Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Asian-Americans and Sports

This article on Alternet examines several interesting aspects of the increasing importance of Asians on the world sports scene. Todd Inoue writes:

[The World Cup] was early in the summer, when the Korean soccer team had an amazing run -- finishing fourth after bowing out to Turkey. That was when I first noticed that a lot of my friends -- and most of the Asian American ones -- were suddenly down with soccer, staying up late to watch the games, rooting in supermarkets and driving like idiots ... The fact is, I felt a deeper kinship with the Asian players. They resemble me -- crazy Ahn Jung-Hwan perms notwithstanding. They probably take off their shoes when they enter a home and have rice cookers on their kitchen shelves. They make the same faces I do when I screw up on the field. Am I a bad American because I feel more in common with the Asian players and root for Asian teams?

Though in a fantasy world, national patriotism would trump cultural sentiment, people want to see role models who look like them, role models with whom they can identify culturally, especially in entertainment (and its cousin, professional sports). To the extent people so inclined are respectful in their support of non-Americans (e.g. not throwing garbage on teams from their own country as has happened in Los Angeles to US soccer teams playing against teams from other countries in Los Angeles or otherwise causing danger to US citizens) it is difficult to find fault with this trend.

Also it's interesting to note that while Korea's run of World Cup victories strengthened Asian-American identity, with ABCs and yonsei rooting side-by-side with Korean-Americans for the Red Devils, it had an opposite effect in Asia itself: rumors that the Korean team had bribed officials and engaged in other dishonest methods in pursuit of victory circulated throughout the media and found wide currency in online bulletin boards, especially those for Chinese and overseas Chinese, where many participants engaged in vicious diatribes against Koreans.

I think [Yao Ming] might open up the door for many Asian Americans who have the dream to go to the NBA," says James Ryu, editor at Korean Journal. "There's a perception of many Americans that Asians cannot compete in the NBA. However, I think it will still take another 10 years before you will see many Asian American players, like you see in the professional baseball league."

With the increase in the Asian-American population I wouldn't be surprised to see more and more AAs who have the particular combination of musculature, speed, and talent to succeed in sports such as baseball. Unfortunately the present Asian-American youth culture holds up basketball, not baseball, as the highest athletic aspiration, possibly because another minority which suffered discrimination in the past made such extraordinary inroads there and transformed the game in the process.

People like Mr. Ryu, pandering to the lower elements of this AA youth culture, would like to attribute the lack of AA progress in basketball to the poor perceptions of AA masculinity, no doubt the fault of the media. But Asian-Americans need to understand: we are not black. We're not going to make progress in society through the same methods black people made, whether in sports or in politics, because we have different talents, different strengths and weaknesses, shaped by our widely divergent cultures, life experiences, and historical environments.

Given the disgusting sums of money which the agents of a basketball talent and the team for which he plays can make, even at the allegedly non-commercial college level, does anyone seriously believe that any sane scout would pass up a truly talented AA baller because of some dislike for Asian language, habits, or skin color, or because he believes a significant number of fans in his local area are so racist they would stop buying tickets just because there was one Asian on the team? Even if that, do you seriously believe that every scout of every team in every metropolitan area in America would pass over a truly talented AA baller for those same reasons, rather than taking advantage of the opportunity given up by their competitors and snapping up the guy like hotcakes? No matter what you believe about the level of racism in American society, this is ridiculous to consider.

Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella, on a DVD about the 2001 influx of Japanese baseball players called "Rising Sons," acknowledged the link between the spike of Asian faces in the seats and his star right fielder. "He puts people in the stands, no question," Piniella says about Ichiro. "San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Dallas, we've drawn more Asian people to our baseball games. When you put more people in the ballpark, it's good for baseball and that's exactly what he's done."

Asian-Americans have huge spending power, and owners of sports teams realize that. Don't you they'd kill to find some way to tap into that market more effectively? That's the beauty of capitalism - white, black, or yellow, we all love green.

