By Shawn Chitnis

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. (CBS4) – Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders called on subscribers and advertisers of The Villager to boycott the local weekly paper as the publication has yet to retract a satirical article they say is offensive and racist. A statement released Thursday did issue an apology but activists say The Villager needs to demonstrate sincere regret and take steps to meet with community leaders to understand the depth of their anger.

(credit: CBS)

“We want to make sure that our community voices are heard, and that people know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable,” said Harry Budisidharta, a lawyer and business leader. “They have refused to listen to our community concerns, that this is the only way left to get them to change their ways.”

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The Villager released its latest edition for Thursday addressing the controversy over its April Fools’ Day article by stating the paper has sparked a conversation on free press. It included two letters to the editor, one in support of the article and another opposed to it. The original article dreamed up an elaborate construction project involving Chinese immigrants. Workers and their families were set to move to Greenwood Village to build a large amusement project, leading to an influx of Chinese adults and children living in the town and enrolling in the schools.

“What’s offensive about this article is that it uses old, racist stereotypes about the Asian American community, it encourages people to make fun of the Asian community,” Budisidharta told CBS4 on Thursday. “It always starts with quote a joke, or a satire that is based on racist stereotypes and racist tropes.”

(credit: CBS)

The April 15 edition of The Villager also showcased past coverage by the outlet that celebrated diversity in the community. It included multiple stories featuring the Nathan Yip Foundation and its founders, Linda and Jimmy Yip. The Yips were named Couple of the Year in 2019 by The Villager. But a statement released by the foundation on Thursday asked the paper to stop using past coverage as a defense for the April 1 article.

“While the intent may have been satirical, the actual impact of the article on AAPI people, who have historically suffered severe bigotry in our country, is incalculable harm,” the statement read. “While this “humor” would be inappropriate and hurtful at any time, it comes after a devastating year for the AAPI community, who have been wrongly scapegoated and hatefully attacked due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Named after their son who died in a car accident, the Nathan Yip Foundation works to improve access to education for children in rural communities in Colorado and around the world. The statement explained that it wants The Villager to retract the article and apologize as well as stop using the family and foundation to avoid rightful criticism. It suggested that after the publication took the necessary steps, it would work toward healing its relationship with The Villager and wants to meet with its leadership to discuss the article.

“In this troubling time, our community reflects strength only through unity, and we gain understanding only through communication,” the statement added.

The Villager posted a new statement on its website Thursday and shared it with CBS4 expressing regret for poorly chosen words in the article. The statement went on to say that meetings were in the planning stages with a variety of groups including city leaders, the school district, and the Asian Chamber of Commerce.

“It was absolutely and sincerely not the papers intent to offend our Asian American community or anyone else,” the statement said. “The Villager is compassionate about the harm and pain the Asian and Pacific Islanders are sadly facing.”

The Asian Chamber of Commerce said as of Thursday evening, it had yet to come to any agreement with The Villager to meet and discuss the article.

“We’re very lucky to live in this community, I feel so blessed that we live here, we have amazing friends and neighbors and an amazing principal at our school, people who care about us, people who care about people who look like us,” said Colleen Chan, a parent leader in Cherry Creek Schools and an educator. “Was that the wisest thing to do during a time like this when Asian Americans are being brutalized, attacked, murdered in our country? Is that really the right time to print something like that in a paper?”

Harry Budisidharta (credit: CBS)

Chan created an AAPI task force for Cherry Creek Schools with families of all backgrounds joining the group from various schools in the district. She felt the need to improve awareness of issues facing the community after the shootings in Atlanta earlier this year killed six Asian women. She also advocates for more education of Asian American history in the district’s curriculum to help combat the growing anti-Asian sentiment in the country.

“People are reading this and thinking it’s okay to make fun of Asians, it’s okay to attack them, it’s not okay and even if that was not the intent of The Villager, words matter,” she told CBS4 on Thursday. “Words lead to actions and ugly thoughts and they lead to violence.”

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

“If people are missing from that story, you just assume their stories don’t matter, and we can’t have that, we have to be better and we have to teach our children that everyone’s story counts,” Chan said of the need to improve Asian American history in schools.

She and Budisidharta both worry that if words are left unchallenged, they will lead to actions that could have dangerous consequences. They say this is a common path with hate speech and other communities have faced the same fear in the past. He told CBS4 that he has already received hateful messages and threats just for speaking out against the article. A reminder of the potential harm he sees in this kind of writing which he hopes can be removed before someone gets hurt.

“That basically starts putting seeds into people’s minds that we are other, we do not belong here, we’re a foreigner coming into the country so it’s okay to make fun of us,” he said.

Statement from The Villager:

The Villager feels it is important to acknowledge that our April Fool’s spoof article contained words and content that were poorly chosen and we are sorry for that.

It was absolutely and sincerely not the paper’s intent to offend our Asian American community or anyone else.

The Villager is compassionate about the harm and pain the Asian and Pacific Islanders are sadly facing.

The Villager has already reached out and has meetings scheduled with the Asian Chamber of Commerce, the City of Greenwood Village and the Cherry Creek School District to embrace, listen and learn.

The Asian Chamber of Commerce Board and Staff released the following statement:

The Asian Chamber of Commerce condemns the dehumanizing satire published by The Villager newspaper on April 1st, 2021. Despite the intended humor, the article normalizes anti-Asian hate and racist language which has gravely impacted the Asian American Pacific Islander Community. Making an entire ethnic group the punchline of a poorly written joke is shockingly callous. And the platitudes of an insincere apology reek of self-superiority.

By now, the resulting outcry of angered communities, businesses and organizations is well publicized and even making media reports nationwide. The Asian Chamber of Commerce is only one of many waiting for an apology. It is unfortunate that the ACC attempts to arrange terms of a meeting, with the purpose of determining an open path of dialogue, was rejected three times. At this time, future attempts to meet is conditional on a published apology with a genuine understanding of the harm that has been done.

The Asian Chamber of Commerce actively promotes concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion by providing culturally competent economic development and opportunities for our Members and the Asian American Pacific Islander business community. The upheaval caused by The Villager satire is an infuriating distraction from our work of supporting the AAPI business community as they recover and reopen after COVID19. The Asian Chamber of Commerce entreats The Villager to commit to long-term diversity training, and a commitment to diverse staffing and advertising in order to fully appreciate and support the AAPI Community.

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LINKS: Nathan Yip Foundation Statement | April 15 Issue of The Villager | The Villager Boycott

Shawn Chitnis