Jeremy Lin and Linsanity: Followup thoughts on race and Asian America

Jeremy Lin leads the Knicks over the Kings

I’ve been adding updates to the bottom of my previous post on Jeremy Lin, but there’s simply too much still flying across the Internet radar, and that post is already too long. So I thought I’d comment separately about the issue of Asian American identity and our embrace of the Jeremy Lin phenomenon.

As I write this, the New York Knicks have won seven straight games since putting Lin in the game as the starting point guard. For the first six, he shot for more than 20 points per game (38 against the Lakers!). Last night against Sacramento, he had only 10 points, but that’s because he was allowed to rest and only played 26 minutes. He still racked up a career-high 13 assists, and Linsanity continues in New York. He’s goosed the spirits of basketball fans in Gotham — and around the world — and taken over headlines on the news pages.

Let’s face it, he’s a great story: The American-born son of immigrants from Taiwan who led his high school team in Palo Alto to the state title but didn’t get even a sniff of a b-ball scholarship from the Cali schools he wanted to play for. So he attended Harvard, the stereotypical jackpot destination for children of Asian parents, and got good grades and earned a degree in Econ … while playing great basketball.

Cambridge isn’t exactly known as a breeding ground for NBA stars, but the guy left a trail of tattered records and dominated the Ivy League and earned some national attention, all to no avail. No NBA franchise noticed him. So he signed with Golden State Warriors but spent an uneventful year, and was cut in December right after the end of the NBA’s lockout. He was picked up by the Houston Rockets, but let go within a couple of weeks to make room for more famous players with higher price tags. He was then signed by New York but put on the bench as the fourth-string point guard, and even sent down to the development leagues. He was put into the game out of desperation.

That was two weeks and a whole lot of Linsanity ago.

The kicker for this made-for-a-movie Linderella story (yeah, I had to use it) is that until his contract with the Knicks was signed just a few days ago, Lin slept on the couches of his brother (an NYU dental student) and a teammate, even as his fame exploded like fireworks over the NBA. I could imagine the kid taking the F-train to Madison Square Garden to play.

He got his papers signed, and moved into a White Plains condo this week. His team’s doing pretty good financially too. The Knicks’ online shop jumped 3,000% in sales for Lin’s #17 jersey, which has been the best-selling jersey in the NBA since Feb. 4, when Lin first played more than 30 minutes in a game. The jersey at one point sold out. Lin has taken over social media, with more than 2.5 million mentions him in the week after his NBA debut, more than anyone else in the NBA and more than President Obama.
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Comcast & NBC sign Memo of Understanding to be more inclusive of Asian Americans

Comcast and NBCU will promote AAPIs in programming

JACL sent out an announcement this morning about an agreement that’s been reached between NBC Universal, Comcast (which is trying to get regulators’ blessings to buy NBCU) and a handful of Asian American Pacific Islander organizations: the Asian American Justice Center, East West Players, Japanese American Citizens League, OCA and Media Action Network for Asian Americans.

Although the past couple of years have led to a marked increase in the number of Asian faces on TV and in movies, it’s nice to see some high-level muscle put on both Comcast and NBCU to be more inclusive within their programming. The agreement’s been in the works for a while; Comcast last month announced its new on-demand channel, “Cinema Asian America,” which is great. I hope to see progress from other media companies and Hollywood giants too, until AAPIs are no longer invisible and are represented accurately as just another part of the quilt that makes up American society.

This probably seems like a trivial deal to some people, but as an Asian American who grew seeing very few people like me on TV and in movie, it’s a big deal. It’s slowly getting better, but I’ve written about this issue as early as 1998 in a column titled “Why Can’t I Be on TV?” and I’ve I’ve given speeches about the topic over the years.

When I no longer do a double-take or other take notice of an “Asian sighting” on a reality show, or in a commercial, or as a lead character on a TV series or Hollywood film, I’ll know we’ve finally arrived.

Here’s the full text of the JACL press release:
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PSA for AAPIs: What does affordable healthcare mean for you?

I’m passing this text along from an email sent out, trying to reach Asian Americans, Native Hawai’ians and Other Pacific Islanders:

Did you know that 20% of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHOPIs), and 17% of Asian Americans (AAs), are uninsured? That’s higher than the national uninsurance rate of 16%.

