When Maketto chef Erik Bruner-Yang first saw the subject line of a recent Union Market District email newsletter, he immediately sent it to a group chat of other Asian American chefs. None of them could believe it was real.
“Love you oolong time” reads the email’s subject line from Edens, a major developer and landlord of Union Market. The play on “me love you long time” is a well-known racist phrase which originated from the 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket,” in which a Vietnamese sex worker solicits an American soldier. The phrase is often used to belittle Asian people and contributes to fetishization of Asian and Asian American women.
“For me, personally, it was really upsetting because my wife owns a bubble tea shop,” says Bruner-Yang. “This is like a phrase that is weaponized against my mom, who’s an immigrant. Asian women in my life have been catcalled this phrase for as long as I can remember.”
Bruner-Yang—along with Moon Rabbit chef and co-founder of Chefs Against AAPI Hate Kevin Tien—started a petition in response. Since launching last night, it’s amassed over 1,000 signatures, and other prominent chefs such as Anju’s Danny Lee are supporting the cause. Bruner-Yang and Tien say they took action after growing frustrated with Edens’ response to repeated emails and phone calls from them and several other community members, including AAPI business owners in Union Market. Tien says Edens already has a complicated relationship with the AAPI community due to displacement of minority-owned businesses amid the development of Union Market.
“I think this is an opportunity for them to educate people about this phrase, and at the same time, an opportunity to have a good understanding of how they impact the AAPI community, not just through their words, but their development as people’s landlords and as a member of this community,” Tien says.
Before the petition, everyone who expressed concern received the same “boilerplate” apology, Bruner-Yang and Tien say, and Edens did not immediately make a public apology. But after the petition began racking up signatures (and after this reporter reached out), Edens released a wider-reaching statement.
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“We agree that every mistake is an opportunity to be better than we were before by recognizing our blind spots and taking immediate steps to learn more about anti-Asian hate and issues that affect the AAPI community,” the statement says in part.
A representative from Edens told Washingtonian they have nothing more to add to the statement.
Aside from a formal public apology acknowledging the email’s harmful language, the petition calls on Edens to create an employee resource center dedicated to supporting and advocating for Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander employees. The campaign also asks for the CEO of Edens, Jodie McLean, to meet with Edens’ DC-based AAPI tenants and other local leaders in the AAPI community. The apology from Edens says the company will institute mandatory implicit bias training, cultural sensitivity training, and marketing review protocols. Edens says it will also invest in a public campaign to raise awareness of AAPI issues and advocacy groups.
Bruner-Yang says he’s glad the apology was made and hopes to assist Edens in following through on their promises, but he hopes Edens will consider the other two asks from the petition.