DonRocks

Racism Charges Leveled Against Fojol Brothers Food Trucks

93 posts in this topic

"Fojol Brothers Food Truck Denies Racism Charge," Arin Greenwood in the Huffington Post, May 14, 2012.

I first saw this truck when I was on the patio of what was then Enology Wine Bar, driving eastbound on Macomb St. What was originally described as "absurdist" on this website (which it most certainly is) has been mentioned in the Huffington Post article (which uses as its source this Facebook post by Drew Franklin) as being "over-the-top racist."

The best way to read this saga is:

1) Read the first paragraph of the Huffington Post piece (only the first paragraph).

2) Read the entire Facebook open letter

3) Go back and finish reading the rest of the Huffington Post piece.

While I was in the middle of step 3) (re-reading the rest of the piece), I was thinking to myself that the Fojol Brothers seem somewhat "minstrel," and sure enough, Mr. Greenwood pulls out that same term later in the piece.

Mr. Franklin's letter is very much weakened by its shallow, amateurish writing style, beginning with the salutation, "Dear Idiots," and not even getting beyond the very first sentence before accusing "white people" of "avoid"[ing] accountability." He then goes on to call the truck owners "dicks," and mentions "white people" and "white boys" three times. It is, at best, passionate and sympathetic, but ultimately a very weak and poorly written, open letter.

Other than passing judgment on the "Dear Idiots" letter, strictly for literary reasons, I have absolutely no good or bad things to say about the Fojol Brothers, food-wise, schtick-wise, business-wise, or racism-wise, and that's because I really haven't given them much thought.

This discussion is officially open. Carry on, and please remember that this is a moderated website, and that gratuitous personal comments are not allowed. Criticize the food (in this thread, please), criticize the schtick, criticize Mr. Greenwood's Facebook open letter, criticize the Huffington Post reporting of it, and criticize anything else that's not directly linked to the individuals themselves.

I wish I had some pearls of wisdom to throw out here, but the truth is this: I don't know any more about this particular issue than any of you do, and therefore do not feel any more qualified to comment on it than you do. Again, carry on...

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The Fojol Brothers (@fojolbros): absurdist? harmless? racist? You be the judge.

All of the above? They could easily be construed as racist, but their use of somewhat made up lands instead of what they're mimicking probably brings it back toward absurdist enough to be harmless. I have no doubt this was intentional, as they seem like a pretty smart outfit. They're also genuinely fun, and probably some of the better food trucks in DC.

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. Although it may be worth a thought, I agreed with her "What's to discuss?" comment, and that the posts were probably "delete-worthy." Well, now that Rich replied, I'll go ahead and restore them just in case anyone wants to discuss the topic. Maybe this should be under "News and Media because it wouldn't have existed had it not made the Huffington Post. Cheers, Rocks]

The turban is a sacred religious symbol in certain religions (Sikhism, for example), but the one thing that strikes me the most in the Fojol Brothers' reply is that they don't use any accents. So I personally don't think it's mockery because they really aren't mocking any group in particular - a little gypsy (roving), a little India (turban), a little Pakistan (colorful truck), a little America (carnival barkers)? I don't know enough, and am not in position enough, to issue the following statement, but I'll issue it anyway: these guys don't seem like they're out to hurt anybody. Since I only see them once in a great while, I find them more amusing than annoying, and I invariably smile when I see them because they pop up out of nowhere, and "absurdity out of the blue" usually makes me laugh.

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If I see a hot lady on the street and she makes me horny, she does not suddenly have an obligation to make herself ugly so I'll stop being sexually frustrated.

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I hadn't seen the Huffington Post piece, but your twitter that quoted above (If you're not following Don @dcdining, you should) made me think about the issue. I also ultimately decided "who cares," but I think it's important to discuss issues like this in forums like this, if for no other reason than it brings reason to the discussion. So often, all we get to see in the media is one crazy screaming at another (or in this case a crazy ranting at an interested party), which doesn't advance the discussion. But if someone were to chime in and give a reasoned argument for why this is not harmless, I'd seriously consider it. Maybe I'd change my view, mabe not. But there's value in the discussion itself.

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But there's value in the discussion itself.

I agree with this wholeheartedly. Let me contribute to the discussion:

The Mexican maid asked her boss for a pay increase.

The wife was very upset about this and decided to talk to her about the raise.

She asked: "Now Maria, why do you want a pay increase?"

