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Lakeview Restaurant Focus of Controversy

IMG_1292Chop Chop Chinaman, a Chinese restaurant located in the Lakeview neighborhood, has come under scrutiny for its name, which some Chicagoans think is racist.

“It’s stupid, just stupid,” said Lakeview resident Zoe Faller. “I can’t say for sure the owners knew it would offend people, but I feel like at some point somebody should’ve said ‘Whoa, this doesn’t sound right, maybe we should go with a different name.’”

The restaurant’s owner declined to comment.

Anger over the name made national news as a result of a February incident where Chicago resident Jeannie Harrell, 26, used her red lipstick to write “F**k this hate crime s**t. It’s 2015,” on the restaurant’s front window. Harrel also drew an arrow pointing to the restaurant’s logo — a picture of a Chinese man dragging a rickshaw while wearing a triangular hat.

Harrell was charged with misdemeanor criminal damage to property.

While the name evokes strong emotions in some, others have a more measured approach.

“It seems slightly racist,” said Jon Torres, 25, a Chicago resident originally from Mexico. “But to me, it is really not that big of a deal.”

Torres said he believes the owners of Chop Chop Chinaman did not intend to offend anyone, but said maybe they should concede and change the name — “maybe just to Chop Chop,”

The word Chinaman has a complicated history in the lexicon of the English language, and, as Larry Lee, the restaurant’s owner, pointed out to the Chicago Tribune, the word is complicated even among Asians.

The complication has led to some public gaffes, perhaps most notably when the show Seinfeld in 1998 aired an episode titled “The Chinaman’s Nightcap” in reference to opium smoking. Many prominent Asian authors and activists protested the title of the episode and called for NBC and the producers of Seinfeld to apologize and remove the episode from the air. NBC did not apologize, but the producers altered the name of the episode when the show was re-aired.

Alex Prevolous, Faller’s boyfriend, said while he is not offended by the name, he can see how other would be.

“I’m 100 percent Greek,” Prevolous said. “I would not want there to be a restaurant in my neighborhood that is defamatory toward Greeks. So I get why people are upset.”

“It just didn’t sound right,” he said. “Like with other racial slurs, when I heard [Chop Chop Chinaman] I kind of cringed, but I thought ‘If this place is Chinese-owned, I guess it’s not up to me to decide if its offensive or not.’”

Faller though, said the racism reflected in the name does not fit in with the other more alternative business names of the neighborhood and said the name should be changed and the sign taken down.

Torres, though, saw how after all the publicity that will be a business decision for the restaurant.

“Do you think you are going to lose customers because they are offended by your restaurant’s name? Or, do you think your restaurant’s edgy name will bring in more business?”

In Torres’ case, the coverage gained the restaurant a customer.

“Well, now I got to try this place,” Torres said.

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