. And ever since then, Asian women everywhere haven’t been able to shake the stereotype.
Recently, several non-Asian pop singers, like Mariah Carey, Fergie and Nelly Furtado, have decided to co-opt the phrase “me love you long time” and rebrand it as a term of empowerment. But so far only one top-selling artist of Asian heritage has attempted to reclaim the terms, and it’s not surprising that she is in my opinion the most successful at it. See the lyrics of M.I.A’s “$10 Dollar”.
I’m all for reappropriation. But it’s a tricky thing. We, as Asian American women, are only on the verge of it. We are just now—some two decades after the Kubrick’s film came out—starting to exercise our empowerment in a mainstream sense and we know we’ve got a long road ahead. And, as there usually is with issues of reappropriation, there is a risk of being misunderstood, of giving license to our oppressors to continue oppressing us with the same racist, sexist, patriarchal rhetoric that’s been used before—which is exactly what is happening with Alfonso’s Me So Hungry brand.
My beef with the food trailer is that it adds nothing to the conversation. It’s not saying anything new and doesn’t do enough to be ironically racist/sexist or empower anyone. Instead, it puts up some tired-ass ching chong imagery and reiterates a piece of pop culture that the majority of people are ignorant about and insensitive to. This ignorance and insensitivity gives rise to Yelp reviews that emphatically deny the trailer is racist and sexist and insist that it’s simply “cute” and “fun” and makes people happy. (I’ve also seen some objectifying comments about the “hot” women of color working at the food trailer.)
No, I don’t think it’s “cute,” and it doesn’t make me happy. But I’m not allowed to say that. Me So Hungry and its customers try to silence a person like me, a woman of color who isn’t allowed to debate with another woman of color who thinks what she’s doing is totally cool.
Me So Hungry, hear me out: In the words of Jen Wang and Diana Nguyen of the blog Disgrasian, “you are a disgrace to the race.” I would only like to add that you are a disgrace to women business owners and the state of Texas too.