Maria: "Well, Señora, there are tree reasons why I wanna increaze."

"The first ees that I iron better than ju."

Wife: "Who said you iron better than me?"

Maria: "Jor hozban he say so."

Wife: "Oh yeah?"

Maria: "The second reason eez that I am a better cook than ju."

Wife: "Nonsense, who said you were a better cook than me?"

Maria: "Jor hozban did"

Wife increasingly agitated: "Oh he did, did he???"

Maria: "The third reason is that I am better at sex than ju in the bed."

Wife, really boiling now and through gritted teeth. "And did my husband say that as well?"

Maria: "No Señora...... The gardener did."

Wife: "So how much do you want?"

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Man, I could parse that joke at length, but I won't. My first thought was: why is it relevant that the maid is Mexican? Here, I'd argue that this fact is irrelevant to the core of the joke and that the accent device is at least potentially offensive. Anyway, a rule of thumb I once heard was that any joke that relies on a sterotype probably crosses the line unless it makes fun of the stereotype. I'd argue that this is precisely what the Fojol Brothers are doing. Their use of any stereotype is so over the top that it reduces the stereotype itself to little more than an absurdity.

I once made the joke "a Catholic, a Palestinian, and a Jew walk into a bar . . .," which was funny at the time because I had just walked into a bar with a Palestinian and a Jew, both of whom I was good friends with, and I ended it with that line (and we'd also already been drinking). Anything that could have followed after that would probably have been inappropriate.

Dan probably shouldn't be allowed to be loose on the streets, by the way. (I kid because I love.)

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I visited this truck once, and I'll admit, I was taken aback and made a little uncomfortable by the costuming, which seemed to appropriate a fictionalized India. I haven't been back, in part because of the discomfort with their schtick. It reminds me of the way I felt when I saw Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, a movie about a trio of American brothers who "find themselves" in India. The film ends with the three Americans waltzing down the railway line while a group of Indians carry their baggage--an apt metaphor and I have never been quite sure whether Anderson was fully aware of what he was doing with it or not.

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Man, I could parse that joke at length, but I won't. My first thought was: why is it relevant that the maid is Mexican? Here, I'd argue that this fact is irrelevant to the core of the joke and that the accent device is at least potentially offensive.

I posted it for this very fact. It's a hilarious joke, but the Mexican theme is tangential, and yes, potentially offensive - although you can argue that it does add some character development in a short-short story. Just trying to make people laugh, and also to think about things. And admit it: the dictatorial wife is someone you picture as being white, right? That, in and of itself, has racist implications. Why can't she be black, for example?

Anyway, this is getting a bit too heavy for me, so I'm going to be watching from the sidelines for a little while. Please do NOT take offense at that joke because I said it (in this thread) to be thought-provoking.

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I visited this truck once, and I'll admit, I was taken aback and made a little uncomfortable by the costuming, which seemed to appropriate a fictionalized India. I haven't been back, in part because of the discomfort with their schtick. It reminds me of the way I felt when I saw Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, a movie about a trio of American brothers who "find themselves" in India. The film ends with the three Americans waltzing down the railway line while a group of Indians carry their baggage--an apt metaphor and I have never been quite sure whether Anderson was fully aware of what he was doing with it or not.

Thank you. I found this truck and their schtick (both the Indian and the Ethiopian versions) offensive in the way that I find (as an East Asian person) the many stereotypic depictions of East Asians in western society offensive. That is to say, I wouldn't make a big fuss out of it because so many people just shrug and don't give a crap about Orientalism due to the fact that they see nothing wrong with it at all. Being "exotic" is seen as a good thing, so exotic = "fun", especially when it's not your culture, heritage and identity being mocked, condensed, simplified and trivialized. Nothing to sue over, but something to just roll my eyes at and avoid supporting in any way. If someone's NOT making money off of it, I would care significantly less. But they're profiting and thriving, which makes me sadder and more cynical than ever. I just wish that, instead of trying to find others to back up their "It's not offensive, it's fun and everyone loves it so you just need to LIGHTEN UP!" defense, they'd at least own up to it in some way. The thing that gets my goat the most are the adament dismissals of those who are actually offended or uncomfortable in some way about this. No one gets to tell someone of another culture/race/group what they should and should not be offended by. Period. If the food is really that good, let the food stand by itself and through word-of-mouth, keep the name maybe, lose the goddamn schtick and say maybe you learned some kind of PR/personal lesson.

