Jeremy Lin’s NBA winning streak sparks “Linsanity” among Asian Americans


Asian Americans have slowly become visible in American professional sports — player by player, sport by sport. Some sports were conquered early. Most people know stars from the ice skating world such as Kristi Yamaguchi, Apolo Ohno or Michelle Kwan — even though a Seattle newspaper headline about Sarah Hughes winning the Gold over Kwan in the 2002 Winter Olympics read, “American outshines Kwan, Slutskaya in skating surprise” (for the record, Kwan is U.S.-born in Torrance, Calif and is as American as… er, Sarah Hughes).

Japanese-born baseball players have become more and more prominent in Major League Baseball since Hideo Nomo arrived in LA back in 1995, and then Ichiro Suzuki fired up Seattle fans when he was signed by the Mariners in 2001. But it took until just a couple of years ago before Seattle signed Don Wakamatsu, the first-ever Japanese American to hire on as an MLB team manager (he didn’t last long, unfortnately). (Read my friend Daigo Fujiwara’s excellent blog,, to follow the careers of Japanese playing in the Bigs.)

The NFL now boasts some prominent Pacific Islanders playing professional football, and a coupe of Asian Americans (some are hapa, or mixed-race) — Dat Tan Guyen, Hines Ward, Will Demps Jr., Kailee Wong, Yon Eugene Chung among them. (Here’s a good list from the blog Chinese Or Japanese.)

Golf has the ultimate superstar, albeit somewhat tarnished: Tiger Woods. The pro circuit now sports high-profile Asians such as Vijay Singh, Grace Park and a whole bunch of Korean women including Shin Eui-hang. Tennis has Chinese American Michael Chang.

But basketball…. Wow. The NBA has had few Asian stars, and even fewer Asian Americans. Few fans even know that the first player to break the NBA’s color barrier was Wat Misaka, a 5’7″ college star at the University of Utah who was a first-round draft pick in 1947 — 1947! — for New York and played a too-brief career with the Knicks. He was the first Asian, and the first player of color, to play for a pro team (back then the NBA was called the Basketball Association of America).

Yao Ming opened the door to other Asian import players when he was drafted in 2002. You can read a terrific 2009 blog post about Asians in basketball from 8Asians.

But there haven’t been many Asian American NBA stars. Certainly no role models. Nobody like us to look up to, even though Asian Americans are crazy about basketball. There’s a long-established history of intensely competitive basketball leagues within the Japanese American community in California, and even here in far-off Denver. Sure, here in Denver the JAs have thinned out a bit so non-JAs are welcome to play in the pickup games. But the point is Asians are crazy about b-ball, with no pro role models to follow.

So that’s why the emergence of Jeremy Lin as an NBA star (hopefully on his way to superstar status) has electrified Asian Americans. The AAPI blogosphere has lit up in the past week, since Lin has won three games in a row for the Knicks — yes, the Knicks; how’s THAT for karma? — as the team’s new point guard.
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Ethnic studies classes ruled illegal in Arizona because it would promote “racial resentment”

Arizona state seal I can’t think of a good reason for me to want to live in Arizona. Via Yahoo, here’s news that a judge has ruled that the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies course violates state law because it’s “designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.”

Part of the school’s funding is being withheld until it complies with state law and quits offering the course. The judge wrote in his ruling that the course crosses the legal limits because “such teaching promotes activism against white people.”

Apparently it’s OK to “objectively” teach about racial oppression, but not OK to teach from an activist perspective. However I’m not sure how you teach objectively about, say, the enslavement of African Americans; the genocide and systematic uprooting of Native Americans; racism against Blacks, Hispanics and Asians; and the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II without people getting pissed off. Aren’t we allowed to be angry? Isn’t that a free speech issue?

I love the United States and I consider myself a patriotic American citizen. But I’m allowed to be angry at my country, and resent it for a host of things including the lousy management of the economy, unnecessary wars, rampant cultural imperialism, institutionalized racism, white privilege, legislative gridlock and other stuff.

I’m also all about ethnic solidarity. If we’re a racial salad bowl, people of color need to be proud of who we are AND celebrate our place in the multicultural richness of American society. That doesn’t mean we’re fomenting a race revolution against white folk. I mean, seriously.

I’m dumbfounded. Speechless. And saddened. It’s another reason to avoid AZ unless I’m just driving through.

Race in the 2010 political races

This ad from Citizens Against Government Waste, called “Chinese Professor,” hit the fan just a few weeks ago as the campaign season was hitting its fever pitch, and it fanned the flames of outrage among Asian Americans across the country. It’s not subtle: The commercial obviously perpetuates an ugly, evil vision of Chinese as grim, committed enemies of America, gloating over a fantasy collapse of US world power and the rise of a gray-tinted China… with a gigantic visage of Chairman Mao glaring over an auditorium where a professor gloats to his students.

