If you haven’t heard of Jeremy Lin yet, you have obviously been living under a rock for the past few months. The twenty-three year old is one of the few Asians in the NBA and the first of Taiwanese descent – he is arguably the most famous already. His rapid rise to fame has often been called a “Linderella” story: although he led his high school team to capture the California Interscholastic Federation Division II state title, he was not offered any athletic scholarships from colleges, including his dream school Stanford. However, his 4.2 GPA and competitive performance convinced Harvard to guarantee him a spot on its basketball team. After graduating, Lin signed a two-year deal with his home team, the Golden State Warriors. He did not receive much playing time, but the Asian-American community in San Francisco experienced a state of frenzied excitement. The New York Knicks later claimed Lin off waivers as a backup in December. A combination of injuries and poor performance on the team allowed Lin his debut. His skill, novelty, and diligence propelled his NBA career from that point forward. Jeremy Lin is now worth $14 million, he has been on the cover of Times as often as Michael Jordan, and throughout all the fame, he has remained, according to his teammates and friends, humble and grounded.
It makes a good story, doesn’t it? Everyone from sports commentators to Ben & Jerry’s seems to believe so; they have delighted in how much material he provides them. Lincredible, Linferno, Linderella, and most well-known of all – Linsanity, are only a few of the portmanteaus that have been created in honor of Jeremy Lin. Perhaps the only characteristic exploited more often than his name is his race.
Jeremy Lin is breaking every Asian stereotype. His existence is proof against the assumption that Asians can only succeed on the academic level. While he does set an example for potential Asian athletes, Jeremy Lin considers himself a basketball player first. However, many seem intent on perpetuating the negative connotations and stereotypes of his race. Ben & Jerry’s certainly jumped on the bandwagon, creating “Taste the Lin-sanity” – a frozen yogurt that includes pieces of fortune cookies. The ice cream company has since replaced the fortune cookies with waffles and has apologized for any perceived disrespect or offense. After distasteful headlines such as “An Asian Who Knows How to Drive” and “Chink in Armor” have graced the Internet and our newspaper stands, the Asian American Journalists Association has felt it necessary to step in. It released guidelines on how to report on Jeremy Lin:
“CHINK”: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person on someone who is Asian American. Extreme care is needed if using the well-trod phrase “chink in the armor”; be mindful that the context does not involve Asia, Asians or Asian Americans. (The appearance of this phrase with regard to Lin led AAJA MediaWatch to issue statement to ESPN, which subsequently disciplined its employees.)
DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to an “Asian who knows how to drive.”
EYE SHAPE: This is irrelevant. Do not make such references if discussing Lin’s vision.
FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.
MARTIAL ARTS: You’re writing about a basketball player. Don’t conflate his skills with judo, karate, tae kwon do, etc. Do not refer to Lin as “Grasshopper” or similar names associated with martial-arts stereotypes.”
And so on. Clearly Jeremy Lin has been made into the representative of Asians worldwide, without regard to his own feelings or to the fact that he is a native-born American. However, his Taiwanese roots can also be viewed in a positive manner. He has become an inspiration to the Asian community worldwide. China has claimed him as one of its own, despite his Taiwanese-American roots. As a Chinese-American myself, I believe the best way to illustrate the effect of Jeremy Lin on my household is to relate a recent experience.
This President’s week, my family and I flew to California to visit Stanford. Once on campus, my father immediately commented, “They must be kicking themselves for letting Jeremy Lin slip through their fingers.” I possessed not a modicum of interest in professional sports, but after enduring a six-hour flight with my father pontificating on the player, I was reasonably more informed about Jeremy Lin and utterly sick of him already. After our tour, we pulled in at a nearby shopping center that happened to be directly across from Palo Alto High School. I awaited the outburst with resignation.
“Jeremy Lin’s high school!” my father exclaimed breathlessly, “This may be the only opportunity for me to take a picture; you probably won’t be admitted to Stanford, so it will the last time we are in California.”
Letting the insult slide, I observed his tight grip on the camera, decided the argument was not worth it, and informed him that my mother, sister, and I would be in Rite Aid if he needed us. Browsing through the pharmacy’s array of allergy medication, I turned around to face my mother.
“I really don’t understand why he’s so obsessed. Last time I checked, Dad was more of a golf-”
My words died on my lips as I took in the bizarre sight: my mother was holding and actually reading a Sports Illustrated magazine (!) with none other than Jeremy Lin on the cover.
All I could muster was a pathetic, “But you don’t even like sports.”
“This boy is really great,” she informed me without looking up. “Did you know that he went to Harvard? Did you know that he is Christian? Did you know that the coaches didn’t even let him play at first?”
My mother finally raised her head and said earnestly, “He would make a great role model for you, Victoria.”
I recognized that excited expression and those half-glazed eyes with a sense of defeat. My family, like the rest of the world, had officially succumbed to Linsanity.