Because the Asian-American population is not 1.3 billion, we simply have less of a chance of producing many genetic freaks (and mind you, I use this term with the utmost respect) like Yao Ming. It's not impossible, just highly unlikely, that an Asian-American basketball star will emerge in the near future. But if and when it happens, we'll know about it, because scouts will be all over the guy. For now, we have three options:

  1. We can train and make serious progress in the less-respected sports like baseball, tennis, and soccer, and refuse to let our self-confidence be dragged down by the fact that we're not built to be basketball players,
  2. We can genetically engineer the future kid of some willing Asian parents to give him the speed, strength, and height of Shaq, or
  3. We can spend plenty of useless efforts and money protesting the alleged racism of NBA owners, and waste endless time on internet bulletin boards bemoaning the fact that we can't achieve our highest aspiration of getting respect from white people.

I know which one I wouldn't choose.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Public Multilingualism Watch --- Seattle

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that 3 counties will provide Spanish translations and 1 county will provide Chinese translations of ballots for the upcoming primary elections, less than a month away.

"Any citizen of the United States has the right to vote, and there's nothing in our law that says a citizen has to speak English," said Adams County Auditor Nancy McBroom.

Well, that's technically true, but English ability is required to become a citizen if you weren't one before, with exceptions only for long-term elderly legal residents and the physically or mentally impaired. See INA, Section 312.

Additionally, most of the people needing assistance in Spanish are located in once place -- the Othello area. The county has had interpreters there before, although Hispanic voters who did not speak English well often would bring along an English-speaking family member to assist. "If someone comes in and needs help, they shouldn't have to drag a family member along or depend on a busy poll worker," [McBroom] said.

Just as I've asked before, why should the whole community of state or American taxpayers bear this cost, rather than the members of the community who benefits from it directly?

Ms. McBroom doesn't offer a defense of her idea that the State should be forcing its way in on yet another responsibility, language assistance, which used to be borne by family members or immigrant civic organizations. Before the expansion of official multilingualism, a citizen unsure of his English skills would press one of his relatives into service as an interpreter when interacting with the government. He'd understand the inherent limitations of this method, and probably take everything he heard with a grain of salt (or am I just overgeneralizing from all the times my uncle asked me, "Are you sure that's what he said?" at the DMV?). People don't do the same thing when faced with bilingual election workers wearing official badges and a translated ballot with an imprint of the state seal, even when errors and biases of those have the potential to negatively affect far more voters than one nephew who lies to his uncle about how to fill out a ballot in order to get him to vote a particular way.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Racial Integration in Malaysia

I'm not really sure what to think of this Star article about Dr. Mahathir's plan to expand "vision schools," in which private mother-tongue schools teaching in Tamil or Chinese and national (public) schools teaching in BM would share a common campus and non-academic facilities such as cafeterias and gymnasiums. It's an interesting idea which might promote more interaction between the races (of which there is rather less than in the US, for example). However, for Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians it also brings up the specter of increased government control over the private schools, which they fear could be used in the future to force the elimination of mother tongue teaching. So, what does our leader do to reassure nervous parties?

Addressing the convention earlier, Dr Mahathir said PAS and the Chinese educationist movement, Dong Jiao Zong, had conspired to oppose the Government's efforts to enhance the knowledge of the Malays.

Hmm, the normal tactic of conspiracy theorists is to blame any problems on an unholy alliance of communists and Zionist bankers, but Dr. M is too creative for that (or he just felt like he needed some new material, since he used that one on George Soros); he's blaming opposition to his political program on an unholy alliance of Chinese school teachers and Islamist fundies.

He added: "We have to look at other ways of promoting racial harmony among students because non-Malay parents are not interested in sending their children to national schools. They fear that their children would be segregated."

Maybe it's just the late hour, or maybe I've been overseas for too long, but I think this is the last thing on a Chinese mother's mind when she chooses to enroll her kids in a mother-tongue school instead of a national school. At least at a mother-tongue school a student learns his ancestral language and culture. Whereas at a national school you lose your culture and get it replaced by those "Moral Education" classes, which is probably a bad tradeoff.

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