The Jeremy Lin Effect: Breaking Asian Stereotypes in the South

Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin

By Guest Contributor: Noah de la Rosa

“You’re out!” The umpire exclaims. I think to myself, “Geez Christian, calm down it’s only intramurals.” Student referees take their job too seriously

It was the third straight time of the season that I struck out while starting off at bat. There’s probably a better way of saying that but I’m not acquainted with baseball/softball terms; which is another way of saying, I don’t like baseball. So, why do I keep playing? If anything, I’m only perpetuating the stereotype of the unathletic, socially-awkward Asian. I keep playing because they don’t think we can.

Who is “we”? Who is “they”?

I go to a small private university in the South. Population 4,377. Population of Asians and Pacific Islanders: 45. Population of Asian Americans? 1. Me.

Safe to say that “they” are white people. “We” is myself, the lone representative of the Asian American community.

I have white friends who have never had an Asian American friend, and Asian American friends who never had any white friends. It seems like races develop factions, but nobody is forcing them to choose who they interact with. This social segregation just seems to happen naturally.

As an incoming college freshman, transitioning into college was hard enough. Small private schools were all I knew. There, everyone knows each other and graduating classes consisted of about twenty or so kids. Going into a student body of over 5,000 is intimidating, even though that size is still small for more colleges; but even more important, I was going into a school in the deep South. Why would an Asian kid from D.C. subject himself to the southern plains of Tennessee? For me, it was because my chosen college is a private school affiliated with my parent’s church. Being immigrants, I didn’t have the option to go to my father’s or mother’s alma mater. My parents are paying for my tuition and I am thankful enough to go in the first place; but Tennessee certainly wasn’t my first choice.

I came in feeling very out of place and unwanted. Early on, stares and glares came at an alarming rate. What was worse were the first impressions: they would usually start with the “foreign hi”. There really isn’t a word for it, but all Asian Americans have experienced this firsthand — an unnecessarily long, extended ‘hi’ or ‘hello’, followed by a painfully enunciated greeting. It’s like being talked to in baby talk. Those were by far the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve ever had in my life. If anything, I preferred the glare.

No one likes being stereotyped. No one likes being ostracized, especially in your own home, which at the time was Tennessee. My first month at college consisted of eating ramen and watching Korean dramas all day, and never leaving my room except to attend class. You may have caught on to this by now, but it took a whole month for me to realize that I was playing right into the stereotypes of Asians that I dreaded. I was antisocial, and I only cared about doing studies, eating noodles and marathoning Asian soap operas. How are people supposed to understand me and my race if I shut everyone out?

I realized that I was just as guilty of stereotyping as my fellow students. Just as when white people assumed norms about me, I assumed the same towards them. I’ll rephrase my earlier question: how are people supposed to understand me if I refuse to understand them? I had made broad presumptions about Southerners in general: that they were intellectually inferior, that they all had country accents, and that they were all racist. Obviously, it sounds terrible, and actually writing it out embarrasses me even more. The reason why these assumptions existed in the first place is because of lack of conversation between us.

As I started to hang out with them more and understand them more, they, in turn, understood me better. Sometimes this forced me to give them the benefit of the doubt when they asked me insensitive questions. Answering questions such as, “Where are you really from?” and “How do you say this in your language” became easier after explaining to them how asking that in the first place is indecent. Simply conversing among another removed many inconsistencies and stereotypes attached to each other. Being open to them allowed them to be open to me.

There was only one stigma I couldn’t initially get away from: the assumption that Asians and sports don’t mix. That was my biggest pet peeve, since basketball is my favorite sport. So, I would get annoyed when people looked surprised when I play. Those were the same people who claim that they “don’t see race,” and yet they would look at me funny when I pick up a ball. They would proceed to tell me that basketball isn’t my sport.

There are two things I love about basketball: first, I love that no language is necessary because basketball is all about how you play, and second, I am a fan of Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin was the primary inspiration for me in playing a sport. As the first Chinese or Taiwanese American to play in the NBA, Jeremy Lin made me feel like anything was possible.

