By David Inoue, JACL Executive Director[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a lifelong Cubs fan, the most exciting thing of the Major League Baseball offseason was the addition of Yu Darvish to the pitching rotation, and the excitement only mounts as opening day quickly approaches and will have passed by the time you are reading this.
Time will tell if this leads to a second Cubs pennant in three years, but thinking of Darvish, one cannot forget the ugly racism displayed toward him during the World Series last year as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Unfortunately, racism in sports has become a growing phenomenon lately.
During the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, a controversy-seeking writer tweeted a reference to Japanese American figure skater Mirai Nagasu as being a successful immigrant — she was born in the United States. In Boston, shortly after the Super Bowl in February, a radio host mocked New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s agent, Don Yee, using a fake Asian accent to imitate his voice. Yee, like Nagasu, was born in the United States and does not speak with a foreign accent. Even if he did, would it then be fair game for mockery?
Striking close to home for me, during a high school basketball game in Cincinnati involving my alma mater, Saint Xavier High School, the other team mocked one of the St. X players, who is half-Asian, with chants of “PF Chang,” “Open your eyes wider” and, ultimately, “USA USA.” Again, the student was born in the United States. He was also not the only student singled out for racist taunts — an African-American student was also targeted.
It is clear that there remains a strong undercurrent of anti-Asian racism throughout sports and the media coverage of athletes as well. What makes these incidents especially notable is that given how few Asians there are in sports, nearly everyone seems to be subject to some form of racism.
Among the themes that seem to be constant between both sports racism and racism in society is that of the perpetual foreigner. Whether it is putting on a fake accent or, even more disgusting, the chants of “USA,” Asian Americans are not seen as American.
I have heard criticism that JACL should not bother itself with these petty issues and should instead focus on the more virulent forms of racism whether actual violence or more virulent language.
Unfortunately, it is exactly these types of racism that lead to the stronger language, or worse, violence. I would also suggest that for a high school basketball player born in the United States, hearing chants of “USA” in opposition is not a matter of sticks and stones. It is a delegitimization of that student’s identity as an American.
As a community, Japanese Americans are all too familiar with the experience of delegitimizing and actual withdrawal of our rights as citizens. Even those of us who have been in this country for generations also continue to be impacted by racist comments and taunts, we must make the connection between these attitudes and the broader anti-immigrant sentiment in this country.
It is impossible to not draw a parallel between the ongoing treatment of Asians as still foreign and the recent broad brush accusations of Chinese students as spies for China, or the many issues around those seeking DREAMer protection. We must not allow immigrants to be portrayed broadly as criminals or separated into good and bad immigrant classifications.
We all know the saying that there is nothing more American than baseball and apple pie. It’s time that the pictures of who should be on the baseball field and who is truly American begin to reflect the rich diversity of who makes up our country.
David Inoue is the executive director of the JACL and is based at the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.