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Thank you. I found this truck and their schtick (both the Indian and the Ethiopian versions) offensive in the way that I find (as an East Asian person) the many stereotypic depictions of East Asians in western society offensive. That is to say, I wouldn't make a big fuss out of it because so many people just shrug and don't give a crap about Orientalism due to the fact that they see nothing wrong with it at all. Being "exotic" is seen as a good thing, so exotic = "fun", especially when it's not your culture, heritage and identity being mocked, condensed, simplified and trivialized. Nothing to sue over, but something to just roll my eyes at and avoid supporting in any way. If someone's NOT making money off of it, I would care significantly less. But they're profiting and thriving, which makes me sadder and more cynical than ever. I just wish that, instead of trying to find others to back up their "It's not offensive, it's fun and everyone loves it so you just need to LIGHTEN UP!" defense, they'd at least own up to it in some way. The thing that gets my goat the most are the adament dismissals of those who are actually offended or uncomfortable in some way about this. No one gets to tell someone of another culture/race/group what they should and should not be offended by. Period. If the food is really that good, let the food stand by itself and through word-of-mouth, keep the name maybe, lose the goddamn schtick and say maybe you learned some kind of PR/personal lesson.

My two thoughts upon reading this are:

1) I wonder if it isn't the same way about American culture in the Eastern Asian countries - surely we're parodied over there.

2) My thoughts and sympathies are with you, and i'm on your side. Please, if anyone is offended here, write me? I promise I care.

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My two thoughts upon reading this are:

1) I wonder if it isn't the same way about American culture in the Eastern Asian countries - surely we're parodied over there.

2) My thoughts and sympathies are with you, and i'm on your side. Please, if anyone is offended here, write me? I promise I care.

Like I said, I'm so numb to this type of Orientalism in western culture that it barely ruins my day anymore, though I can get riled up and do like to run my mouth about it if given a chance. Also, the older I get, the less reluctant I am to give people a piece of my mind and just walk away.

As for 1.), I'm sure it happens. Racism of any minority group happens in every country, every culture, every city, every town on earth. I'd speak up if people were generalizing about Americans, and have whenever I've been abroad and encountered it. Not that I'm accusing you, Don, of thinking or implying otherwise...but even though I identify as Chinese, I also identify as American, and I am intensely proud of both. What's that Frederick Douglas quote? "He is the lover of his country who rebukes, and does not forgive its sins."

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In a related vein, see this recent blog entry on the NYT, called "Do We Amuse You?," about the use of Indian stereotypes in American humor.

I am reading an interesting book ("The Great Oom: The Mysterious Origins of America's First Yogi"), which says that "fewer than eight hundred Indians in total immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1900." That statistic (which I guess is probably true) blew my mind, and I think it helps explain why, even now, Indians are often viewed as "other," whether interesting, risible, or threatening.

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i totally agree with this--

"a rule of thumb I once heard was that any joke that relies on a sterotype probably crosses the line unless it makes fun of the stereotype. I'd argue that this is precisely what the Fojol Brothers are doing."

And think the best way to think of it is, what if their shtick was aping, say, mexicans (by going around in, for example, sombreros and mustaches and selling tacos), african americans (maybe afro wigs,i guess selling southern or soul food) or jews (yamulkes selling i dunno, matzoh ball soup)? would we all be ok with what they were doing? i think probably not, even if they said they were from merlimexico or wherever. i've always found their act somewhat offensive and have not gone to them for that reason.

and as for the brothers' claim that they've only recieved 5 complaints, i think that can be explained by

Like I said, I'm so numb to this type of Orientalism in western culture that it barely ruins my day anymore, though I can get riled up and do like to run my mouth about it if given a chance. Also, the older I get, the less reluctant I am to give people a piece of my mind and just walk away.

there's a lot of anti-asian stuff in everyday culture, and you just get sick of fighting it. and my attitude was, probably wrongly, that people dressing up like that were never actually going to understand how offensive what they were doing was, so there was little point in talking to them. and to address the other point--just because other cultures ape, say, americans, doesn't mean it's right to do it here. And, in my mind, there's a difference between a member of a dominant/more powerful group aping a discriminated against minority and a majority aping a group that is not necessarily at a position of disadvantage.

