Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Thank You, Jeremy Lin
There are three magazine covers I'll always remember. AI with the blow out and retro sixers jersey on the cover of SLAM (what up @microtony), Obama on the cover of Newsweek December 2006, and Yao on the cover of ESPN in 2000. I still remember the day I got it in the mail... Thoughts rushed through my head. Was ESPN gonna give him props or were they going to reveal he was a genetically engineered government project with fake papers, Pekingese Potstickers, and an affinity for lead based bubble tea?
If it were up to me, Yao would have had neck tattoos, nike boots, and a harem of shawties from 2 Fast 2 Furious throwing lotus leaves on the ground every where he walked. It wasn't meant to be, but Jeff Van Gundy and I couldn't have asked for more. Yao exceeded every one's expectations, not just as a role model for Planet Asia, but as a figure who's integrity transcended values particular to ethnicity. In any language, culture, or creed, Yao Ming was an exceptional human being; we were just lucky to call him ours. Yao was the most influential Asian in America since Bruce Lee who schooled Jabbar, married a White woman, and kicked the shit out of Chuck Norris.
Bruce was the hardest Asian we've seen in America. He was threatening, defiant, and somehow got brothers in Harlem to rock cotton shoes for most of the 70s. I mean, son did so many dips that he literally looked like a flying squirrel with slanted eyes.
If you go to China or ask the Hoyas, they'll tell you, Bruce Lee wasn't something they hadn't seen. There were Kung-Fu masters before, during, and after Bruce's reign, but he benefitted from Hollywood like Jordan capitalized on the cable era. Bruce was an imported archetype that got injected into America's DNA and we loved him for it.
As a kid who spent Middle School downloading .gifs from AOL chat rooms onto 3.5" diskettes and selling them for $5 to kids under the thumb of parent controls, I was more Larry Flynt than Yao Ming. Yao was the anti-Bruce Lee: an obedient, loyal, 7'6" company man in a league grappling with free agency and NBA wives. What's more Asian than that? Yao didn't break a single stereotype, he perpetuated all of them, but surprisingly... I wasn't mad. For the first time in my life, Yao made me proud of the way my parents raised me. I always thought they were archaic, old fashioned, and stubborn, but Yao was a living, breathing, example of the kind of person our parents wanted us to be. And you know what, that mother fucker was ill. If I had half the balls Yao did, I'd be him too but instead, I'm a irreverent, lazy, loud mouthed, chinkstronaut who justifies his existence by sending Judith Lieber bags home to my Mom. Hey, if it was good enough for the gold rush FOBs, it's good enough for me. #GoldenMountain
Yao was the rare individual that still believed in Confucius' China. In China these days, you see the angst, the rebellion, and the Kobe Bryant jerseys. People rep AI, Kobe, and now Starbury. Since Tank Man stood against the country in 1989, few of us could honestly defend China with a straight face. For years, it felt like there was a weekly article attacking Chinese in America, Chinese in Detroit, or Chinese in China. We couldn't just be smart, it had to be the green tea. Every job we took at Ford was a job we stole from Americans. China couldn't industrialize like the West because the West already destroyed the environment and wanted to tell China how to do it this time around. I remember being in class trying to find any semblance of reason in China's Tibet policy, but knowing deep down that there was no way to defend the country. Why was I anyway? My parents were born in Taiwan.
I defended China because no one at the basketball court ever called me "Taiwanese", they called me a "chink". I was Chinese whether I liked it or not. In America, it really doesn't matter if you think you're Taiwanese, Colombian, Peruvian, Dominican, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese: we're all chinks and Mexicans to the untrained eye. I had no choice or way to reason because there were no examples outside Bruce, Yao, Long Duck Dong, and William Hung. Chun-Li and Raiden were dope, but they existed only in 64-bit fantasy worlds where we can take down giant Russians like Zangieff with blue fireballs. This is the Chinese American landscape because they are the only archetypes America has seen.
Then this came along: Jeremy mother fuckin' Lin. For 29 years, I've been waiting to see a Chinaman on television that speaks English with some cot damn bass. He's not some uncoordinated, slow footed, giant in the style of Yao, Wang, or Mengke Bateer, who I swear must be Mongolian. Watching him drop 28 and 8, you can't believe it's happening. His teammates are stuck between cheering and laughing. He's not leaping over cars like Blake Griffin or wetting people from the volleyball line like Ray Allen, he's playing under the rim, 18 ft and in, just like every one else at the YMCA. Lin plays like a slower, shorter, Manu Ginobili splitting double-teams like a yard sale flailing arms and legs to get the And-1 calls. He celebrates, he drinks gatorade, and he crashes on his friend, Landry Fields', couch. Shit, he might have even gone to Prom! Jeremy Lin is for all intensive purposes: normal...
It doesn't matter that Lin doesn't have a jumper, loves Jesus, or has that strange country twang to his words. He's just like you, he's a little like me, but most importantly he proves we're not all from another planet without google, facebook, or properly spelled bathroom signage. Some of us were born right fucking here and have nothing to do with things like this:
He may not realize it, but by not claiming "Chineseness" or embracing his rabid Asian fan base, he is doing more for us than anyone at this moment can. Jeremy Lin might be the first normal Asian America has seen and it's fucking great. He's not famous because he ran around with a rice pecker in the Hangover. He's not famous because Ari treats him like a Eunuch. Nor is he famous for singing "She Bangs". He doesn't have to act a fool to get on TV because he balls so hard mother fuckers can't find him. Lin is saving the Knicks with super-human play, but he's dispelling myths about Asian America by being otherwise hyper-normal and I thank him. He doesn't have a duty to embrace Asian America, speak for Asian America, or represent Asian America because right now he IS Asian America. Go to Church, drink that blue shit, but don't you ever, ever, ever, stop being the normal-ass Taiwanese-American you are.