What’s a better name for the Chop Suey?

8445101719_f5b8f866a2With 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:

Hey Everyone,
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 info@chopsuey.com. Feel free to copy anything from this letter and share and circulate as much as possible. Thanks!

Dear Brianna,
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.

Andy Panda

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69 thoughts on “What’s a better name for the Chop Suey?

    • Thank you– that was the first thing I wondered: “Seriously? Is this guy’s name REALLY ‘Panda’? I hope so, cuz if it’s not, he’s complaining about a kitchy name when *HE HAS* a kitchy name?”. OTOH, if his name really IS Panda… oh well, I dunno what, but oh brother.

    • Soooo…he self identifies as a person of Chinese descent and has chosen the name Panda, which is likely empowering and a way of reclaiming racist imagery. How does that undermine his point exactly? It’s kind of like (but not exactly analogous to) how my Jewish father hoards Nazi memorabilia. Is he an actual Nazi/Nazi sympathizer? No, for sure not. But it just feels good to take something that has been used to oppress you (literally and /or figuratively) and spin it on it’s head. Do you really not see that, or were you just trying to be cute?

    • It seems to me a lot of objection over a font and the name of a food. The inside was fine – I personally thought that dragon hanging from the ceiling inside looked really cool! Does everything need to be a hotel lobby? Cartoonish versions of other cultural signifiers can sometimes bring up harsh connotations, but the other examples people are using here are far more extreme. Having a goofy looking Chinese-inspired bar like this one only shows how much of a part of American culture we consider all of this. It doesn’t take away from our ability to, say, go to a museum to get a non-cartoonish version. In short: relax, this is fine.

  1. Ugly to see commenters talking about this like it’s nothing. It’s definitely racist – would you go to Wetback Burritos or Fatlip Mamma’s Chicken and Waffles? Even if you don’t think it’s outright racist there are lots of people who at the very least think it’s in poor taste. Give it a new name and style with a nod to the old one. There’s no shortage of inspiration in this city.

      • Last time I checked, “chop suey” was an actual Chinese-American dish, not a racist slur like “wetback” or “Fatlip Momma”. So if I eat chop suey, I’m a racist?

        This ain’t the Redskins or Wahoo the Cleveland Indian. It’s a kitschy dish done up in a kitschy font, in the same vein as a tiki bar’s fake-Polynesian decor. Or should Hula Hula change its theme to spare South Pacific sensitives? Or oh my God, Pacquitos over there has a guy wearing a straw hat and playing guitar!

        I’m calling Special Snowflake on this one, sorry.

      • I don’t know what that special snowflake thing means but I agree with everything else you said. Seems like a lot of crankiness over the name of a food and a font.

      • Did it ever occur to yall that you could become so obsessed with identifying ‘cultural otherness’ that you’re actually excluding everybody?

        Or no….

  2. I’m not a cultural anthropologist, but I think that story about the miners is an urban legend.

    I don’t think there is anything racist about a Chinese-themed establishment.

    Is it racist to have the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas designed after the Italian city? –it’s probably not Italian-owned…

    Poquitos is not owned by Mexicans….but no one thinks that is racist…

    It may be racially insensitive, but I have to disagree with Mr. Panda that the name should be changed. I think it’s interesting and unique.

    Also, “Chop Suey” as a dish is culturally unique in that it was developed in the US by Chinese Immigrants. It is something that is distinctly “American” and as such should be celebrated just like any other distinctly American food/culture/holiday

    • well, and there’s this from the internet (i know, the-internet-said it-it-must be-true) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chop_suey

      “This “became the infamous ‘chop suey’ of third-string Chinese restaurants in the western world, but it began life as a good if humble dish among the specialist vegetable farmers of the area. At the end of the day, they would stir-fry the small shoots, thinnings, and unsold vegetables—up to ten species in a dish!”

      doesn’t sound like it’s a culturally racist dish but more like an “artist” hoping to attract attention for himself by causing a stir (pun intended).

