Councilwoman Helen Gym Says This Food Truck Is Racist
First-term Philadelphia City Councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym has a lot to contend with. A broken school system. A ballooning pension crisis. Rampant poverty. And … a racist food truck?
Wheely Wheely Good is a popular University City food truck that serves hot pots, spring rolls, and rice balls to hungry Drexel students and faculty on 33rd Street. Since the truck’s debut in March, Wheely Wheely Good has turned up at Night Market on more than one occasion — you’ll find it at Thursday’s Navy Yard Night Market — and enjoys its share of catering work.
It was at a recent catering gig for Greene Towne Montessori School in Center City that the owners of the truck encountered the Democratic legislator, seen here, who wasn’t a big fan.
“She approached our truck while we were working and started to argue with my partner and me,” recalls Wheely Wheely Good co-owner Alanna Li. “She told us, ‘Your truck’s name is super-racist.’ She used those words.”
Li went on to explain that Gym also took umbrage at the Asian caricatures painted on the truck, as well as the typeface used in the design.
The best Li can figure it, Gym thinks that the “Wheely Wheely” in the truck’s name is meant to be a play on how an Asian immigrant with a strong accent might pronounce “really really.” Think of the end of the movie Christmas Story, with the staff of the Chinese restaurant “fa-ra-ra-ra-ra”-ing their way through “Deck the Halls.”
But Li swears that this was never their intent — the name was simply meant to be a play on the fact that Wheely Wheely Good is a good restaurant on wheels and was in no way, shape, or form intended to evoke any accents or dialects.
As for the caricatures on the truck, Li says they are meant to be cartoon versions of her and her partner, Bailin Chen.
“We had this truck professionally designed,” says Li. “And I think it looks great.”
According to Li, the clash at the school lasted for a few minutes and ended with Gym demanding that they change their name and design. Li and Chen both claim that Gym threatened to get them banned from future Night Markets and also make trouble for them in other ways. Night Market officials tell us that they haven’t heard a peep from Gym about the truck.
Over the last week, we gave Gym two opportunities to speak with us about the Wheely Wheely Good truck, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. She has discussed the matter on Twitter, however.
On the day of the event at the Montessori school, Gym tweeted a photo of her daughter holding a sign that read “RACISM SUCKS! AND SO DOES THIS” with an arrow pointing at the truck. Li says that when the event was over, she realized that the sign had been stuck on the back of the truck.
Gym’s photo was retweeted dozens of times, including by frequent NPR contributor Oliver Wang, who wondered if it was better or worse that the owners were Asian. Gym replied that it was worse.
“It’s just ridiculous,” observes Li. “I don’t understand why we are under attack. We just want to serve good food and get on with our lives.”
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