A food delivery service started by two UCLA students has been temporarily discontinued after its name was publicly criticized by a state assemblyman and a coalition of UCLA student groups.
The name of the business, Ching-Chong-Ling-Long Gourmet Takeout, was intended to be a humorous way of appealing to UCLA students, said Daniel Chen, who founded the delivery service with fellow student Kedar Iyer. The phrase is a reference to a YouTube video filmed by former UCLA student Alexandra Wallace that prompted widespread outcry and death threats against Wallace.
In the video, Wallace imitates Asian languages with the phrase “Ching chong ling long ting tong.”
“We were thinking of names, and we thought the reference would be funny. I viewed the whole Alexandra Wallace incident in a humorous light,” said Chen, a third-year biology student. “I mean, I didn’t appreciate what she said, but most statements about racial stereotypes are meant to be jokes.”
But Assemblyman Mike Eng of Monterey Park found the name anything but funny.
California has a long history of jingoism against Chinese Americans, and mocking the Asian way of speaking is insensitive to those who have suffered discrimination, said Eng, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law.
After receiving multiple complaints about the name from his constituents, Eng sent a letter to Chancellor Gene Block expressing his concerns.
“Stereotypical phrases such as these perpetuate misunderstandings about Asian Americans and intensify hurtful sentiments toward this community,” Eng said in the letter.
Chen said he understands Eng’s concern for his constituents, but said Eng mistook the reference for a racial slur and “made a non-issue an issue.”
“The context was very clear on the website,” Chen said. “Our aim is to provide Asian food with a serving of humor. It’s no different than the parodies, remixes and songs made in reaction to the video.”
In a statement posted on their website, however, the leaders of the Asian Pacific Coalition, a group of 22 Asian and Pacific Islander student groups, expressed concerns similar to Eng’s.
The coalition has called for a meeting with Chen and Iyer to discuss the “racial insensitivity of the situation,” according to the statement.
“We are sure the offending party didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” said Trung Nguyen, the Asian Pacific Coalition director and a fourth-year Asian American studies and international development studies student. “But we just want to make sure they understand that there is a very painful history behind the terminology they used.”
Chen and Iyer, who are also behind the late-night food delivery service UCLAMunchies, launched Ching-Chong-Ling-Long Gourmet Takeout in early June, after the owner of a local Chinese restaurant, The Palace Restaurant, contacted them about a potential partnership.
Rachel Lee, owner of The Palace Restaurant, said she received many emails of complaint after Eng sent the letter.
“I didn’t feel comfortable to begin with,” Lee said. “But the students assured me it was perfectly fine ““ a classic joke, they said. I had no idea what kind of reaction this was going to bring.”
The whole point of the delivery service, Lee said, was to provide students with access to reasonably priced Chinese food.
“It was meant to serve the students, not to offend them,” Lee said.
Concerned by the amount of media attention and emails of complaint, Lee contacted the students in mid-July and asked them to take down the site.
Chen said he may have plans to partner with another Chinese restaurant by the fall. Potential partners must be willing to keep the name as is, he added.
In its statement, the Asian Pacific Coalition threatened a “boycott of the business and its affiliates” if the name of the business remained.
The UCLA administration has not taken formal steps to discipline Chen and Iyer. The university cannot punish students for what they choose to name their business, said spokesman Steve Ritea.
The administration is, however, looking into whether the service violated campus policies prohibiting the use of residence halls to operate a business, Ritea added.