Yet, even as a player in in a major sports league, however, Jeremy has had his fair share of racism directed towards him. Remarks from reporters stated that he was “deceptively athletic” when performing at the top of his position. When his playing output decreased reports would claim that he had a “chink in his armor”. Even referees don’t give out fouls to players when they obviously foul him. But nothing fazes Jeremy Lin. He knows he represents all Asian Americans every time he steps on the court. His cool and calm demeanor assured me that I can deal with anything and still leave level-headed. His success encouraged me choose a sport and inspired me to stick with it since middle school. I wanted to play in college, but at an intramural level of course, I couldn’t go pro.

Although I played every sport in high school I knew how bad our teams were. But I still gave 110% to every sport I played. I wanted to prove that Asian Americans could hang with the rest. Basketball season came around and it was everything that I expected it to be. Right off the bat I got the glares, the whispers, the “I didn’t know you played basketball!”, and everything else. I then start playing ball and started actually scoring. I would look at the crowd every once in a while, and it looked like they saw a ghost — mouths open and everything. I would think: “They expect me to break boards but act surprised when I shoot hoops”.

We never won a game, so my team didn’t have one player who played basketball at any organized level in their life. But at the end of the day, others teams didn’t look down on us. Instead, they saw us as equals.

This trend of acceptance carried on through other intramural sport seasons as well. And even though my favorite sport was and will always be basketball, my favorite intramural moment came during the baseball season. Even though my basketball team transitioned into my baseball team, we had some actual baseball players and won a couple of games.

Our last game of the season was against the best intramural team in the university — the Admissions Squad: basically, a mix of former minor league players, former collegiate players, and just the most athletic students on campus. No team has ever scored a run on them, much less a win. We wrote this game off as a loss right when it was scheduled, but of course we weren’t just going to forfeit.

In the last inning, the score was 21-0 – such a score mismatch that you’d think it was a basketball game. Most teams play the 10-run or mercy rule — but not us! We were unwavering, and we were also gluttons for punishment. Everyone had struck out at least once, and even if one our players were to hit the ball, someone from the opposing team would catch it or tag the base first.

Then, it was my turn to bat. I had already struck out twice prior but maybe this is where I catch my lucky break. Did I miraculously win the whole thing? No. Did I hit the ball over the park? No. Did I even score a run? No. But, I still did the impossible. I got a base. It meant nothing in the long run — but right then and there I thought I had won the World Series. Again, people were in shock. Not only did I prove myself in basketball, but in baseball too. Sure, the expectations weren’t very high but surpassing them never fails to leave a lasting impression.

My time playing intramurals was well-spent. Along with basketball and baseball, I ended up playing soccer, volleyball, flag football and even cornhole (think paper toss, but with bean bags). In each sport, I won small victories. My teammates are my best friends, and we’re living together next year as through these sports I decided to stay at my university until I graduate (and maybe even beyond graduation for post-grad studies).

I’ve never felt more like I belong than in the South. I understand that my being Asian means that other people will see me differently. I will be profiled, which sucks; but it’s not like I don’t do it too. People are going to see color just like one would brake at a red light. It’s up to you to either green light and be open minded or red light to be closed.

My name is Noah de la Rosa and I am an Asian American. I suck at math, but I’m alright at English. I have a Hispanic last name, but I am a Filipino. I can’t play Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 but I can recreate Pete Rock’s “They Reminisce Over You”. I can’t outsmart you in chess, but I’ll shoot a jumper in your face. I still get the occasional “Jeremy Lin,” “Bruce Lee on the court,” or “Jackie Chan with the shot”, but just like with first impressions, these seemingly blatant insults end up just being cringe-worthy terms of endearment.

Because at the end of the day, there’s one inescapable truth: “That Asian kid can ball.”

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct an error. Jeremy Lin is the first player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. The first non-white and the first Asian American NBA player was Wataru Misaka, who played for the New York Knicks in the 1947-1948 season.

Noah de la Rosa is currently pursuing an English and History major with a Journalism minor at Lee University and is the only Asian American (Filipino) student on the campus. He enjoys writing about his experiences as the only APA in his university on his personal blog, onlyoneasian.wordpress.com. He hopes to one day be a middle school English Teacher.

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