After blasting off a promotional email last week with the subject line “Love you oolong time,” Union Market landlord Edens has publicly apologized — but only after numerous complaints and a widely signed petition at change.org that called for accountability from the mega developer.
“While it was not our intention to offend anyone, we are clear that intent does not matter in this situation,” the landlord wrote in a message on Instagram on Thursday, July 21.
Maketto chef Erik Bruner-Yang, who’s also founder of local restaurant nonprofit Power of 10 Initiative, started the petition with Moon Rabbit chef Kevin Tien after becoming upset with Edens’s response to “repeated emails and phone calls from the them and several other community members, including AAPI business owners in Union Market,” according to Washingtonian. During the pandemic, Tien co-founded Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate — a D.C.-based group dedicated to raising awareness about the increase in violence against Asian Americans across the U.S.
“While the intent of the message may have been different, the effect of those words on the AAPI community are harmful and seeped in a long history of colonialism and anti-AAPI racism. It’s used to dehumanize Asian and Asian-American women to sex objects,” says Tien.
The petition’s 1,000-signature goal was quickly met and is currently nearing 1,500. Backers included chefs like Anju’s Danny Lee and Zachary Hoffman, an ANC Commissioner in the Northeast neighborhood, who wrote: “[I] condemn the language used by Edens and I support this petition for accountability.”
“Love you oolong time” was an ill-advised riff on
an infamous line of dialogue from the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, which is uttered by a Vietnamese sex worker character to solicit an American soldier. “Me love you long time” is “a weaponized phrase deployed to put down Asian diaspora women, to make us the joke,” Thuc Nguyen wrote in a 2021 story for Esquire. “It’s used to reduce Asian and Asian American women to sex objects.”
Edens’ response on Instagram, which disabled its commenting capabilities, also includes plans to now add mandatory implicit bias and cultural sensitivity trainings, marketing review protocols, and invest in a public campaign to raise awareness of AAPI issues and advocacy groups. Edens, which got its start in South Carolina in 1966, is a national retail real estate owner, operator, and developer that strives “to enrich community through human engagement,” according to the company’s website.
Meanwhile, the changing area around warehouse-styled Union Market has caused gentrification as long-time purveyors, many from immigrant communities, have been displaced as a result of Edens’ developments. “Now a new way of life, and sense of place, is overtaking a setting that for nearly a century was a singular part of the city’s culture: a rugged, working-class pocket where generations of immigrants and their descendants arose before dawn to sell what householders, restaurateurs and retailers needed to buy,” according to the Washington Post.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report