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Thanks to sandynva and yfunk3 for summarizing my thoughts better than I could. Responses to the effect that the offendees are too hypersensitive and just need to lighten up, since the Fojol truck [offends a bunch of different ethnic groups, doesn't think it's racist, is so over the top that it *can't* be racist, etc.], in particular, were bothering me yesterday, but I couldn't articulate my objections in part due to time constraints and in part due to the "sick of fighting it" phenomenon. (I've been hearing the "chill out" excuse or some variation thereof for my whole life.) Maybe the Fojol truck food is good (and I would love to find some good Indian street food), but as a person of Indian descent who does find their "theme" unnecessarily offensive, I'll just spend my money elsewhere.

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Thanks to sandynva and yfunk3 for summarizing my thoughts better than I could. Responses to the effect that the offendees are too hypersensitive and just need to lighten up, since the Fojol truck [offends a bunch of different ethnic groups, doesn't think it's racist, is so over the top that it *can't* be racist, etc.], in particular, were bothering me yesterday, but I couldn't articulate my objections in part due to time constraints and in part due to the "sick of fighting it" phenomenon. (I've been hearing the "chill out" excuse or some variation thereof for my whole life.) Maybe the Fojol truck food is good (and I would love to find some good Indian street food), but as a person of Indian descent who does find their "theme" unnecessarily offensive, I'll just spend my money elsewhere.

I appreciate this discussion, which really is more about the trucks themselves that the article. My initial reaction was that the Fojol schtick was too over the top to be truly offensive except to the hypersensitive. But, because this discussion omits the language like that which undercuts the Franklin letter's credibility, I think I get the point. Yfunk3's comment that stuff like this "barely ruins my day anymore" is telling. I don't think it fair to force people to learn to put up with things that simply aren't right. I'd be interested to hear more from anyone with an Indian/Ethiopian/Thai/etc. background who thinks what the Fojol Brothers are doing is O.K. regarding why he or she thinks so.

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Maybe the Fojol truck food is good (and I would love to find some good Indian street food)

Squarely in the middle of the pack for DC Indian food. Had better, had worse. I would imagine Indians would not describe it as good Indian street food...for a DC food truck I would call it not bad.

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Yfunk3's comment that stuff like this "barely ruins my day anymore" is telling. I don't think it fair to force people to learn to put up with things that simply aren't right.

Totally agree with this. In that on the scale of things this is a small thing. But the problem is if you let people get away with the small things, then what do you do when it's a big thing? Not that I think this would lead to escalation, necessarily. But the main problem is that these other cultures are being treated as foreign, unusual, and an unnamed fetish.

While most of the fairly enlightened people of DC realize that this doesn't really typify any culture, there are plenty of tourists who visit DC from in the US and abroad who might not be particularly enlightened and take all of this at face value.

And, in my mind, there's a difference between a member of a dominant/more powerful group aping a discriminated against minority and a majority aping a group that is not necessarily at a position of disadvantage.

This was one of the definitions of racism that was discussed in one of my Asian-American studies classes. It was interesting because the few non-Asian people in the class had a serious problem with it. But it's true in that it matters most when someone has a distinct advantage in a society. From what I've seen most Asians just put up with it because they have bigger problems to address, and just want to go about their business.

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But the main problem is that these other cultures are being treated as foreign, unusual, and an unnamed fetish.

Setting aside the fetish part, what's wrong with other cultures being treated as foreign and unusual? To nearly everyone but a native, they are. My hair and skin color boggles Africans whenever I'm over there. And despite spending a significant amount of time in Ethiopia, Sudan, and other countries, those cultures remain foreign and unusual to me, whether I'm overseas or in DC eating at their restaurants, viewing their art, or whatever else.

I really hadn't thought about the Fojol thing until it came up and really don't know where I stand. I guess I just thought they were kind of celebrating and having fun with the eclectic heritage of their food, but I'm glad to hear from others on this because it makes me reconsider.

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Personally I always thought the Fojols were trying to portray themselves as UK-style gypsies more than anything else, but I never thought too hard about it.

It doesn't sound like much of anyone was thinking too hard about it until all the think pieces criticizing the HBO show "Girls" started being churned out. That's fine, I guess, but for the fact that the Fojol's have been on the streets for like three years now, right? Where was the deep offense from this American U student before? Or anyone else? Or did everyone just need the argument spelled out for them. The blogosphere wants to create a new 'hipster racism' meme and it didn't take too long for someone (who, tellingly, is directly in the wheelhouse demographic of that original discussion) to turn it on something local. So... great? Now there are follow up pieces? Is it equally offensive that they sell Thai and Ethiopian food from trucks with costumes and fake moustaches too - or just the Indian food because that fits the argument better?

