In Chicago, a 26 year old woman vandalized a Chinese restaurant because she was offended.
…At the root of the matter is one word: “Chinaman” — a word that, depending on whom you ask, is a slur, or just a catchy name for a newly opened Chinese restaurant, in this instance Chop Chop Chinaman.
For Larry Lee, who is 46 and three-quarters Chinese (his mother is Chinese Italian), the word is ingrained in his vocabulary. His father owned a number of restaurants, including three called Mr. Chop Suey, in the ’80s and ’90s. Lee remembers the word “Chinaman” being tossed around with chummy affectation.
And in a restaurant landscape littered with “bamboo,” “jade gardens” and “palaces,” Chop Chop Chinaman surely stood out.
26-year-old Jeannie Harrell, who works in the book publishing industry and has no previous criminal history. She lives a few blocks from the restaurant and spotted the sign when she was walking home.
“I thought, ‘Who thought this was a good idea?'” said Harrell, who is half-Japanese and was raised in Tokyo. “What business would want that kind of attention, and why would they want to make our neighborhood look that way?”
The word long had a neutral to pejorative connotation, used in popular idioms (“a Chinaman’s chance”) to points of geography (the Hawaiian islet Chinaman’s Hat).
But in time, said Northwestern University’s Andrew Leong, political activism and the rise of Asian American literature pushed words such as Chinaman and Oriental out of favor.
“I can imagine people the 1940s and ’50s using that word without being offensive,” said Leong, an assistant professor of Asian languages and cultures and English. “But in the ’70s there was an awareness of the historical ill use of that word, and that was a real consciousness shift.”
For Harrell, by Feb. 17 she’d had enough. She wanted to vandalize Chop Chop Chinaman, she tweeted at 5:46 p.m., but “only have nice NARS lipstick to write with.”
Ah, she wanted the world to applaud her righteous indignation.
Inside the restaurant, Lee was tending to business when a server called him over. A woman was scrawling on the window. Lee said that as the woman walked away, she looked at him, her hand raised and clenched but for one finger.
The message was an arrow pointed to the restaurant logo, a man wearing wooden sandals and a coolie hat pulling a rickshaw. In crimson lipstick it declared the name a “hate crime,” dropping an F-bomb for emphasis.
When a friend asked whether she had photographic evidence, Harrell tweeted back: “Not wise to return to scene of crime but oh well.” She posted a picture of the lipsticked window.
Lee called police.
If not for Twitter, the case might have remained unsolved and forgotten.
So her ego got her caught, arrested in her pajamas, cuffed, printed and kept in stir until 2:30 am. She’s now facing criminal charges as well as a lawsuit for civil damages.
No doubt, some of her ilk will deem her a political prisoner.