Racist, sexist poem
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The Post-Gazette's publication of Walt Peterson's poem "Learn to Speak Chinese" (Feb. 9) adds insult to injury to the Asian community. Apparently there were no Asian poets worthy to print to acknowledge the beginning of the Lunar New Year. But the PG also chose a poem with racist and misogynistic overtones.
Mr. Peterson's poem repeats sexist stereotypes of Asian woman in the trite setting of a Chinese restaurant: "The waitress is beautiful / with warm ways. / ... She is slight with straight black hair. / ... You must be a snake, with your beauty."
Mr. Peterson's male character fetishizes and stalks the Asian waitress when he declares his love without ever talking to her: "Tell her, Wo ai ni. / ... Through the smell of sandalwood / and kerosene, you have just told her you love her."
She is nothing but a prop in his exotic fantasy.
Perhaps he feels the "twist' in the last stanza redeems the poem: The Asian woman, raised in Pittsburgh, doesn't speak Chinese. However, the title betrays Mr. Peterson's desire by his wanting her to "Learn to Speak Chinese."
Is this how the PG and Mr. Peterson see us Asians? Is this how the Post-Gazette celebrates Lunar New Year's (celebrated all over Asia, not just China, fyi) by choosing a non-Asian poet?
I'm injured by the poem's reinforcement of trite Asian stereotypes. I'm insulted the PG chose a non-Asian voice to recognize an Asian holiday.
First Published February 16, 2013 12:00 am