Thursday, February 23, 2012

Linsanity too late for Soldiers Chen and Lew

An edited version appeared on February 26, 2012 in the New America Media.

On a recent Sunday morning, I was glued to the boob tube watching a professional basketball game from the opening jump ball to the last waning second. Haven’t done this for years but suddenly I too have been swept up by the global phenomenon of linsanity.

By now, everybody knows linsanity refers to Jeremy Lin, the basketball star from Harvard, undrafted by any of the NBA teams, who warmed the bench for two other professional teams before coming off the bench for the NY Knicks in an act of desperation by the coach. Lin promptly led his team to a win, the first of nine wins in the next eleven games. He became the toast of New York and an instant worldwide sensation.

The Knicks took on Dallas Mavericks, last year’s NBA champ and I saw a real deal. Lin drove through a forest of opponents for layups or passed to wide-open teammates. He sank long-range three pointers in crucial moments or he drew the defenders so that his teammates were unimpeded as they threw in three point bombs. He was fearless and physical as the game dictated.

In the post game analysis, the great Magic Johnson unequivocally declared that Lin’s star presence would be in the NBA for a long time. None of his fellow panelists disagreed.

Lin’s heroics on the court immediately drew a following from the Asian communities of the world, heretofore thought too small, too short and too frail to play this contact sport. But Lin didn’t just become a role model for Asian Americans. He has won the ultimate accolade: every kid--black, brown or white--on the neighborhood playground now aspires to be a Jeremy Lin.

Linsanity also caused me to reflect on the tragic fate of Danny Chen and Harry Lew, two American soldiers who took their own lives in Afghanistan. These were two unrelated victims of hazing by their fellow soldiers. Sadly the misery they experienced was so brutal and unrelenting that they found ending their young lives the only way out of their torment.

These incidents reflect a failure of American values and the leadership of the military: The former because America continues to regard people of Asian ancestry as not American, but as the other; the latter because the military not only failed to prevent such racism from their ranks but also failed to impose appropriate penalty on the perpetrators for the hate crimes.

Hate crimes against African Americans evoke high decibel outcries but hardly a murmur when perpetrated against Asian Americans.

It will be up to the Asian American community to make noise in order to rectify the wrong. During the first Gulf War, friendly missiles shot down two American helicopters. The pilots who pulled the trigger were exonerated but not Captain Jim Wang of the Awac flying surveillance.

The late Sam Chu Lin, a mainstream media star who became a voice of conscience, rallied the Chinese American community and with the help of the Committee of 100 made sure that Captain Wang had proper defense counsel leading to dismissal of all charges against him.

Wen Ho Lee was the designated scapegoat and sacrificial lamb in the political struggle between the Republican Congress and Democrat President Clinton. He would have rotted in jail as a spy for China had the Asian American community not come to his support. Sam played an active role in this case as well.

In this case, the American public took no pains to make the distinction as to whether Lee, who came from Taiwan, was Chinese or not. To this day, some still considers him a spy though the court found him not guilty of any espionage charges. Those that still accuse Lee of spying have also forgotten that the court did find the FBI lying in court under oath.

Maybe Jeremy Lin with his continued success will erase some of the prejudices that reside in America against Asians. Perhaps linsanity, had it occurred a couple years earlier, could have blunted some of the bias of the American soldiers and caused them to regard ethnic Asian in their ranks as less gook and more fellow soldiers.

But we can’t count on Jeremy Lin to carry entire load for racial equality on his shoulders. We, the Asian American community, must stand up and demand our rights as full fledged, tax paying, law abiding citizens to all the respect pertaining thereto just like the next person.


FW said...

Thanks for an eloquent historic perspective on the residue racist attitude towards Asian Americans in U.S. We need our version of Jesse Jackson.


Wen said...

You raised good points in this piece, George. But we need to find where the "gap" of understanding is regarding Asian Americans among the general population. For instance, one the one hand, we have Gary Locke as the Commerce Secretary and now ambassador to China and Steven Chu as the Secretary of Energy. One the other, we had the tragedy of the two young soldiers as victims of racial bullying. What's missing in between?


thmak said...

We all enjoy the the phenomenon of Linsanity and please remember behind this is one case of the struggle of Chinese American against all odds of social stigma to catapult to the forefront of American social stage. Jeremy would have been dropped from Knick's list of players if he was not selected to substitute to play for the Knick's regular point guards who just happened at that time to be required to stay out for a period of time. Also Lin had not been drafted by any major basketball teams for quite a long time. If he is dropped again this time, his professional basketball career will not be bright. His talent will be lost and nobody will know Jeremy Lin. Another case is Lang Lang, the world famous Chinese pianist. He was just given the permission to play by being more qualified than his competitors for the American famous pianist Andre Watts who happened to be sick at performance time. If Lang Lang didn't have the chance to play then, he would be just another so so unknown pianist player. Behind Jeremy Lin and Lang Lang, there are a lot of Chinese Americans who are still struggling against American social stigma to reach the forefront of American culture and there are those who just lost their lives during the struggle as documented by George Koo. So far there are not any famous Chinese American movie actor in American movies.

Anonymous said...

Good piece but when is this view going to get into the main media.

One observation: before he killed himself, Daniel Chen should have killed many of his tormators to make a point. Then those in the military who are racially insensitive would be more careful. I remember that the W Virginia tech shoting incident by a Korean-American. It made headlines and no one made a case of him been Korean but only mentally unstable.

It is no different than African-Americans or Jewish-Americans making a big stink whenever they are insulted.

Make a big stink if you are going to commit suicide anyway (of course easy for me to say as D. Chen was no longer rational). Otherwise you have to take some other actions.