Chop Suey Font

Oh if I had a dollar for every time I have seen ads promoting me with racist caricatures, fonts or descriptions – I would have many, many, many dollars, flying off me like lettuce leaves that you could roll up some rice and dried shrimp and chili paste in. The first time was when I was about 16 or 17, on a wall of hastily pinned up notices for upcoming shows. My name blazed in big bright letters in the Chop Suey font, pointy, sword shaped lines to create words, familiar from Chinese restaurants and pretty much anything of Asian origin repackaged and sold everywhere that is not Asia.

Under my name, which was tremendously exciting to see in print, way back then, no matter what font it was in, was a small caricature of a coolie, in a rice paddy hat, with bucked teeth and holding chopsticks, rice spilling out everywhere. The futility of rice eaten with chopsticks – this has never made sense to me. It’s very hard to pick up these tiny pieces of food with sticks. I haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. I am not sure I will ever, if I haven’t by now.

The description of the show continued in smaller typeface which still had an ‘Oriental’ flavor, but was not as boldly racist as the Chop Suey font. It said, “proof that that the Chinese are no laughing matter!” and this was wrong for a number of reasons. If we are no laughing matter, then that is not the function of a comedy show, which is ostensibly all about laughing matters. That was the statement that bothered me the most. I would like to be a laughing matter, no matter what.

Also, I am not Chinese, well, not really. I am of Korean descent, and it was recently discovered through very complex DNA testing that I am actually Chinese. But the people who put this ad together would not have known that. I didn’t even know that until about a month ago. All this time I thought I was Korean, but my genealogical profile states that my DNA is Chinese, so this proves that we are all the same inside, we just have different sauces.

There’s the racist caricature, which went beyond the bounds of any kind of reason or taste. He’s a man, not even a woman. He’s got a long braid and glasses. I have neither. His image is taken from the railroad workers who came to America to build the rails in the 1800s, as then he must have looked as mysterious and foreign as anyone could be, in that day and age.

It was all fairly awful, extremely racist and disturbing, but I remember still being pleased. Seeing my name up there took the sting of all the other insults away. The fact that I would be on the stage that particular night, that my performance would contradict and control the messages sent – it made up for it, at least to me. I thought I would correct it in the telling, that the people would come for one thing and leave with something else. The show didn’t turn out like that, as they never are what you think they are going to be. It wasn’t a good night, but early on, there weren’t lots of good nights. Everything is much better now, except for the fonts!

I am doing a show soon at Cornell University, which is exciting, and the advertising for it originally used the chop suey font to spell out my name. I guess I am numb to it, but I don’t feel anything when I see it anymore. I am so used to having things this way, the way it’s always been, accepting and swallowing racism down without argument or splatter. I am not sure what to do when this type of ignorance is fought against. The poster was written on, telling everyone off and circling the sword like letters “this font is not ok”. I appreciate the effort that someone has gone to on my behalf, and for the Asian American students on campus who don’t need to be bombarded with racist imagery. It makes me think that things are changing for the better, and I think that anger is a great tool to make wrongs right. I realize how many times I have let stuff like this go, because it’s happened more than I like to admit. In the constancy of my racial awareness, I have been worn down, the grooves in me low and smooth. I leap into rage whenever women’s bodies are scrutinized negatively but I am slow to defend my ethnicity and my queerness. I am only one person. I cannot fight all these battles myself. I need an army.

15 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. Very good Margaret, the stereotype goes on to all races, it does wear one down after time. For me, being called a dumb polak in grade school up thru older years, believe me, gave me much grief. As for the chop suey type, it is I guess a fancy way to portray oriental cuisine and such, but have no fear, it goes on in the far east countries from what I saw when stationed overseas. I been 9 years in asia, Japan, Philippines and Korea, I guess it is what you call marketing aka advertising.
    Beyond that, peace and have a good show up there in Cornell. 😉

  2. Don’t let it get to you- I am an audio engineer for spanish hip hop/rap and I am the palest, gayest thing to come outta the south in a while. Though I am a Burqueno for the last 10 yrs (Albuquerque person) I’m not Mexican, I don’t have a dick (on me lol) and I don’t speak spanish. If people could put me in a press pack using a font constructed of tiny jim beam bottles and rebel flags they probably would. As it is I hear things like “you’re the most Mexican white girl ever!” As if I’ve done some amazing TRICK by just existing and being myself.
    BUT… 90% of the people who obliviously insult me for being white actually mean well. That’s the important thing to remember. So wear your font- you’re popular enuff to do it ironically just as, on a small scale, I wear my own skin ironically.
    Your work is awesome btw- keep it up (figurative) balls out!!

