Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak

Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak
by Russell Jeung on Sunday, February 12, 2012

I ain’t gonna’ lie. I’ve followed Jeremy Lin’s basketball career since he was at Palo Alto High. I was proud that the GS Warriors signed him. And when I youtubed the clip of his wicked crossover and dunk against Washington recently, I was gratified that an Asian brother could ball.

And yet, I’ve also been feeling vaguely uncomfortable with my man-crush on Jeremy. I think Asian Americans, especially males, are a little too linsane about him, and that should give us pause. Why are we so proud to see him succeed in the NBA? Are we so hero-starved, as emasculated Asian American males (EAAMs), that we’ll fawn over any slight success against whites and blacks?

Now I am a charter member of EAAMs. As a scrawny Chinese American teenager, I loved playing hoops but was limited. I wish I had a standing jump over two feet so I could touch the rim. I yearned for a left hand that was good for something other than holding a rice bowl. But quite frankly, I was just average, and my confidence waned when I had to play pick-up with strangers.

EAAMs not only face our inadequacy on the athletic courts, but also in the media. I admit I got all choked up when I first heard the EAAMs’ musical anthem, “Be a Man!” during a training scene in a Disney movie. Of course, our role model to be a man was our Asian sister, Mulan, who isn’t even real.

Chow Yun Fat was the male protagonist in the most watched Asian film in the US, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” He was so skilled in martial arts that, even with a funny haircut, he could fly on trees! But our Asian male hero never did get together with the love of his life in the film, Michelle Yeoh. In fact, his character ended up dying at the hands of Zhang Ziyi’s master. What kind of hero is that, who gets killed by an old nanny?

Long oppressed and stereotyped, we EAAMs now can take ethnic pride in Jeremy Lin and say, “At least one of us with a bad haircut can dunk!” He’s our role model, having been overlooked, unrecruited, and undrafted, and now showing them what we can do.

And still, something doesn’t sit right. Why am I infatuated with a guy half my age? Doesn’t our fetish over Jeremy Lin simply prove our emasculation and desperate need for a hero?

I believe the problem for us EAAMs is that we’re buying into the system that oppressed us in the first place. We should have ethnic pride and be represented in society, but pride in what and represented for what? For being able to throw a 9” ball into an 18” hoop and get on an ESPN highlight? We seemed to have become so Americanized that we value only play and fun, all the while 20% of the world lives on $1.25/day.

If our pride in Jeremy Lin is simply based on the fact that he looks like us (only 10 inches taller), than we’ve got a pretty superficial sense of ethnic pride. Martin Luther King Jr. longed for the day when we are judged not by the color of our skin, but the content of our character.

Indeed, our real Asian American heroes should be those with character and integrity, who daily live out noble Asian values. Like the Chinese grandmother who collects aluminum cans just so that she wouldn’t be a burden to her family. Like the Filipino nurse who as a single mom raises her kids to do well in school. Like the Vietnamese immigrant kid, while not yet a citizen, serves in Afghanistan for the US Army because he cherishes freedom.

EAAMs, take pride in these community members and let them be your heroes. Better yet, be your own hero and develop the content of your own character. Take your recycled goods, share them with the grandma, and help the environment. Mentor a low-income kid, and give the mom a break. Vote intelligently in the next election, and honor that soldier.

Then you can sit back, and enjoy the Knicks on ESPN.

[reposted with permission]

2 thoughts on “Why Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin is well, Weak”

  1. Is the Asian American Obsession with Jeremy Lin really weak?: a response to Russell Jeung —

    Russell’s concluding point in his blog post is well taken that we should celebrate the ordinary lives of those in our communities who may not receive the celebrity adulation or prominence of a Jeremy Lin. But is it wrong to celebrate Jeremy Lin’s success as well? If I understand Russell’s concern correctly, he feels the Jeremy Lin phenomenon is a capitulation towards a misplaced dominant/mainstream value system that has marginalized Asian American accomplishments.

    There are two issues at hand. The first is whether or not our society places too much value on entertainment, and in this case sports. Russell has a point here, and of course, our society could and perhaps should celebrate those who serve our community in other ways. However, I don’t think that is what is really at the heart of the Jeremy Lin “obsession”.

    The other and more important issue in my mind is Russell’s claim that the “obsession” with Jeremy Lin perpetuates the oppressive system, which produces emasculated AAs desperate for a hero who will succeed against whites and blacks.

    I disagree with Russell on this point. I believe celebrating the accomplishments of Jeremy Lin is important because in his own way, he is in fact changing the system.

    Like Russell, I grew up watching and playing a lot of basketball. And my basketball talents were no where near Jeremy Lin’s. But with the high concentration of Asian American in Southern California, I came across a number of AA ballers who could run with Division I talent, and even a few who were able to hold their own against NBA players. Why were none of these players as successful as Jeremy Lin? Some suffered serious injuries. Others did not have the necessary family support to pursue professional sports as a career. Still others, I am convinced, faced overwhelming discrimination in a sport that had few AA representatives.

    Let’s be honest, discrimination still exists in the sports world. Why is it that Norm Chow, arguably one of the most successful offensive coordinators, was only recently appointed as a head coach after 26 years of coaching professionally?

    Now I’m not ready to elevate Jeremy Lin to the status of an AA Jackie Robinson. But there are racial barriers that still need to be broken, and celebrating those who persevere against tremendous obstacles to break those barriers for themselves and others is not weak.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *