A Rap Battle With The New Yorker’s Calvin Trillin

In the April 4, 2016 issue of the New Yorker, venerable (that means “nobody tells him what he’s doing is a bad idea anymore”) humorist Calvin Trillin published a poem called “Have They Run Out Of Provinces Yet,” bemoaning the oppressive variety of Chinese food. Authors Karissa Chen, Celeste Ng, and Beth Nguyen joined forces for an epic poetic response, which Chen describes as “in the style of a rap battle, inspired by Hamilton.” Trillin, we see your racist doggerel and raise you this.

***

The World Is Our Oyster/Sauce

Calvin, that was a real nice poem
But our response is a big effing NO. We’re
sorry, but this piece is total trash
and racial insensitivity is a real pain in the ass.

A Chinese lesson from an 80-year-old-white guy?
Hey, New Yorker, that was a good try.
You were aiming for funny, some kind of satire — 
What you got instead was a big ol’ quagmire.

Maybe you didn’t really think China was yours to Columbus.
Maybe you thought this was a bit of social justice?
But taking down hipsters at the expense of others is crazy.
Your intent might’ve been good, but the execution’s lazy.

Your cliches of Chinese food are extensive and offensive.
Let us tell you the truth — now don’t get defensive:
You act like Chinese food’s here for your own edification.
Damn right, that’s an accusation.
Let us explicate our frustrations:

We didn’t make this for you, not our stinky tofu
Or the soup dumplings you can’t seem to eat without a spoon
Or the noodles our mothers make whenever we catch a cold.
Are you feeling us yet? We’re not yours to control.
We didn’t make dim sum so you could think it’s exotic,
Don’t give a shit if you think eating chicken feet is totally psychotic.
You think congee is weird? That it’s bold to eat Peking Duck?
Stick to cashew chicken because we don’t give a fuck.
Yeah, there’s good Chinese food from every province
But it’s not there for you to mock or practice intolerance.
We’re not a tool for your humor, not some literary prop.
We’re real people, with real stories, not your personal backdrop.

Another thing, Mr. Chinese Food Expert:
Don’t lecture us, or try to tell us we don’t get it.
We know a satire when it’s actually smart.
But your defense is — what’s the Chinese word?
Oh — “horse fart.”

“You’re overreacting; it’s a parody,
You Asians really aren’t being fair to me!”
We’ve got news for you, my food critic friend:
There’s a lot more to Chinese food than chasing superficial trends.

While you were trying to make fun of foodie bourgeoise
You were perpetuating stereotypes of Asians egregiously.
“Increasing our fears”? “Simple days of Chow mein”? All
Offensive and outdated. Can you say “Yellow Peril”?

You keep saying “we” ’cause you think Asians are “they.”
When are you going to realize that racism works just that way?
You say you want a simpler time, but what you really mean
Is you want the people who feed and clothe you just not to be seen.

Maybe you think we should just stay silent — is that what you wish?
Just give a smile and explain the menu in broken English?
See, the problem with you is you think the world’s your buffet:
Everything for the taking because you never had it another way.

If you assume all Chinese food only aims to please
but you still think those people overseas are coming to seize
your jobs, your country, your American freedom
Then go back to your meatloaf, your jello salads — 
Believe me, we don’t need ‘em.

You think laughing at Asians and Europeans is all the same?
Learn about power and history, instead of hiding behind your name.
You see us as weak, but we’re getting bolder. If you don’t want to face it, your loss
Because here and now the world is our oyster sauce.

***

All images public domain

Like what you read? Give Karissa Chen a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.

Responses
The author has chosen not to show responses on this story. You can still respond by clicking the response bubble.