By Shawn Chitnis

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (CBS4) – Residents and the Asian American community outraged at a satirical article published in The Villager earlier this month say it is offensive and racist, calling on the publisher to issue an apology. They worry about the potential harm that kind of piece can create at a time when hate crimes against that community are on the rise.

(credit: CBS)

“There were a lot of different negative stereotypes about the Asian community that were perpetuated through this,” said Coral Eby, a Greenwood Village resident who saw the article shared in a Facebook post. “We live in a time right now where the Asian community is already sort of living in fear in light of current events.”

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A post by Asian Avenue magazine increased awareness about the article, including among Eby’s friends. She wrote a letter to the editor of The Villager after reading it and hopes to hear back from the paper. A resident of the area for 25 years, she has read the paper but never seen anything that caused so much concern.

“The stereotypes that we put out there with our words and in the media are things that people take very seriously and not everybody could see that this was satirical,” Eby told CBS4 on Friday.

The article was published on April Fool’s Day and staff say the paper has used the annual tradition as an opportunity for satire in its paper, which primarily focuses on neighborhood news for Greenwood Village and the South Metro Area. The piece reports on a fictional project to construct a new amusement park in town involving Chinese investors.

(credit: CBS)

“Several city planners traveled to Wuhan, China to work out the details that include bringing over 1000 Chinese workers and their families to the area for the two-year construction period,” the made-up writer reports in one line of the article.

It goes on to include other elaborate details about the project including the need to keep the plan quiet because of “Asian alleged hate crimes” in one sentence.

Cherry Creek Schools and its superintendent were mentioned by name in the original article and the district responded with a letter to parents condemning it. The district also called on the paper to retract the article and apologize.

“The racist and xenophobic language used in this article is harmful to the Asian American community and it is offensive to all of us,” incoming Superintendent Christopher Smith said in that statement sent to parents.

The City of Greenwood Village issued a statement as well on Monday saying the article contained racist content.

Other details imagined in the piece include more than 1,000 new students joining the district and the need for instructors who can teach Mandarin as well as finding rooms to house the families of the workers who would build this made-up project.

“Area hotels are being contracted for lower rates for the Chinese families and adding more rice, vegetables, and chopsticks to their morning breakfasts,” another line of the piece said.

(credit: CBS)

Staff at The Villager were unable to speak to CBS4 on camera but did send a statement on Friday explaining that they believe the article was clearly published as an April Fool’s “spoof” with a winking eye emoji and a writer’s name created by spelling “April Fool” backwards, Loof Lirpa. The article was not intended to insult or offend anyone, especially the Asian community, the statement explained.

“The Villager for the past 39 years has proudly and positively embraced and supported the Asian community including honoring a wonderful Asian couple as The Villager couple Man and Woman of the year in 2019,” the statement added. “The Villager will continue to support all ethnicities. In light of recent events and attacks on Asians, the paper sincerely regrets any insensitivities in the April Fools spoof.”

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The president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce told CBS4 in a statement the piece is offensive and insensitive. The Chamber condemns the article and believes The Villager owes the community an apology and needs diversity training, as well as a more diverse staff.

“A, it’s not funny and B, it’s racist,” said Gil Asakawa, the founding member of the Denver chapter for the Asian American Journalists Association and a cultural communications consultant. “It plays on stereotypes, it plays on a lot of disinformation.”

The Villager also sent CBS4 several examples of stories it considered “support of diversity” including naming men, women, and a married couple their people of the year in past issues. Other examples included coverage of cultural events, features on minority businesses, and profiles on people of color.

“We do need to let people know that this is going on and that it’s not right, I do feel like the media shouldn’t be in the business of perpetuating this type of stereotype,” Asakawa told CBS4 on a video conference call Friday. “Media should have a sense of responsibility and accountability a little bit more than it does.”

He says while this kind of work is protected by freedom of speech, he worries about any kind of news outlet taking the approach of labeling potentially dangerous language as an editorial or commentary. Asakawa also argues that if any other community of color had an offensive article written about them, it could not be labeled as satire and avoid consequences.

“I think the community is a lot more diverse than it was when I first moved here, when I first moved here as a kid I was kind of the token Asian kid at my middle school,” Eby said of her childhood.

It’s gotten better but now as a young mother from a multicultural family, she remembers some of the challenges they’ve faced locally, “People who have approached my mom thinking she can’t speak English just because she’s not white.”

While the community has become more diverse in the past few decades, she also acknowledges that it has developed rapidly and that the article was likely trying to critique Greenwood Village growing too fast. But Eby says it was tone deaf to publish a piece at a time when so many Asian Americans are fearful of violence against them.

“We live in a community that has thrived in large part because there is a big Asian American community here and that’s something to be respected and something to be valued because it brings something different to the table,” she said. “This community is so much more diverse than it was before, we should be embracing that and celebrating that rather than taking it down.”

Read the full statement from The Villager:

The Villager Newspaper’s April Fool’s spoof article published on April 1st with a winking eye emoji at the end and April Fools spelled backwards as the writer was by no means intended to insult or offend anyone, especially the Asian community.

The Villager for the past 39 years has proudly and positively embraced and supported the Asian community including honoring a wonderful Asian couple as The Villager couple Man and Woman of the year in 2019.

The Villager will continue to support all ethnicities.
In light of of recent events and attacks on Asians, the paper sincerely regrets any insensitivities in the April Fools spoof.

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LINKS: The Villager April 1, 2021 Issue | Asian Avenue Magazine | Asian Chamber of Commerce Colorado

Shawn Chitnis