I'm not saying there can't be value in discussing the racial implications of fake moustaches on a food truck (and hell, my post history shows I'm not above trite discussion). I'm just saying there are probably better ways for one to spend their time than going down this rabbit hole.

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With all due respect, i disagree with the following statements:

It doesn't sound like much of anyone was thinking too hard about it until all the think pieces criticizing the HBO show "Girls" started being churned out. That's fine, I guess, but for the fact that the Fojol's have been on the streets for like three years now, right? Where was the deep offense from this American U student before? Or anyone else? Or did everyone just need the argument spelled out for them..

I know that I personally thought about it and didn't need the argument spelled out for me. You're assuming that no one making a big fuss about it publicly or writing articles about it = no one was offended by it or wished they'd stop. At least two posters on this board have said that they, prior to the article, did not eat there because they were offended, showing that the two things (not making a fuss and not being offended) are not always the same. If you take your argument to the extreme, before Rosa Parks no one had a problem sitting in back of the bus. in addition, if you look at the reviews on that other food review site, customers complained that it was racist on 4/29/2009 and 4/26/10, and apparently someone named Dave Stroup wrote about it in 2010.

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I find the Fojols very disturbing and I have always been surprised at the lack of comment on that. I take them to be dumbshit hipsters {and there are many a kind of hipster} too ignorant or too insensitive to realize the history of whites in blackface or Micky rooney in yellow. And it saddens me that no issue has been made before now. As SandyNVa said, if there was a bagle truck with hassids with black hatos and pais or a watermelon truck with white folk in blackface or with afro wigs you can imagine they would last 5 minutes.

I have not gotten worked up in public about the Fojols because it’s not my issue to get worked up in public over . Just as I have not gotten worked up at the offensive name of the amateur football team Danny boy owns and foists off as professionalBut my not doing so does not lessen the offense some take, nor do the offended have a duty to point out the offence. They do have a duty to speak up only if they want to stop the offence.

But try and take a swipe at equality and human rights for the LGBTQ community or promote mindlessly industrial agriculture and you will hear an earful from me.

I'm just saying there are probably better ways for one to spend their time than going down this rabbit hole.

I find this quote sad. To hear that the some of us are offended are “going down a rabbit hole” is to trivialize. You are entitled to what ever opinion you want to have of the question, but so do those of us who have a different opinion.

As I read on face book yesterday, We may have a difference of opinion because I can’t force you to be right!

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If you take your argument to the extreme, before Rosa Parks no one had a problem sitting in back of the bus.

You could certainly say that's taking it to the extreme.

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there's a lot of anti-asian stuff in everyday culture, and you just get sick of fighting it. and my attitude was, probably wrongly, that people dressing up like that were never actually going to understand how offensive what they were doing was, so there was little point in talking to them. and to address the other point--just because other cultures ape, say, americans, doesn't mean it's right to do it here. And, in my mind, there's a difference between a member of a dominant/more powerful group aping a discriminated against minority and a majority aping a group that is not necessarily at a position of disadvantage.

Precisely. I think that a lot of people, from any culture or nationality, will view whoever "stands out" or is "different" as the one who should be teaching everyone about their special, unique, exotic heritage. Heck, look at the way even British/Irish/Australian people are treated by Americans, like their accents will cure the ailing or something. Quite frankly, minorities everywhere and of any kind have better things to do than teach the ignorant every chance they get, or maybe they just don't want to. It sucks so much energy out of you, getting angry at the prejudices one faces everyday. At some point, you naturally just start asking yourself if anything you say will ever make a difference, and then just go to ignoring and not giving second chances. It's the cynical way, not everyone chooses it, but to be totally honest, I have.

And also, one has to wonder why it took so long for this ridiculous Fojol thing to blow up? They've been out for two and a half years, and I remember them being just as ridiculous then.

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And also, one has to wonder why it took so long for this ridiculous Fojol thing to blow up? They've been out for two and a half years, and I remember them being just as ridiculous then.

I really wasn't trying to be flip what I typed this before, but putting a microscope on Fojol is news-worthy now because the media decided "Hipster Racism" is a story two weeks ago and it is turning out to have some legs. It is a story that in damn near any incarnation is guaranteed for massive online discussion and page clicks right now... because people don't like 'hipsters', people don't like racism, and people bristle at any suggestion that they might support either thing.

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