DC’s Union Market apologizes for anti-Asian newsletter

The developer and landlord of D.C.’s Union Market — Edens — is apologizing for a promotional newsletter that raised some eyebrows in the District’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

“The title of the newsletter was ‘me love you oolong time,'” said Moon Rabbit executive chef Kevin Tien. “I guess they’re just trying to create a pun to support a business, but the pun they used actually has a lot of racist implications to it.”

The phrase is a take on the line, “Me love you long time,” from the 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket,” spoken by a Vietnamese sex worker propositioning an American soldier.

“It dehumanizes women, AAPI women specifically, and there’s an issue of fetishizing Asian women, viewing them as objects, as less than a person,” Tien said.

Tien is also the co-founder of Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, a D.C.-based national organization dedicated to spreading awareness about violence and racism experienced by the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, and raised funds in support of victims, organizations and other social justice issues that support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

He first learned of the Edens newsletter from his colleague Erik Bruner-Yang, the chef at Maketto in Union Market, who sent it in a chat to a group of Asian American chefs.

“To see Union Market, who’s normally a leader in building communities, use this language in their newsletter was appalling, shocking and little unbelievable,” Tien said.

As word of the newsletter circulated, the chefs and other community members sent emails and telephoned Edens, requesting an apology. Tien said they all got what he described as boilerplate, generic apologies.

More than a week after the newsletter came out, Tien and Bruner-Yang said they were not feeling any acknowledgment of what happened and its impact on the community, so they decided to launch an online petition.

“Because if one person says something, it’s easy to ignore, but if our community banded together and said this is a concern for everybody, we felt like Edens would recognize that and take the appropriate actions,” Tien said.

In addition to a formal public apology to acknowledge the offensive language, the petition also requested a meeting between Edens CEO Jodi W. McLean and the developer’s D.C.-based Asian American and Pacific Islander tenants “to form a better relationship and understanding of Edens’ impact within the AAPI community.”

The third petition request is for an Asian American and Pacific Islander employee resource center “that is staff-driven and dedicated to supporting and advocating on behalf of all Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander employees with Edens.”

The petition launched Wednesday night. By Thursday evening, it had garnered more than 1,200 signatures, and Edens had taken note. The developer has released a statement on Instagram, which reads in part:

“Your concerns about offensive marketing language that was used in our last Field Report newsletter have been heard, and we are deeply sorry. While it was not our intention to offend anyone, we are clear that intent does not matter in this situation. 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 continued with action items to be taken by the Edens team, including mandatory implicit bias training, cultural sensitivity training on inclusive language and communications and an investment in a public campaign to raise awareness of AAPI issues.

Tien said McLean has also scheduled a meeting with Union Market’s Asian American and Pacific Islander tenants and their community, as requested in the petition.

“I think everyone’s aware that change can never be made overnight,” Tien said. “But as long as everyone’s taking the steps to create the change, that’s all we’re asking for.”

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