  3. Margaret, I too could never the F figure out how to eat rice with either chopsticks or a fork until one of my friends from China taught me to leave the rice in that little rice bowl they serve it in, hold the bowl in one hand close to your lower lip, and sort of shovel the rice into your mouth with the chop sticks in your other hand. Since then I never spill — nor waste — a grain.

    Hard to believe you still get the LaChoy dinner typeface. Jebus-Funk that’s astoundingly stupid. My last ex before I became a monk was Asian, so I am I hope a somewhat sensitized Caucasian on this topic. “Rice queen” generalizations and “the other white meat” jokes were not so ubiquitous in our faces, but he was once teased at the old Sound Factory in NYC by a large and shady homeboy referring to him as “Connie Chung.” He shot right back “Al Roker says what?” Nobody’s proudest moment, but good non-pc fun I guess.

  4. What about the Bayer aspirin commercial where a white passenger tries to make an Asian flight attendant understand that he has chest pains (?) and needs something for it. She gives him Bayer aspirin. He mimes that it is for his chest(taps chest), not for a headache (taps head). Attendant tells him, in English, that aspirin is good for that pain also. Am I wrong?

  5. I’ve just recently started reading your blog, and I’ve read some of of your older entries. I think it’s really great. There are some aspects of your childhood and teenage-years that I can relate to. There are things you went through that I’m going through now. Escpecially when I read “See U Next Tuesday You Monster” yesterday, which you wrote last month. You described your fear of getting close to somebody because of the rejection and insecurity you experienced during your childhood. Also when you said that if you text somebody, even if it isn’t romantic at all, you freak out when they don’t reply. I could relate to that post in so many ways.

    Your blog is really great and I’m surprised that I didn’t know about it till yesterday, lol.

  6. I would join your army in a hummingbirds heartbeat. I’d be fierce and loyal and sexy! It would be an army on motorcycles with tattoo beauty, rolling and laughing! Let’s do it. That was fun.

  7. beautiful margaret. beyond a silly t-shirt claiming “legalize gay” as queerness sharing space with an unwelcome guest as racist, junky pedophile — i am SICK OF IT. with recent commentary from washington with negative asian stereotypes apart from the young man in florida who was stalked in a neighborhood and then shot in cold blood….as someone who has had a stalker/stocker in my life while gay people stood silent — I AM SICK of these unwelcome homophobic people and equally sick of tired stereotypes being used on my dime, my sweat, my labor, my skills, my knowledge… this day and age, it’s PATHETIC…..just as the only TV dinner i’d want to have is one in a dress….as don’t mess with texas, but texas in my life is a MESS not in a dress but carrying such an homophobic atmosphere of a junky pedophile of illness, it amazes me that people have observed such irreverent, inhumane, and ignorant garbage for so long. thank you for this lovely piece as i’m not doing much online shopping any longer — just as someone who said they were going to get off their ass, should get off their ass and go. this showcase of cultural intolerance and squatting in other people’s lives while being so increasingly unproductive but merely embittered is not good at all. have a lovely day.

  8. 2 queer grrl fans here in Ithaca ready to be in your army! Not part of the ivy machine on the hill, but thrilled you are coming to our tiny I-town. Like the bumper sticker says, \Ithaca, NY…10 square miles surrounded by reality!\ We’re trying to get tix for the show but not sure if we’ll be able. If your staying in town at all, stop by the Piggery and I’ll serve you up some awesome, pasture raised, pork products, no chopsticks required 🙂

  9. The important thing to note here is that the Cornell poster was first APPROVED by Margaret Cho’s management. In fact, out of many designs originally submitted, the ones with the chop suey font were among the very few approved. Hm.

  10. I don’t understand this. I’m Chinese and don’t find the font offensive at all. It’s a typeface. I like the font.

  11. I understand Margaret. Also, just please know that you are not fighting alone. I am queer and I (and of course many others) may not be fighting publicly; but we are definitely having to fight our so-called “families” and “friends” and all those who feel they epitomize some idea of what America and its citizens should be like. I have to fight insults and harrassment each and every day from “family” members who are *SURE* that if I were a “decent, upstanding person” I would have the same family structure and the same choices as they do. Just because to model their lives after the things/choices that are positively reinforced by the mainstream, and the things that are easiest to come by, and not intimidating to the people in power/majority, they feel that I am some kind of outsider, and that they are worthy to sit in judgment of me and my choices. And I’m sure I don’t have to begin to tell you how “moral” these people are. I won’t get started. I will let you use your imagination. Just please know you are not fighting alone and that the issues you constantly discuss are the things that are CONSTANTLY on my mind, and the minds of all others who experience bogus judgments by the mainstream. We have to live with this in our heads every day. I can’t tell you how good it feels to hear you speak to us and accept us, stick up for us, and tell the TRUTH. Even if some people aren’t listening. I LOVE YOU!!! I can’t wait to see you on 10/5/12 in Cleveland 🙂 XO Mara

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