  3. I fail to see how this is more “racist” than Bimbos Cantina or the Rhein Haus / Von Trapps.

    All are tributes/caricatures/exaggerations of a particular style or decor.

  4. The venue changed names with the ownership change after The Breakroom, why shouldn’t the same happen now? To be honest, I’ve always felt the name and decor were sloppily treading the line between kitch and offensive – but when a place has been around for more than a decade (and the grime in the venue builds so the decor is barely visible let alone noticeable), that irritation fades to the background. This would be a great opportunity to start fresh and I hope they do change the name.

  5. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Dressing Up As Other Races (How Is This Still a Thing?) (HBO)


    To take John Oliver’s concept a bit further… With all the cool, possible themes for a bar… how is this still a thing?

    Is it Racist? Maybe. An example of cultural appropriation? Sure. Lame and unoriginal? Absolutely.

    • Is it racist? Who cares.
      Don’t you ever get exhausted with this shit.
      Find a racist yet? What about Neumos!? Or Vito’s!?

    • Love that John Oliver video and yes, I completely agree. Tasteless and appropriative at best – changing the name and decor is a great idea.

  6. I’m really disturbed by some of the comments I’m seeing here. To the people who are questioning Andy’s use of “Panda” as a last name: Do you also complain that blacks can use the n-word when you can’t? Think a little bit about how a person of Chinese descent might find it liberating and statement-making to use a pseudonym that re-purposes the caricatures used against his ethnicity—and why it would be a totally different thing for a person without that ethnic heritage to use the same kind of name. A commercial enterprise that appropriates what is deemed as culturally insensitive material is vastly different that an individual taking up and re-purposing a caricature. For real.

    And for those who are rolling their eyes and saying “way too sensitive”—what’s your interest then? If you don’t feel strongly—if you feel like Andy is taking the issue way more seriously than it needs to be taken—then why are you even offering your voice? Let those who care about the issue (as Andy clearly does) and have reason to care about it argue it—from whatever direction. Or else you are belittling what is something obviously deeply felt. You sit here and say you’re tired of this racism conversation. Don’t you see how tired YOU are? Why are you wasting your time on something you care so little about?? If you don’t care—don’t enter the conversation. If you do actually care, offer some smart arguments. Your comments are only confirming what Andy sees as a problem.

    I didn’t feel strongly about the name Chop Suey. It means “mixed bits” in Cantonese, according to a quick etymology search. BUT if it reads as insensitive to anyone (and has a history—mythic or based in reality—associated with it)—I think it’s wise and kind and forward-thinking to take that reaction seriously and try to engage it rather than dismiss it.

    • So with you. People act so put out by this. It would probably not impact most of their lives at all, but to Andy and a lot of people of Asian descent, it could probably mean a lot.

      • Yeah, buncha white people telling a self-identified member of an ethnic minority to stop complaining about how other white people utilize racist overtones and cultural appropriation to make a buck.

    • People on the internet like debating the merits of possible action based on discussion, that’s why they’re here saying this is inane.

    • Thank you for your voice of reason – Seattle has a really ugly racist underbelly and the “liberal” white people sling micro aggressions around with alarming frequency.

      • Microagressions:
      o Are brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership
      o Generally happen below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture
      o Are considered to be different from overt, deliberate acts of bigotry, such as the use of racist epithets, because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm
      o Include statements that repeat or affirm stereotypes about a minority group or subtly demean it
      o Position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological
      o Express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group
      o Assume all minority group members are the same
      o Minimize the existence of discrimination against the minority group
      o Seek to deny the perpetrator’s own bias, or minimize real conflict between the minority group and the dominant culture
      o Make recipients feel invisible, exhausted, frustrated, powerless, emotionally detached, helpless or tense
      o Can make targets feel a pressure to conform, a loss of their own integrity, or a pressure to “represent” their entire group
      o Can cumulatively lead to diminished self-confidence and a poor self-image and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and trauma for recipients
      o Can actually be more damaging than overt expressions of bigotry precisely because they are small and therefore often ignored or downplayed, leading the victim to feel self-doubting rather than justifiably angry, and isolated rather than supported
      Sue, Derard Wing (2010). Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact. Wiley. pp. 229–233)
      Sue, D., Capodilupo, C.M., & Holder, A.M.B. (2008). Racial microaggressions in the life experience of black Americans. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39, 329-336