Here’s Angry Asian Man on the ad, and the original post on The Atlantic that analyzes the spot.

Angry Asian Man also tracked down a couple of extras who were hired for the commercial, and they explain that they knew the commercial was conservative, but they had no idea their stint sitting in an audience and laughing on command would be put in such a grim, stereotypical context.

There’s not much more to say about this ad, except it turns my stomach — and it aired tonight while we were watching election returns.
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CU Independent student news website launches “Speak Out Campaign,” organizes beats to cover racism, other “isms”

CU Independent faculty advisor Amy Herdy has guided her students from its darkest days to a new campaign against racism and prejudice. The bus sign above her is part of the students

Three years ago this week, a student news website at the University of Colorado sparked a firestorm of protest. The website posted a column by a student, Max Karson, which ineptly tried to address racism on the CU campus by poking fun at Asian stereotypes. The column, “If It’s War the Asians Want, It’s War They’ll Get,” stirred the Denver area’s Asian and Asian American communities to organize and demand changes at the University. The timing was unfortunate, because it ran on Feb. 18, just a day before the 2008 Day of Remembrance, when Japanese Americans mark the signing of Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent in American concentration camps during World War II. The column joked about “locking up” all Asians.

The area’s Asian communities weren’t amused, and rallied quickly to protest. So did student organizations not just at CU, but at the states other universities. National Asian American and civil rights organizations sent letters of protest to the Campus Press, but to the CU administration.

In the two years since, there haven’t been a lot of concrete changes at CU in general over racial issues as far as many students can see, but there have been lots of changes at the Campus Press. Its faculty advisor, Amy Herdy, a former colleague of mine at The Denver Post, was an early target of protesters but it turned out the rules for the website prevented her from having editorial control. It’s a student-run website. But since then, Herdy and the students who run the website have been busy rebuilding the class’s reputation, upgrading its commitment to quality journalism, and have worked hard to avoid ever allowing something like the “War Against Asians” column from bubbling up again. Continue reading

Yes, there’s racism in China and Japan

Lou Jing with her mother on the Chinese talent show that made her a lightning rod for discussions of race in China.

I know I spend a lot of posts writing about the ongoing racism and stereotypes that Asians face in the United States. That’s my passion, and it’s important to me. But I’m also aware that racism exists all over the world. At its worst, that’s why genocide still goes on, after all. And, I’m sad to say, racism is rife in Asia, even (especially?) in Japan, the country of my birth and family roots. It’s a tribal instinct to separate people by ethnicity, and we just have to constantly work at rising above those instincts in the 21st century, when we live in a much smaller and much more intertwined world.

My mother, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s with my two brothers and I when my father (himself Japanese but born in Hawai’i) was transferred stateside for his federal government job, is about as old-fashioned as they come. She’s been in the U.S. for over 40 years, but she’s still FOBish (“Fresh Off the Boat”) in a lot of her values, even today. When I called my parents to announce that my first wife — who was European American — and I were going to get a divorce, her first comment wasn’t anything sympathetic. She said bluntly, “See? I told you you should marry Japanese.”

Thanks mom, for the support.

So I was saddened but not exactly surprised to follow the controversy in China over Lou Jing, the Shanghai-born college student who’s shown in the video above, singing on “Go! Oriental Angel,” China’s version of “American Idol.” Lou (pronounced “LOH”) is mixed-race. Her mother is Chinese and her father, whom she’s never met, was African American. She’s a beautiful young woman, and a talented singer (her favorite performer is Beyonce). That’s a picture of Lou with her mother on the TV show, above.

But she’s such an unusual sight in China that the TV show labeled her “Black Pearl” and “Chocolate Girl,” and the media picked up on her inclusion in the show and made her a national racial sideshow. In a cultural switch from the “You speak such good English” line that Asian Americans get in the U.S., she’s grown up hearing people ask how she can speak such good Chinese. “Because I’m Chinese” is her answer, of course.

Following her appearances on the TV show, the Chinese blogosphere became filled with hateful comments aimed at both mother and daughter, venting outrage that her mother would have sex with a black man and calling Lou all manner of names and telling her to leave China (she will if she gets her wish for post-graduate study in the U.S.).

There are a lot of different ethnic groups in China, and they don’t all get along, as witnessed by the recent violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han in western China. But the majority of Chinese — 90% — are descended from the Han race. Although some Chinese are tolerant, many apparently are not.

CNN has a good video report with accompanying text about the racial issues that Lou Jing has sparked in China. Here’s a video of Lou performing on “Go! Oriental Angel”: Continue reading