Bao Phi

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has appeared on HBO Presents Russell Simmons Def Poetry, and a poem of his appeared in the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. Read more about Bao Phi.

Doggone

Posted by: Bao Phi under Society, Education and literacy, Politics Updated: December 20, 2011 - 8:31 AM

 My family and I were among the first wave of Vietnamese refugees to come to this country, and the State of Minnesota, in 1975.  Among the many stereotypes we endured from non-Asians was that we ate dogs and cats – there was an article printed in a local paper on how we were kidnapping pets and eating them.  I was in grade school when a young white classmate randomly decided to tell my entire class that she believed Asians ate dogs, and I remember she wrinkled her nose in disgust as all the other white and brown kids murmured.  I remember several of them looking at me and some of the other Asians in class.  Good thing she’s not talking about me, I thought naively.


Of course she was talking about me, though if she had asked me, she would learn that my family had a dog and cat that we loved as pets.  All of us kids cried for days when they died of old age many years later.  Of course she was talking about me, though I don’t have a doubt that if we were less fortunate in escaping Vietnam, and had to endure the starvation of the late 70’s, I am sure my family would have been lucky to eat a cat or dog if we could find one.  And that would have absolutely nothing to do with race or culture.

 

Years later, as a young adult, I see that the local restaurant Chino Latino plastered billboards all over town with signs that read “As Exotic as You Can Get Without Eating Dogs,” an “edgy” campaign that won national awards.  One man’s edgy is another man’s racism, I guess.   Professor Cathy Choy writes about seeing one of their billboards in her excellent essay, Salvaging the Savage: On Representing Filipinos and Remembering American Empire (Screaming Monkeys, Coffee House Press, 2003), and delves into the colonial roots of these racist beliefs.  At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Filipinos were on display as if they were specimens in a human zoo, and newspaper accounts highlighted their dogeating rituals in a sensationalist attempt to sell tickets, banking on American disgust at Filipino “savagery.” 


It’s been theorized that the name “hot dog”, for the popular wiener-in-a-bun that has become a staple at ballgames and picnics, actually came about because of the sensationalist depiction of Filipinos at the World’s Fair – and opportunistic food vendors there.   Digging deeper, I find out that Europeans such as the Germans and the French have also eaten dogs as a part of their history and culture – and yet no one goes around accusing the French and Germans of eating Fido. 

 

I was disappointed, but honestly not surprised, when WCCO ran an investigative report by James Schugel about a New York City market owned by Asians sold Minnesota-bred dogs as meat.  A call was made, and allegedly, the first question that was asked to the market worker was whether or not he spoke English well.  His answer was, “no.”

 

Now, as others have pointed out, a responsible journalist would have, at that point, asked the person to spell things out.  Instead, the journalist asked if they sold dog meat for people to eat.  The person, who thought he said “duck”, said yes.

 

Relying on a simple exchange with one worker who’s grasp of English was shaky at best, WCCO ran the story.  It has since been pulled, but questions remain about how a story like this would make it on air without fact-checking, among other things.  The market in New York was raided, but of course, they found no dog meat, just duck.

 

Community groups such as Community Action Against Racism and Asian American Journalists Association have asked for an apology and an explanation.  While WCCO did meet with AAJA, that meeting is confidential - WCCO has not responded to community inquiries.  This is especially curious, as the story they decided to ran was loaded with racial stereotypes, ended up being completely false, and was damaging to people's livelihoods.  Sure, everyone makes mistakes – but usually the decent thing is, you apologize and explain yourself, especially if your recklessness has caused undue harm to another person – and I hope I’m not alone in thinking this, but especially if you let racist sensationalism over-ride process and professionalism, not to mention common sense, and hurt a business and an entire group of people with your actions.

 

What few people are talking about, is the effect of this article on the Asians who work and own the market in New York.  Even though they obviously did not find dog meat, few seem to understand or empathize with the humiliation and shame that happens when a raid happens, what effect that can have on your psyche and your livelihood.

 

“This is just one example of how stereotypes of whole communities of color are perpetuated by the media,” remarks Margie Andreason, community activist and member of CAAR.  “It’s a privilege for white folks to not have to think about the impact  stories like these influence perceptions of neighbors, colleagues, teachers, and policymakers. All mainstream media cares about is a sensational story, even if it is based on a bias from the start and then leads to being untrue.”

 

Community members still seek an apology and explanation from WCCO.  Read more about it here:

 

http://communityactionagainstracism.wordpress.com/action-to-address-wcco-story/

 

Thanks to Juliana Hu Pegues, Margie Andreason, and Boa Lee for contributing to this essay

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