Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stereotypical References To American Indians In "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is a continuation of this earlier post that I published about the performance of stereotypical motions while chanting versions of the contemporary English language playground rhyme "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant":

I wrote an addendum to that post about the inclusion of problematic references to American Indians in some of those playground rhymes. Here's an expanded version of those comments:

In some examples of "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" the Chinese and Japanese referents are followed by "Indian chief". My sense is "Indian chief" is a referent to American Indians and not South Asian Indians. It's my position that the phrase "Indian chief" is also problematic since only the leaders of Indians and Africans are referred to as "chiefs". Other ethnic groups have kings, emperors, and leaders. Think about it.
Isn't that dismmissive of those populations to only refer to their leaders as "chiefs"?

While references to American Indians in some examples of "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" aren't as glaringly stereotypical
as names such as "Ching Ching Charlie" used as referents for Asian people or the use of "squinty eye" motion to mimic the eye shape that some Asian people have, I still consider referents such as "Indian chief" to be problematic. "Indian chief" has become so familiar to English speaking people as a result of its inclusion in the very old "Tinker Tailor" or "Rich man, poor man, beggerman, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief rhyme, not to mention Hollywood movies & television Westerns, that we don't give that referent much thought. However, I recall when I was a child that when that "Rich man/poor man" rhyme was chanted as a way of predicting who we would marry, "Indian chief" was considered to be just as bad a mate as "poor man" and "beggerman".

Also not as glaring but still problematic in a number of "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" rhymes is the use of "Woo" and "How" to represent the way that American Indians talk. Furthermore, in my opinion, allusions to the stoic Indian image (who stands silently without moving with his or her arms crossed) are problematic in that they reflect and reinforce a fake, one dimensional image of American Indians. "The Basic Indian Stereotypes" debunks the use of the referent "Indian chief" to refer to leaders of American Indian populations:
"As James W. Loewen writes in his book Lies Across America, "Indeed, most American Indian 'chiefs' were never chiefs. Europeans projected chiefdom onto Native Americans because they
could not easily conceive of people living in a civil society without permanent formal rank. Also, making a 'chief' of a respected Native (and sometimes any Native who happened to be handy) gave a European leader an opposite with whom to deal—someone who could sell land, for instance....
That article also includes comments debunking the Hollywood image of the American Indian war whoop.

*I'm using "American Indian" instead of "Native American", "First Nation", or any other general referent for this population. No disrespect is intended.

Examples of ""I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" that include what I consider to be problematic references to American Indians:
Example #1:
I went to a chinise restaurant,
To get a loaf of bread-bread-bread!
They wrapped it up in a five pound note,
and this is what they said-said-said!
My name is...
Hi-low gigalo
Gigalo hi-low
Willy Willy Wonkas
You've gone bonkers
The indian chief said
-Anonymous (Darlington, UK),, Aug 25, 2008

Example #2:
I went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread
The waiter asked my name and this is what I said said said:
My name is Eli Eli
I know karate
Punch in the body Oops! I'm sorry
Don't Tell my Mommy
Indian Chief!
-Pete (Walpole, MA),, Dec 7, 2008

Example #3:
We did "I went to a chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread-bread-bread.
She asked me what my name was and this is what I said-said-said. My...Name.. Is...
Ell-eye, Ell-eye, Chickle-eye,Chickle-eye,
pom-pom beauty, extra cutie
Indian chief stand still"

At the end you cross your arms and the first one to blink/move loses.
-Codi Berry,, 2013
Click "The myth of the wooden Indian" for comments about the stereotype of the stoic Indian.

Example #4:
I went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread, they wrapped it up in a five pound note, and this is what they said said said
My name is eli eli
chikali chikali
pom pom pooly
wally wally whiskey
chinese chopsticks
indians chiefs go woo woo woo woo woo
-Simmy (Woodford Green, UK),

Example #5
So cool how there are so many different versions posted.
Mine is:
I went to Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread.
They asked me what my name was and this is what I said said said:
My name is L-I L-I pickali pickali pom pom beauty walla walla whiskey chinese japanese indiana CHIEF!

And when you said CHIEF! you shouted and crossed your arms over your chest...the first one to move, laugh or blink lost and everyone would just die laughing. So much fun when were little... :]
, 2010

I believe that the stereotypical content in playground rhymes should be documented for the folkloric record, and also for the purpose of encouraging people interested in an eradicating stereotypes to the presence of this content.

