For the past few weeks, the St. Hubert restaurant chain has been running a commercial where the owner of a Chinese restaurant discovers St. Hubert has a $7.95 meal deal. Both of the actors are Chinese and speak in Cantonese with either English or French subtitles. The complaint is that the commercial is demeaning and offensive. It has drawn criticism and comments on its Facebook and Twitter accounts, and sparked a national dialogue on the stereotyping of Chinese-Canadians.
Do I think the St. Hubert commercial is stereotyping Chinese people? Yes, but not in a negative way. Is it demeaning? I don’t think so.
Television has not done a good job of depicting Chinese people. I watched the TV series Bonanza when I was growing up and found the character of the Chinese cook, Hopsing, kind of…confusing. My father and none of the Chinese men I knew had a long braid or behaved in a subservient way. Then there was the practice of casting Caucasian actors in Chinese roles, such as Charlie Chan who was played by three Caucasian actors and the TV series Kung Fu where David Carradine was chosen over Bruce Lee to play the lead role. There are a handful of Asians on prime time shows now, but basically unless there is a scene that takes place in Chinatown, it’s rare to see a Chinese person on TV.
I do understand the arguments over why this commercial is demeaning. My parents were of the generation who were shunned by a society that passed a law prohibiting their entry into Canada. My father, who only had an elementary school education, said his only choices at that time were to work in a restaurant, a hand laundry or a grocery store. He opened a restaurant. Every so often, someone would fling open the front door, scream that we should go back home to China, and take off. I was eighteen and had a ten-year career in the restaurant business when he finally retired and sold it. My parents and others of his generation hoped that their kids would have better opportunities and become professionals such as a lawyer, doctor, accountant or engineer. And we have.
I feel St. Hubert is saying that Chinese restaurants are one of their biggest competitors for providing good food at reasonable prices. I’m glad to see a commercial with Chinese actors doing something Chinese people actually do for a living in real life. We have become doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers, but considering the popularity of Chinese food, it looks like Chinese people will continue to open and operate restaurants in Canada and around the world. It doesn’t make sense to me to demonstrate against a commercial showing Chinese restaurant owners when we talk about the best places to eat in Chinatown, go there to eat and probably know someone who either owns a restaurant or works in one.
Which makes me wonder, while accusing St. Hubert of demeaning Chinese people, what message are we sending to the owners and those who dream of opening their own establishment someday?
My parents’ generation fought hard to be accepted in this country: to be allowed in, to become citizens, to vote and to be allowed to bring their wives and children. They wouldn’t let the politicians and racists of their day define them, and we shouldn’t be afraid that a 30 second commercial for a restaurant chain defines us now.
It certainly doesn’t define me. There may not be many Chinese actors on TV, but there are plenty of real people who do a fine job of showing who the Chinese are and what we can achieve: Olympic figure skater Patrick Chan, former Senator Vivienne Poy, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, former Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Norman Kwong, authors Wayson Choy, Evelyn Lau and Judy Fong Bates, plus artists, filmmakers, journalists, and of course, doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. And, I hope Eric Chong, the winner of the first season of Masterchef Canada, achieves his dream of opening his own restaurant some day.
St. Hubert and their ad agency didn’t choose a Chinese restaurant because the Chinese people are low class and weak; it’s because Chinese restaurants dominate the dining landscape. St. Hubert apologized for having offended some of its customers, but refused to pull the commercial. Why would they? With all the free publicity they’re getting, this current campaign has turned into an advertising dream. It is scheduled to end its run on air soon.
But I have an idea. The title of the commercial is “Sorry for the Competition.” For $7.95 you get a chicken leg, a scoop of cole slaw, fries, gravy and a piece of bread. Now, I’m sure many of us know a Chinese restaurant where they can have a good meal for the equivalent or less than that. This “meal deal” is a challenge. St. Hubert has thrown down the chopping board, so to speak. I say we pick it up. Instead of continuously promoting the restaurant chain for free, let’s promote Chinese restaurants. We should go on St. Hubert’s Facebook page and post the name of a Chinese restaurant, city and price of a meal that is equal to or less than $7.95(before tax). They may remove the post, but if enough people do it, it’ll be hard to ignore. It doesn’t matter whether you’re for or against the commercial. I’ll start. I’ll post that Jade Garden’s take-out counter in Montreal sells beef noodle dish for $4.50.
Sorry St. Hubert. It’s not personal, it’s just business.
Note: The commercial ended its on-air run as of the date of this post.