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Is it racist to speak of "Asian food"?

From TRAVELBOOK | January 12, 2020, 2:37 pm

Is it racist to speak of “Asian food” when you only mean Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese food? We asked a person who should know.

Editor's note: This article first appeared on noizz.de

There is little that people react more violently than to the sentence "What you just said is racist". Sure, who still wants to be called a racist these days - especially when he or she sees himself or herself as open and tolerant. Perhaps that is why the reactions were so violent when I asked my friends for the first time: “Isn't it actually racist to say that you go to the 'Asian'? 'Asia' is not a country. "

Boom !, there it was, the racism bomb. I immediately got a lot of arguments to prove why this everyday expression is not problematic. But there was a little problem with it: the arguments never came from people who are discriminated against by the term.

So I asked someone who should know the answer to my question: Vicky Truong. Vicky not only has roots in Vietnam, China and Thailand. The 30-year-old is also an activist against racism and also works as a cook. So who better to answer my question about mixing racism and food?

"The phrase 'Asian food' is a form of racism"

Your answer to the question of whether you can say you go to the “Asian” is clear: “The expression 'Asian food' is a form of racism,” she says. “A lot of people think that racism just means shouting insults at someone because of their origins. But expressions that suggest the supposed superiority of one group of people over another are also racist - and 'Asian food' is one of them. I know the statement is daring. And I also know that many will be angry about it. "

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But not everyone who talks about “Asian food” also consciously has racist ulterior motives. "Anyone who uses the term simply shows that he or she has no intention of recognizing and differentiating the various Asian cultures as such, but literally lumps them all together."

Why are there restaurants that call themselves "Asian snack bars"?

“But”, some people now shout out, “there are many restaurants that call themselves 'Asian snack bars', then I am allowed to do that too!” But the question is whether you still have the “Asian snack bars” want to call them that, if you know why they are called that.

Vicky explains, “There are a lot of restaurants or eateries that mix and sell food from different Asian countries - simply because the market demands it. The reason why there are so many of these mixed 'Asian snacks' is because of history. When, for example, many first-generation Vietnamese immigrated to Germany in the 1970s, the prejudice was already prevalent about Asia as a homogeneous continent - about 'Asians as a race'. In order to survive, the people who opened a snack here had to adapt to this prejudice. ”So why only cook dishes from their own country when Germans neither notice nor appreciate the difference and you can earn more money with other dishes?

And not only that: The newcomers, including many people who fled as a result of the Vietnam War, did not have the time, the money and the logistical possibilities to buy the right ingredients for their national dishes. So they had to come to terms with the circumstances and bow to the demand that existed in Germany: “Asian food”.

Best seller sushi

The best example of the financial pressure under which restaurants are giving up their individual food culture is sushi. "On German streets you can see a lot of Vietnamese restaurants that offer sushi - actually a Japanese dish," says Vicky. This is because sushi is very popular, Germans are willing to pay more for it. Out of the history of colonialism, it has developed in such a way that Japanese food is considered to be of higher quality than food from other Asian countries. The fact that this colonialist prejudice still prevails in people's minds can be seen in how many more Germans are willing to pay for sushi than, for example, Thai food - and how much this shapes the menus of the snack bars. "

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Let me guess - you are still not convinced and you are now thinking: “But the migrants from the Asian countries could have defended themselves. You could have said: 'We're not just Asians'. "

No place for protests

But that is not true either: "Just because of German as a new, unknown language, it was difficult for the first generation of immigrants in Germany to defend themselves against prejudices and injustices," explains Vicky. “And the time and financial pressure they were under also left no room for protests. Of course, they were also grateful for the new start in Germany and didn't want to attract attention straight away by complaining. ”The prejudice of Asians that“ everyone is the same ”and eat the same thing was solidified by the fact that the circumstances prevented that immigrants protested against them. The condition from then remained as it was - today the "Asian snack bars" are still there.

But now many of the families who immigrated back then are already in the second or third generation in Germany - why don't they just change the menu? "Nowadays there is the same financial pressure as it was back then: the fact that nothing has changed in the Germans' desire for 'Asian food' means that the snack bars still need a mixed menu to survive," says Vicky. “This is also because, for example, with Thai and Vietnamese food, there is an expectation that it is cheap. The well-known solution: also offer sushi so that the shop continues to run. ”For that to change, the will of the white majority society in Germany is needed.

Vicky's family itself is living proof of the diversity of Asian cultures: all four of her grandparents come from Guangdong Province in China, but emigrated. The maternal family to Thailand, her father's to Vietnam. Your parents were born into Chinese households in Thailand or Vietnam. The two only met when they emigrated to Australia. Her scattered roots not only show Vicky how much different Asian cultures differ. They also enable them to use these differences and celebrate them in the form of food.

Look to China

Incidentally, not simply calling the various Asian cuisines “Asian food” is only fair. Because if you look at China, they don't simply call German cuisine “European” cuisine at the same time as Italian, says Vicky. The various dishes, such as the simple schnitzel, would simply be named there. This also shows again who is racism against - and against whom not. Namely western societies.

For everyone who is still of the opinion that everything is exaggerated, in Germany you shouldn't say ANYTHING - for him Vicky still has a message: “It's not that you are not allowed to say anything anymore - you can say almost everything . The only question is whether you want to say something that will keep racism alive. Whether you want to be responsible for what you're saying - and whether you even understand what you're giving of yourself. Or would you prefer to throw the existing situation overboard? "

This can sometimes start with small sentences. Or in the case of “let's eat at the Asian” - little sentences that you don't say anymore.

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