Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tremendous piece about Ichiro and Asian Americans by Jay Caspian Kang. A sample:
I believed I was witnessing the collapse of stereotypes about Asians. My letters back to the East Coast, which during the winter had alternated between a weird austerity and cloying anger, focused now on the importance of sports in a society: How a meritocracy like baseball offered anyone a chance to showcase the talents of a people.

...

When a group of Japanese students sitting in front of me passed around a red sign on which some indistinguishable Japanese slogan had been written, obscuring my view of the field, I could do nothing but sit back and mutter astonished, bitter words into the back of my hand. It finally occurred to me that I had been ignoring the elephantine irony of this happy scene: I was born in Korea to Korean parents, meaning the only history I share with Ichiro is that on several occasions over the past thousand years, his people have brutally occupied my home country. Rooting for a Japanese baseball player because he fit in the same constructed minority category was like if an Irish ex-pat began rooting for Manchester United because the good people of China couldn't distinguish between his accent and Wayne Rooney's. And in most ways, it was a lot worse than that. ... I could watch Ichiro stretching in the on-deck circle and conjure the image of Jackie Robinson sliding home in 1947, but that association never brought hope, but rather a wariness that both told me that the association was wrong and that the only reason why I was cheering for Ichiro was because someone, something else had lumped us together.

...

Roth languishes in the redemptive possibilities that a shared interest in baseball might offer people who are separated along other lines. Similarly, my own stake in baseball comes from the fact that I am the foreign-born child of Korean immigrants, and that sometimes finding acceptance in this country is as simple as shouting out in a crowded bar that you know who started each game of the 1986 World Series because you, like the rest of the people there, watched every game on TV and talked about it the next day at school.
Immigrant Misappropriations: The Importance of Ichiro [Grantland.com]

The highlighted language, by the way, is part of the reason why the Korean embraced the Lakers and the Dodgers so wholeheartedly. As a 16-year-old immigrant to America, he found that no matter what you looked like, no matter what your accent was like, Americans liked talking with you, a total stranger, as long as you were talking about their home teams. The Korean was not even in the same continent as Kirk Gibson when Gibson hit the home run in the Game 1 of 1988 World Series, but he can tell the story as if he saw it. It's part of what it takes to live in America.

5 comments:

  1. Hmm... and as a native, I always assumed I had the luxury of opting out of this, but sometimes I wonder. Interesting thoughts.

    (Doesn't help that I've only ever liked one "home team" and they crashed and burned after one brief shot at glory.)

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  2. As a 18 year who immigrated from korea to LA in 1978, I can totally relate to this. Yes, I was fortunate enough to see Kirk Gibson hit that home run

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  3. edit 18 year old not 18 year

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  4. Indeed a great article by Kang. He had me at "Delillo."

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  5. Comment from Roboseyo:

    My favorite part was this one:

    "It finally occurred to me that I had been ignoring the elephantine irony of this happy scene: I was born in Korea to Korean parents, meaning the only history I share with Ichiro is that on several occasions over the past thousand years, his people have brutally occupied my home country. Rooting for a Japanese baseball player because he fit in the same constructed minority category was like if an Irish ex-pat began rooting for Manchester United because the good people of China couldn't distinguish between his accent and Wayne Rooney's. And in most ways, it was a lot worse than that."
    awesome article, though:

    it's interesting how the author found himself engaging with his minority on the terms of those who had conceptualized his minority (as fellow asian-americans), rather than on his own terms.

    I'd be interested to learn more about these flows of self-identification... I know that in Korea, expats also internalize some parts of the Korean conceptualization of them -- I saw a youtube video where some kid in his ninth month in Korea trotted out every stereotype about English teachers you can find in Korean discourses about it, and so many of us call ourselves "waygooks," and imagine we have affinity wiht people whom, back in our home countries, we'd say we had nothing in common.

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