Last week, Chinese cuisine made headlines in Trinidad and Tobago, not because of its tasty chicken recipes, but rather, because of a video that went viral on social media of a man — allegedly associated with a Chinese restaurant — skinning a dog.
Whatever level of alarm the sharing of the video managed to raise, public officials soon bested it via mainstream media. While a measured response came from the Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TTSPCA), which said it was trying to find out more about the video and its circumstances and suggested that the perpetrators could be liable under the country's Summary Offences Act which deals with cruelty to animals, the minister of health gave an interview in which he equated his assessment of the reduced stray dog population with the increase in menu items at Chinese restaurants.
“I would be very particular”, he warned the public, “because I know in China, rats are eaten, dogs are eaten, rodents, cats and other things”. He went on to suggest that migrant Chinese workers have brought these cultural customs to Trinidad and Tobago “and there is little that can be done to stop it”.
The backlash against Khan's statements was almost immediate. Employees of several Chinese restaurants condemned his views as inaccurate and irresponsible, while the satirical website Wired868 had a field day with the health minister's comments:
Question: How to turn a potential problem into a crisis?
Answer: Ask Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan for help.
And so, after the curious sight of an Asian couple skinning a dog in what may or not have been Trinidad and Tobago, Health Ministry tried to put out the fire with kerosene.
The post continued:
Khan is suggesting that Chinese people will eat anything without an ID card and are probably kidnapping pothounds, masking their flavour and charging us to eat them under false pretence.
And all this based on an old custom in parts of China, one skinned dog and the fact that he does not see many strays on his drive to Parliament.
It is what President Anthony Carmona recently referred to as ‘rum shop logic.’ […] And, although Carmona is one of its leading ideological practitioners, he is not the person who is wielding its powers at present.
Rum shop logic is: when the Health Minister makes Chinese restaurants seem as desirable to diners as a US visa is to Jack Warner, but then doesn’t send health workers en masse to investigate their kitchens on our behalf;
Rum shop logic is: when the Health Minister has more theories about Chinese food recipes than rampant fraud at the multi-million dollar Children’s Life Fund Authority (CLFA)
Still, some netizens took the bait and began to paint all Chinese people with the same brush — there were, regrettably, many myopic Facebook posts calling for them to “go back to China” — but like the wonderful tool that it is, social media also became the vehicle through which Trinidadians of Chinese descent retaliated against these racial stereotypes.
On Facebook, Lily Kwok posted a photo of herself with a placard reading: “I will not ‘go back to China’. I am a Trinidadian.” Using the hashtag #IAmAPerson, she invited “any and everyone to join me in taking a photo sending a positive / constructive message on social media to combat ignorance, xenophobia, intolerance and racism”:
Jenny Lin Hulder followed suit:
Lee Ann Beddoe added her voice to Kwok's and called on like-minded people, even if they were not of Chinese descent, to speak out. She explained:
The Chinese have contributed to Trinidad & Tobago since they landed over 200 years ago and continue to do so in their minor numbers whether here ages ago or newly arrived.
Rhoda Bharath changed her profile picture to the image of Kwok, saying:
I'm inviting my like minded friends to use my current profile pic as theirs for a few hours.
Time to take a public stand on the stereotypes and racisms here.
Khan's statements brought back a flood of memories for Andrea Cwh-Coutain, who says “racism towards Chinese people never ended, it is just magnified by one publicized incident!”:
What was baffling to me was the fact that a Government Minister could go to the public and quickly make aspersions without investigation? THAT IS MOST DETRIMENTAL OF ALL!
DID MINISTER KHAN APOLOGIZE AS YET? IF NOT, MINISTER FUAD KHAN NEEDS TO APOLOGIZE TO THE ENTIRE CHINESE POPULATION!!! […]
This issue has moved beyond ‘Chinese migrants eating a dog’ it has now become an attack against Chinese businesses and Chinese people.
As at the time of publishing, Minister Khan had not yet made any formal apology for his statements.
Update: On July 20, it was reported that the minister said he was sorry and that his statements came about as a result of “erroneous information”.