In spite of children's attachment to the version of a rhyme that they first learned, given the large number of non-stereotypical versions of "I Went To The Chinese Restaurant, I believe that children can be complimented for their creativity but still be redirected to alternative, non-stereotypical examples of that rhyme. It's up to adults to educate the children in their care that the words and/or accompanying actions of these & some other playground rhymes are problematic and hurtful.

The children's rhyme "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" stands as a strong testimony to the fact that offensive references can be completely excised from playground rhymes, as many adults today who grew up with that rhyme and are surprised to learn that it once included a pejorative reference for Black people.

This post is intended as a companion post to these other pancocojams posts that examine the role of race and/or stereotypes in contemporary English language playground rhymes: "Examples Of Anti-Asian References In Children's Playground Rhymes" and "Racialized Versions Of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea"

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, recreational, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

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  1. I just came across a similar version of "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" as some of those given above, but actually says "American Indian" and which is accompanied by an interesting question:

    "And here’s a partial variation of one that someone else mentioned:

    My name is L-I, L-I, piccali piccali
    Pom pom beauty, wah wah whiskey
    Chinese, Japanese, American Indian chief. [what is the obsession with Chinese?]
    (at which point you had to cross your arms over your chest and sit motionless until whatever happened)"
    posted by DemiGoddess, October 2, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  2. Here's another example of "I Went To The Chinese Restaurant" with a comment about its racialized content. By "racialized" I mean rhymes or songs which contain references to race or ethnicity when earlier versions of those rhymes & songs had no such content.

    Similar to the racist clapping game/"patty cake" LN mentioned above, the one I knew was hugely racist, with seriously regrettable corresponding hand movements at the end:

    I went to a Chinese restaurant
    To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread
    The man wrapped it up in Chinese silk,
    And this is what he said, said, said:
    My name is L-i, L-i
    Chickle-eye, chickle-eye,
    Pom-pom beauty,
    don't like whiskey (clapping stops here to do hand movements!)
    Chinese! (index fingers pull outside corner of eyelids upwards)
    Japanese! (index fingers pull outside corner of eyelids downwards)
    Indian CHIEF! (3 fingers symbolizing feathers held atop the back of your head)

    ...That one I learned at a Montessori whose small classes were much more racially/ethnically diverse than any school I've attended since. As a little kid, I remember feeling weird about the 'Chinese!' 'Japanese!' movements, worrying it was in some way offensive to my friends of Asian descent who were playing along, but not feeling any concern about the song itself--it was pretty nonsensical to me. And it wasn't until later on that I came to understand what was wrong with the 'Indian CHIEF!' part; in these early grades, we happily played 'Cowboys and Indians' alongside 'Cops and Robbers' with no comprehension about the bigoted parallels between the two similar game structures.

    ...I learned all these rhymes circa the mid '80s in various areas of central/southern CA. posted by blisskite triplicate at 12:52 AM on May 22, 2009

  3. Here's another "I Went To A Chinese Restaurant" rhyme that meention American Indians:

    i went to a chinese restaraunt,
    to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread,
    she asked me what my name was,
    and this is what i said:

    My name is T-I, T-I
    Tickle I, Tickle I,
    Pot Pot Pooie,
    Willy Willy Whiskers,

    My name is Chief,
    Roast Beef!

    Then you cross you arms like an indian, and frown, and whoever smiles first loses

    aaaah, i loved those times! oh wait, im only 12~ HAND GAMES!!! yaaaa y!
    By Daniemu On Wed Jun 14, 2006 10:04 PM

  4. We sang it this way
    I went to a chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread
    They wrapped it up in tissue paper and this is what they said said said
    My name is K-I pickle eye, pickle eye K-I
    Hum Buggy Birdy
    Wally Wally Whiskey
    Chinese porkchops
    Barf out!

    1. Thanks for sharing that example, caitlin.

      I'm glad it didn't include any stereotypical references to American Indians and only a minimal referent to something Chinese - which hopefully wasn't chanted while making any slanted eyes actions.

    2. Mine was the same but instead of Chinese Porkchops Barf Out.... we said Chow Chow Puppy Chow. Lol

  5. Thanks for sharing the version of this rhyme, KCFitGirl.

    However, the purpose of this post was to share that stereotypical versions of children's rhymes can be very hurtful to the population/s mentioned in those rhymes.

  6. Mine was:
    My name is K-I pickle eye
    pickle eye K-I
    Onion berry
    Walla Walla whiskey
    Chinese chopsticks
    Chow Chow Chow

    1. Thanks for sharing that example, unknown.

      I think that the words "Chinese chopsticks" and "Chow chow chow" aren't as stereotypical as the eye motions that are often done in these rhymes along with references to Chinese people.