  7. REALLY classy comments, guys. So proud to live on the hill right now. I feel like people are being really willfully ignorant on this one (shocker). Chop Suey is the bar equivalent of a white kid in a headdress at Capitol Hill Block Party. And if you are okay with the latter, than there’s just no reasoning with you anyway.

    As for comparisons the the Venetian…well that’s like a replica of Venice. It has a Venice theme but is not intended to be mocking or capitalizing on stereotypes. Same with Von Trapp’s. Also, pretty different dynamic for white business owners to mine European culture than to capitalize on Asian kitsch.

      • I think they are pretty clearly capitalizing on stereotypical Chinese decor (as imagined by white people). The sign font, the characters, the dragon, the name itself, etc. I do think it is pretty different for a Chinese-owned business to incorporate these elements than for a white-owned business to do so.

      • So its capitalizing on caricatures created by white people, for the benefit of white people. And the harm in the caricature of the decor is harmful in which way, other than it existing at all in the first place?

        I understand if you don’t like it because of the feels it stirs in you but you have a pretty poor rationale for it.

      • By your clearly superior rationale, it would be totally fine to still have places like Coon Chicken Inn and shit, because after all, what was that but caricatures created by white people for the benefit of white people. Totally harmless, yeah? Uhh, most racist caricatures in America were created by white people for the benefit/entertainment of white people. Are they all okay? Or only the ones that you find fun/unoffensive?

        What is with people so dearly treasuring their “right” to racism and cultural appropriation?

      • “So its capitalizing on caricatures created by white people, for the benefit of white people.”

        You probably don’t realize it but Andy Panda would probably agree with you. That is why the point of letter was to reach out to a business person to ask – why have a club that feels comfortable and fine to many white people, but uncomfortable and unwelcoming to a minority who would have otherwise been supportive customers? Whether the theme/name of Chop Suey gives you in particular the “feels” is irrelevant, but from a business perspective of attracting the widest possible clientele, he has a wonderful point and I hope the new owner takes him up on it.

    • And by “American” you mean – ? Black Americans? White Americans? Latino Americans? Native Americans? Asian-Pacific Americans? Please explain how opening a Starbucks or McDonald’s knock-off represents an affront to any of the above self-identified racial groups?

    • There are! And you know what, you should go there! You might then realize how tiring and uncomfortable it can be to feel surrounded by an entire society that sees you in such a narrow light.

  8. it never fails to astound me how people, and especially pseudonymous people on the internet get so righteous and defensive about their “right” to dismiss the experience of those affected by racism who choose to speak out. even aside from my belief that it is fundamentally human and moral to ones place of privilege and to strive to understand the experience of others to foster a better society, I find it difficult to comprehend that so many feel the need to lash out to protect their willful ignorance.

    that aside, I hope the new owners take this to heart. it’s offensive because people find it offensive, no other reason or justification necessary. and as a place meant to be a space for the arts, it is unforgivable banal and irrelevant.

    • Agreed! It’s disturbing how when people who are the target of racism speak out against it they are attacked and demeaned. I never understood the name choice and racism aside, what does chop suey have to do with music? I vote to change to the name.

      • But I am not upset about their reactions. I just think it is a waste of energy. Everyone has his/her biases about race, wealth, appearance, etc. and etc. and these biases will never go away.

