AAJA-Philadelphia takes issue with restaurant review’s reference to “exotic,” “almond-eyed waitress”

UPDATE: Lillian Swanson, the editor in chief of Philadelphia City Paper, has responded to AAJA-Philadelphia’s request and has removed an offensive reference from the online version of the story. In an email to the Philly Chapter, Swanson said: “Ironically, one of our goals in tackling this cover story was to make ethnic restaurants in Northeast Philly more accessible across cultures. I hope you found the rest of the package, detailing the different foods at five restaurants, to be informative and inclusive.”

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Dear Philadelphia City Paper:
In your recent cover story “Five Hidden Culinary Gems in the Northeast”, the article “Exotic Flavors at Uzbekistan Restaurant” includes the following sentence: “The flavors at Uzbekistan are exotic, much like the almond-eyed waitresses who serve you.”

We find this sentence unacceptable and offensive, as it perpetuates longstanding racial stereotypes about Asian women in the following ways:

  1. Describing these waitresses as “exotic” evokes the narrative of the “Asian fetish,” where Asian women are depicted as sexy and servile objects of desire.
  2. Describing them as “almond-eyed” conjures up the image of Asians and Asian Americans as having “slanty” eyes, which further brings up condescending stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. Further, describing the “almond-eyed waitresses” as “exotic” quite literally exoticizes these women and perpetuates the stereotype that Asians and Asian Americans are different from mainstream society, that they are “the other.” When, in fact, Asian Americans, who make up almost 7 percent of Philadelphia, are just as much a part of this city as any other demographic.
  3. Comparing “almond-eyed waitresses” to flavors and food objectifies and further dehumanizes these women.

As part of the Asian American Journalists Association, we strive for fair and accurate coverage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and issues that affect them. We understand that cliches like these can seem innocuous and part of everyday speech, but that’s exactly what makes them harmful. We believe that it is the duty of all reporters to overturn stereotypes rather than to perpetuate them.

Yowei Shaw, Juliana Reyes, Julie Shaw and Rikki Massand
Board Members,  Philadelphia Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association