Sunday, February 12, 2012

What Jeremy Lin should teach Asian-Americans

We can safely assume the feel-good story of the year is the meteoric rise of Jeremy Lin from bench warming D-leaguer to the NBA record books in the span of a week. His story is indeed inspirational. A talent that is so long ignored, suddenly blossoms in the prototypical american dream fashion, and captivates a nation and the world in the process. What's there not to love?

But deeper down there's a much more interesting issue, one that is not so comfortably talked about in a sports bar. Jeremy's rise is all the more surprising because he is Asian. He had to deal with stereotypes and discriminations both overt and otherwise during his entire career. It probably contributed a large part to him being ignored for so long.

Today, I read an article about how Asian-Americans are all cheering for him because they finally found a star that they could relate. The final sentence struck me as profoundly telling:

There was a pause in the conversation. Daniel Chao spoke up. "I mean," he said, in a slightly stunned voice, "an Asian-American dunked."

Why is Daniel Chao surprised? Of course, I don't mean to single out Mr. Chao, but the question remains. In other words, why are Asian-Americans surprised that one of us can dunk?

Stereotypes such as Asian-Americans are bad at sports, or that we are all nerdy or that we can't sing are already fait accompli. We cannot do anything about the fact that stereotypes exist. What we can do is choose to break these stereotypes. It always takes a few pioneers to show us the way. Jeremy Lin certainly never doubted that he could dunk, otherwise he couldn't have gotten so good at basketball. Sure there's natural talent in him, but talent is nothing if not molded by endless hours of practice.

Stereotypes are dangerous, but doubly more so when we, the people stereotyped, start to believe in it ourselves. Should we be surprised if tomorrow a Korean-American R&B songtress wins a grammy, or a Japanese-American quarterback leads his team to the NCAA championships? They would be the firsts, the pioneers, the change makers, just like Jeremy Lin became this week. But whatever we do, we should not believe it is not possible just because it has not happened yet.

It is only a matter of time before Asian-Americans break out in sports, music, movies and business. Let's not be surprised anymore. We are individuals with individual talents. We just need to believe in ourselves more and pursue our dreams with guts and heart. The operating mentality should be: if it hasn't been done before, then I'll be the first. It's working out pretty well for Jeremy.

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