I have to join in on the conversation here. First of all, I’m excited and proud to see all the attention Jeremy Lin is getting, not only because he’s an Asian American and a Christian, but because he has worked so hard and shown such courage to get where he is today. And because, as described in the previous post, he has serious talent! That’s just fun to watch.
Growing up, I feel like there was a lack of representation of Asian American men in popular culture, that I could look up to. And that kind of thing is really important in one’s childhood… to see positive images of people you can relate to. I rooted so hard for Yul Kwon, the first Asian American winner of the hit reality show, Survivor, and felt so validated when he outmuscled and outstrategized his competition. And today, I love seeing Jeremy Lin tear up the court, proving all his doubters wrong.
At the same time, conversations about his success have forced me to remember some sobering realities that Asian American men face. After all, most of us aren’t 6″3 and 200 pounds like Lin, or built with rock-hard abs like Kwon. No, we’re more in the range of say, 5″7 and 150 pounds, give or take a few. We’re usually the shortest, smallest, and quietest men in the room — and that’s not lost on us, especially in a culture where manliness is often associated with physical size, height, and aggression.
Seeing Jeremy Lin in a Knicks uniform, I wonder how many people remember Wat Misaka, the first non-Caucasian player in the NBA, who also played in Madison Square Garden for three games before he was cut. This article reveals his knowledge that being 5″7 was a disadvantage. In a movie made about him, it says that apparently Misaka had been a “big hit” among viewers when he played against the Harlem Globetrotters, and he was even offered a place on their team, but he declined. Did anyone think of him as a circus show?
Here’s another part of the social reality of Asian American men: we’re by far the most bullied of all groups among schools in the United States. Most of us heard the news about Private Danny Chen’s suicide, after relentless hazing and racist behavior by fellow soldiers. A few studies in dating preferences have shown that Asian American men are the “least desirable” group among females.
So what do we do about it? Most of us are not getting taller anytime soon. Do we drink protein shakes at every meal, and hit the gym to build our muscle mass? Or learn to behave like an alpha male in order to be more desirable to women (or socially accepted), as Wesley Yang highlights in his “Paper Tigers” article?
Honestly, reading that article depressed me. Because in some ways, it was so true. I know so many Asian American men who react in one of two ways to their cultural and sexual identity: feel hopeless and depressed, or do everything they can to try to be like other cultures or people, who they feel are more “cool” or socially acceptable.
The article also depressed me because as a Christian, I don’t think God gave me my body, with its height and bone/facial structure, by accident. It wasn’t a mistake, and it’s not something I should have to be ashamed of. I respect Jeremy Lin and Yul Kwon, and I am genuinely happy for them. But part of me doesn’t want to be them. Part of me rebels against the idea that I need to prove that I can do everything other people or cultures can do.
That’s what I believe deep down inside, but that doesn’t always translate to how we feel. How can we feel beautiful, when there are so many forces at work portraying the opposite message?
So I guess I’m wondering a few things. What does it mean to be an Asian American man? What does our culture think of sexuality, and how do we fit in that?
Is there an example of an Asian American man in the public eye, who isn’t unusually tall or athletic, and who is proud and brings his culture into what he does?