      • @Tom:

        I bet you also find gender equality to be “a waste of energy” too. Everyone has his/her biases about gender and these biases will never go away, so it’s totally cool for some dude to be paid 30% more than your mother for performing the exact same job.

  9. I guess it is time to redo the interior of the historic 5th Ave theater as well as the American melting pot continues to separate. One word – doubleplusgood!

      • True. much of the interior decor at The 5th Avenue is slavishly reproduced in stunningly accurate detail from the original architecture found in several locations in The Forbidden City. To put it more bluntly, (per the theatre’s Wikipedia page): “The 5th Avenue Theatre ‘has been called the largest and most authentic example of traditional Chinese timber architecture and decoration outside of Asia.'” Although one might still argue it represents a form of cultural appropriation, it is nevertheless one based on a deeply abiding respect for Chinese cultural heritage and achievement. I seriously doubt anyone in their right mind would attempt to make a similar argument vis-a-vis Chop Suey.

    • Anyone who is a minority in this country, especially in a homogenously white population like seattle knows the concept of the melting pot is one of BS.

  10. They should just call it Chop. That’s what people shortened it to anyway, it evokes the old name without being blatantly racist, it’s short and catchy in that capitol hill hipster restaurant sort of way, and if they decide to get rid of their faux-asian decor, OHM Seattle Gallery & Events Space on 23rd and Olive would definitely pick up a dragon or two.

  11. This doesn’t strike me as inherently racist or mean spirited. But, if some people are offended it is worth considering changing it. I get a lot of this.

    But, where do we draw the line? Italians could take offense at the stereotypical Italian caricatures often used to sell pizzas (by non-Italians)? Should we change the logos if some Italians are offended?

    The John Oliver Video states it is racist for white people to wear Sombreros and drink on Cinco de Mayo (despite the fact that many Mexicans are as white as any European.) Maybe that is offensive, but is it offensive for non-Irish people to dress up like drunken leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day?

    Italians and Irish have a long history of discrimination that equals current discrimination against Hispanics and Asians. Conceivably “microaggression” against them are okay, because these formally marginalized groups have since largely assimilated into the dominant culture. But, who gets to decide when a group has sufficiently assimilated to the point where it is okay to make fun of them? Many older Italians still remember discrimination/marginalization.

    Will today’s immigrant groups ever be able to become part of the dominant culture at a time when “assimilation” is dirty word and multiculturalism/celebrating ethnicity is all the rage among the PC elite.

    I’m ¼ Native American, am I native American enough to still be off the culture? As a gay man, should anything I perceive as homophobic be changed to avoid offending me?

    In my liberal NE private college, we had a “redneck party” where we dressed up like stereotypical southern white trash. We may largely have been of the same race, but were not of the same culture. None of us were from the rural south. Some of us weren’t even white. We weren’t trying to be offensive, but it surely could be perceived as that. In PC world that focuses on racism, sexism and homophobia, how does this fit in? Are rural southern whites fair game like the Irish or are they a marginalized group? What about Jews or Evangelical Christians?

    Why is Book of Mormon (largely written, preformed and viewed by non-Mormons) lauded in the NY Times and among the urban elite? What gives non-Mormons the right to comment on Mormon culture?

    Is it okay to perform the old SNL skit “Appalachian Emergency Room” without non-Appalachian actors?

  12. Asian guy here. Never had a problem with the name or the kitchy decor. In fact, I’ve played there before. If it doesn’t change, I’m ok with it, if it does change, I’m ok with it. You know what I’m not ok with? People trying to tell someone who does have a problem with it that they’re too sensitive or to get over it. It makes you sound like an asshole.

    • And trying to bully business owners into changing a name/theme that was absolutely uncontroversial before this Panda dude decided to make a name for himself is totally upstanding behavior?

      • How is anything in that letter bullying? He is suggesting a name change and giving his reasons why. No name calling, no threats, just information about how the previous name makes him (and others) feel and little history in the name. The verbage in his whole piece is quite polite, actually.

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