Did you know that 30-31% of Korean-Americans are uninsured? That’s as high as the national uninsurance rate for Hispanic-Americans and Native Americans.

Did you know that 24% of Native Hawaiians, 21% of Vietnamese and 20% of South Asians are uninsured? That’s higher than the national uninsurance rate for African-Americans.

Did you know that 1 out of every 3 AA NHOPIs is Limited English Proficient? That’s 20 times the rate for non-Hispanic Whites.

Did you know that 1 out of every 8 AA NHOPIs lives in Poverty? That’s higher than the non-Hispanic White poverty rate.

America’s 2.4 Million uninsured, and 14.2 Million insured AA NHOPIs, have a vested stake in the Affordable Care Act.

Wellness Matters. Informed Choice Matters.

In fact, if you were to ask America’s 2.4 Million uninsured and AA NHOPIs “What does the Affordable Care Act Mean for You?” the answer would be:
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Hapa Voice celebrates mixed-race Asian identity celebrates mixed-race Asians

Erica Johnson is a woman on a mission. Earlier this year, she launched a blog called Hapa Voice where she posts submissions from hapas — mixed-race Asians — with photos and short autobiographies that explain a little about themselves. The titles of each post are a simple rundown of the submitter’s ethnic mix.

This elegant, straightforward approach to stating one’s own identity is both powerful and moving, especially for hapas because their identities have been a central focus all their lives, even more so than other people of color. Being mixed adds a layer of richness for themselves, and too often a lare of confusion for others. So it’s really cool to read entry after entry on “Hapa Voices” and see so many people who are finding their voice… and their identity. founder Erica Johnson Johnson has been inspired by the work of hapa writer, filmmaker, artist, activist, standup comic and lifeguard (really) Kip Fulbeck.

His “Hapa Project” and books such as “Part Asian, 100% Hapa” are clear antecedents for “Hapa Voice.” In the book, Fulbeck traveled the country shooting portraits of mixed-race Asians accompanied by statements of identity by the people posing. He recently published a new book of adorable portraits of little hapa kids, “Mixed.”

But as an ongoing website project, “Hapa Voice” takes Fulbeck’s inspiration and breathes it more life. Johnson explains the origins of the “Hapa Voice” blog on its “About” page:

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Do we still call ourselves “Asian American?”

AAPI Heritage Month poster from East Tennessee State UniversityWith Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month about to end, I thought I’d write a bit about the terms we choose to describe our identity. Like other ethnic groups, the labels we use for ourselves seems to be always evolving. Hispanic evolves into Latino; Negro to Black to African American; Native American to American Indian. Asian Americans are sometimes called Asian Pacific Americans, sometimes Asian Pacific islander American, and sometimes Asian American Pacific islander. These labels lead to a crazy bowl of alphabet soup acronyms: AA, APA, APIA, AAPI.

I choose to say (and write) “Asian American” most of the time, but say “Asian American Pacific Islander” and use the acronym AAPI for formal references. Although organizations such as APIA Vote and APAs for Progress helped get Asian Americans involved in the political process, President Obama and the White House prefers AAPI, as in “Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.” (Note that the poster shown here, from East Tennessee State University, calls it “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”)

Earlier this month at an AAPI Heritage Month event sponsored by the Colorado Asian Roundtable, our friend emcee Kim Nguyen stumbled on “Asian American Pacific Islander” and I had to snicker. It’s a mouthful, all right, especially when you say it over and over into a microphone. And even just saying “AAPI” repeatedly gets to feeling odd, as if the letters lose all meaning upon repetition.

As it happens, we may be on the cusp of a change in how we identify ourselves anyway.

The Sacramento Bee the other day ran an interesting story that proposes that “Asian American” is fading off like the term “Oriental” before it.

“As Sacramento’s growing Asian immigrant communities celebrated Sunday’s Pacific Rim Street Fest, a growing number note that Asian American isn’t a race and said they choose to identify by their ethnicity,” the article stated. The excellent (required reading) group blog 8Asians picked up on the SacBee’s story and expanded upon its theme of ethnic Balkanization.

Asian Americans are increasingly identifying more by their specific culture and ethnicity, and not so much as a larger, racially-linked group.

Like a lot of social change, this may be a generational swing. Continue reading