Have they run out of ways to insult Asians yet?

Photograph from A Day in the Life of Asian Pacific America by Cynthia Tom.

Let us count the ways. In the last year alone, there was Michael Derrick Hudson, that horrible meme of Darsh Singh, the Oscars, Emma Stone in Aloha, and many more that we’re forgetting at the moment. But now, the New Yorker has published Calvin Trillin’s poem “Have They Run Out Of Provinces Yet?”, which laments upon an uber-orientalized China from a patronizing white gaze:

“So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simple days of chow mein but no stress,
When we never were faced with the threat
Of more provinces we hadn’t met.”

Where to start? There is, of course, “the trend in poetry of nostalgia for a white planet that this poem perpetuates,” as a response in The Stranger calls it. While American cuisine is allowed to exist in all of its complexity (from Minnesotan Hot Dishes to Soul Food to Barbecue to New York Bagels), Asian cuisines have a long history of being clumped together as “Asian” and “fusion” food. It might seem that this poem breaks from this trend in highlighting the culinary traditions of different regions in China, but by depicting this as a source of “stress” or a “reason to fret,” it turns the diversity in Chinese cuisine into a negative.

Perhaps Trillin intended to poke fun at folks who are sick of all those soup dumplings (because let’s face it, who is ever sick of soup dumplings?!), but his irony falls flat–it feels tired and clichéd. What’s more, as Jenn Reappropriate so wittily points out, the irony itself suggests that our cuisines only exist to be “reprocessed” into “a foodie’s troublesome adversity,” as opposed to, you know, feed the people who call it comfort food? Our cuisines are not culinary tourism.

Calvin Trillin has since responded to the controversy in The Guardian, saying it “was simply a way of making fun of food-obsessed bourgeoisie” and that he’d similarly mocked French cuisine. Author Monique Truong, in a Facebook post, astutely pointed out, “In the U.S., French food and Chinese food do not have the same history, context or status because the French and the Chinese have never been treated the same by this country.”

The upside to this ill-advised attempt at poetry is that it has inspired a plethora of poetic responses from Asian Americans. Reappropriate.co has one entitled “Have They Run Out Of White Tears Yet?” and Angry Asian Man published one by Timothy Yu entitled “Have They Run Out Of White Poems Yet?” Luisa A. Igloria wrote “Have They Run Out of Tasteless White Yet?” in Via Negativa.

And so we’d like to present our (brief) anthology of “Have They Run Out Of Responses to Trillin Yet?” The answer is: NEVER.


Have They Run Out Of…

Pumpkin SpiceFranchisesWhite Poets


Also, read on for community responses. We’ll be updating them as they come in.

Have They Run Out Of Pumpkin Spice Yet?

By Eddie Huang

Originally Published on Twitter.

Have they run out of Pumpkin Spice yet?
If they haven’t we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just pumpkin pie.
But they coffee from Starbucks they drank,
Making our green teas strictly passé.
Lattes were the song that we sung,
Though the Pumpkin Spice burned through your tongue
Then home goods got in the loop,
we burned candles that smelled like Pilgrims’ eau
Then Cronuts, the creation of Ansel,
ruined the lives of interns from spring to Norfolk
Now as each new iteration appears,
It brings tension, increasing our fears:
Could a place we extolled as a find
Be revealed as a pumpkin behind?
From where do their spices hail?
Some factory straight out of hell
For surely it’s not from a pumpkin
Or China or the African continent.

Because we know what we brought and we know where it’s stored
Not on their shelves or “ethnic” wards
In the heart and the home where they can’t take our ways
Safe from Seamless and Calvin’s gaze,
All of our spices and provinces safe.

Have They Run Out Of Franchises Yet?

By Craig Santos Perez

Originally published on Facebook.

Have they run out of franchises yet?
If they haven’t, our health has reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just A & W.
(Long ago we were easy to seduce).
But then burgers from White Castle came,
Making A & W strictly passe.
Whiteness was the anthem that we sung,
Though the racism could burn through our tongue.
Then when McDonald’s got in the loop,
We scarfed Big Macs whose patties were goop.
Then DQ, the acronym for Dairy Queen,
Came along with its curled, soft-serve ice cream.
So we thought they were done, and then
A new franchise arrived: Burger King.
Then nutrition was a fraction of meagre
For those eaters who had eaten Carl’s Jr.
And then Wendy’s and KFC gained fame,
Plus some others–too many to name.

Now, as each brand-name franchise appears,
It brings diabetes, increasing our fears:
Could the America extolled as our destiny
Be revealed as a franchise of cruelty?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simples days of white bread but no sickness,
When we never were faced with the threat,
of more settler foods we hadn’t met.
Is there one tucked away in Monsanto?
Will they soon be serving fast GMOs?

Disclaimer: Contains strong language.

Have They Run Out of White Poets Yet?

By Franny Choi

Originally published on Franny Choi’s website.

Have they run out of white poets yet?
If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret.
Long ago, there was just Billy Shakes –
other white people’s stories he’d take.
But then Ezra looked toward the East
to spice up his post-War can of meat,
said he wanted to bridge East and West
(but it’s shoddy translation, at best).
And then Kenny Rexroth got prize winnings
for translations of Japanese women.
But surprise! It was all a big game
for ol’ Ken to get unearned acclaim.
Then Araki-so-called-Yasasuda
turned out to be Johnson, and you’da
thought that that’d be the end of the story,
but more white poets wanted more glory.
M.D.H. couldn’t get his poems placed,
so he took on Ms. Yi-Fen Chou’s face.
(Not to mention Vanessa and Kenneth –
among recent fuck-ups, they’re the zenith.)

Now along bumbles – what’s his name? Trillin?
Figured it’d been a while, so he’d fill in
for the other old crusty white croutons
who ran out of nice flowers to muse on.
To be fair, Calvin didn’t pretend
to be aught but himself: a sad send-
up of Dr. Seuss decked in his finest
anti-Asian regalia, minus
any interest in speaking to those
who don’t share his tax bracket or clothes.
We thought after Yi-Fen we’d be set
with this shit but I’m willing to bet
soon we’ll find one we still haven’t met.
Have they run out of white poets yet?

If you’ve got your own poetic response, please link to it, or write it, in the comments. If you want to submit it to us for consideration in our anthology, please email apac@si.edu. What do you wish they had run out of? Let us know on Twitter #HaveTheyRunOutOf.

Community Responses

Have They Run Out of Regret?

By Nancy Yao Maasbach

Have they run out of regret?
If not, I really do fret.
Long ago, there were unjust reasons.
(Long ago, there were also treasons.)
But then the exclusion was repealed,
Making prejudice with zero zeal,
Melting pots was the meal du jour,
Thought my identity seemed no more.
Then when Yao Ming hit the basketball floor
My surname pronounced with knowledge and lore.
Then Lucy, the femme of the future,
Came along with her own sense of allure.
So we thought we were finished, and then
Chris Rock presents our “only” Oscar men

At least our food is respected we said,
They all seem to choose it over white bread.
But then we realize we can change our lot,
To be a part of a vibrant mosaic not melting pot.

Now, as each joke continues to sear,
It’s time to call for a stop to the jeers
Could a place we call home revert?
Be revealed as a land of jerks?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
To have clarity at its best,
When we knew we were hated, considered a threat
Instead of this crap of subtleness met.
Is there room for Calvin Trillin’s bull?
Has my country remained provincial?