With a new life and overhauled venue in the works, it might be a good time to do something about the name. Artist Andy Panda thinks so. Panda has posted an open letter asking the new owners of the Chop Suey to do away with the venue’s name.
“As a Chinese person, seeing fake Chinese decor in a club that is not owned by Chinese people makes my heart sink,” Panda writes. “No one should have to see their own race caricatured in a venue that hosts so many great touring bands.”
The Chop dates back to 2002. The early 2000s transition from punk hangout the Breakroom came under the auspices of some familiar names — the founding co-owners were Wade Weigel, Jeff O’Felt, and Linda Derschang. That team overhauled the venue and gave it what the Seattle Times called a “swank rock” feel — a “front-of-the-club lounge, with leopard carpet, Chinese lanterns, cocktail tables and a wrap-around bench.” We’ll see what we can find out about where the name came from. UPDATE: While she didn’t shine any light on the genesis for the name, Derschang did say she thinks it’s ready for it to be retired. “Chop Suey has had so many owners over the years but the decor has pretty much remained the same,” she writes. “The new owners are giving it a new look so a new name makes perfect sense.” She adds that she “never loved the name anyway.” So, hey, Linda D. says it’s OK to change it.
Back in 2002, there was at least one musician who wasn’t pleased with the choice:
I would much rather have Chromatics play a guerrilla show in the parking lot of Jack in the Box on Broadway than under the pagoda at Chop Suey, the new racist hotspot masquerading as a cutting-edge, hip nightclub. It is disgusting to me that a business so blatantly offensive can open its doors to a supposed community of open-minded artists and musicians. If the same crackers who own Chop Suey opened up an African-American-style bar or nightclub with the same sense of kitsch–cultural imperialistic icons similar to those that Chop Suey utilizes in its theme and décor–you can be damn sure that people would be upset about it. How would this be any different? It wouldn’t be different at all. People should be outraged that this business exists, and even angrier that most people just accept it.
The full letter from Panda is below:
I sent this letter to the new owner of Chop Suey, Brianna Rettig (she is on Facebook). If you feel like encouraging her to change the name while they have the opportunity for a new start, please message her or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to copy anything from this letter and share and circulate as much as possible. Thanks!
I was very excited to hear that you have become an owner of Chop Suey. First of all, as a fellow musician it is great to hear that another musician will keep the tradition of bringing great bands to Seattle. But, most importantly, I’m excited because you have the opportunity to enact some real change.
I and many other people I know love the acts that have come through Chop Suey over the years. However, many of us have avoided going to the venue because of the racial implications that the name and theme have. As a Chinese person, seeing fake Chinese decor in a club that is not owned by Chinese people makes my heart sink. No one should have to see their own race caricatured in a venue that hosts so many great touring bands.
The name itself, Chop Suey, comes from a time of real racism, hatred and violence towards Asian Americans. In the 1800’s, California had laws that made it illegal for Chinese people to testify in court. This was at a time when white Goldrush miners had particular hatred towards Chinese immigrants who they saw as a group moving in on their gold claims. White miners committed horrible atrocities on Chinese immigrants with no repercussions because no one could testify against them. The dish came about when a group of drunken miners stumbled into a Chinese restaurant. Though the restaurant was closing and out of food, the miners demanded service. Out of fear for their lives, the workers assembled all the table scraps, fried them up and served them to the miners. The miners loved the dish and asked what the name of it was. The workers made up the name Chop Suey.
With the new ownership and vision for this club, this would be a great opportunity for a fresh start. In a place like Seattle, making this change would be seen as a real positive and could garner you an even bigger fan base. I hope you consider this opportunity and if you want some support or ideas on this, please feel free to contact me.