Portland sure has changed in the four years since I left. I recently visited one of my favorite bars in the city, showing it off to out-of-town friends. My friends agreed – it is a great bar.
That is, it was until the group sitting next to us decided to have a little photoshoot around the Asian motif – using false teeth to create a bucktooth smile, added to squinty eyes over hands placed in a prayer-like position. It was an Asian caricature akin to Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” All in front of Asian patrons around them.
My group insisted on not confronting them. I later mentioned to the bartender that I was debating if I should say something anyway. “Well, like, are you offended?” the bartender asked with a so-what shrug. “It’s an Asian-themed bar.” Yes, it has an Asian theme and an Asian-themed menu. I suppose that means you can demean an entire culture with racist theater under the bar’s paper lanterns.
I’m all for private businesses allowing for customers, speech and whatever legal behavior they want. But I also know that elsewhere in town, and the Northwest, businesses shun that racist BS – there are bars that will kick bigotry out of their establishment. And I guess that’s where I will buy whiskey and play pinball from now on.
And by the way, if you are going to have an “Asian-themed bar,” you might want to show some respect for the culture providing the ambiance. There’s a line between motif, respect, and racist theater. You show what side of that line you are on when you allow yellowface in your bar.