When Being Asian American as Apple Pie is Not Enough

Sometimes my kids pick the weirdest role models {YouTube gamers}. Thankfully, they also look up to people like Jeremy Lin, a former NBA player for the Houston Rockets who is also an Asian American. Lin exemplifies tenacity; he perseveres despite being underestimated at every level of competitive basketball just because he doesn’t fit the typical NBA mold. Also, no matter what pressures or temptations he faces, Lin remains dedicated to living out his faith. And now, he gives us yet another reason to admire him. 

Lin recently joined the ranks of prominent Asian Americans who spoke out, bringing attention to the disturbing rise in anti-Asian sentiment and deadly hate crimes, especially against our elderly. When the pandemic began, terms such as “China-virus” and “kung-flu” were being carelessly tossed around, like daggers looking for a target. Unfortunately, that target was the Asian American community. Dishearteningly, even Lin has been called “coronavirus” on the basketball court.

Asian American Parenting:: Version 2021

When Being Asian American as Apple Pie is Not EnoughLast week my dad needed to leave his car with an unfamiliar mechanic. I told him to call me for a ride home. While there, he sent me a strange text message. It was mostly a bunch of jumbled letters. “Is everything ok?” I texted back. No reply. I waited a few minutes before calling him, but it went to voicemail. I called again but there was no answer. After having watched those awful viral videos of recent attacks against people who could be my family, I imagined the absolute worst. I was prepared to drive over there to check on him but to my relief, he finally responded. I’d like to think I overreacted, but plenty of my peers have warned their elderly parents not to go out alone anymore. Many are taking extra precautions themselves.

Even though the FBI predicted that there would be a surge of anti-Asian hate crimes, no one seemed to care enough to take it seriously once it actually started happening. So in the last few weeks, a group of influential Asian Americans have taken it upon themselves to bring attention to this crisis.

How much of this do I reveal to my kids, if anything? As a mom, I need to protect them, not just physically, but emotionally too. They’re still young and with all that they’ve been through, they don’t need one more thing to worry about. But I’m pretty sure my news-savvy 11-year-old Jeremy Lin fan is going to find out what’s going on sooner or later. 

Representation Matters

My son was only three years old when Lin started playing for the Rockets. He doesn’t realize how special it was to learn about basketball while watching an Asian American play on his hometown team. It was all he knew, but my heart soared for what it meant for my kids because representation matters

Lin was traded away from the Rockets when my son turned five. He took it pretty hard which was sad, but somewhat amusing at the same time. “You know what I’m going to do, Daddy?? I’m going to go to the Toyota Center, find the coach, and yell at him for letting Jeremy Lin go!” he announced, tears in his eyes. 

I don’t think people outside the Asian American community quite appreciated just how much it meant to us to watch Jeremy Lin’s success. Although the first non-white NBA player was Japanese-American {news to me too}, we wouldn’t see Americans of Asian descent in the NBA again for decades. It was a huge deal when Lin joined the NBA, but not everyone appreciated its significance. Our community celebrated this victory pretty much alone. Still, I would take that kind of wound over having fellow Americans turn a blind eye when we need an ally the most. It has happened before, and I hope it never happens again. 

Asian American As Apple Pie

When Being Asian American as Apple Pie is Not EnoughThe most painful part of the last year has been discovering that for all those gains Asian Americans have made over the decades, it often still feels like we are second-class citizens. We’re American, but only conditionally. Even if our lineage reaches back to the late 1700’s, Asian Americans are often seen as “perpetual foreigners” in their own home.

It’s complicated parenting as an Asian American mom. I want to teach my kids to be proud of their heritage, while at the same time not wanting to “other” them. I wish others would see that our Chinese heritage is just a nuance of our identity as Americans, like the way people have red hair and Irish ancestry. It doesn’t make us less American to live in the skin that we are in. I am as American as apple pie, but it seems not everyone agrees, especially those looking for a scapegoat.

If my son asks about Jeremy Lin’s message, how deep should I get? I don’t want to saddle my kids with anxiety about their identity, but I won’t send them out into the world naïve and vulnerable either. I’ll try to focus on the fact that Lin is being a good role model by showing us how to speak up for ourselves, and how to defend others when it matters the most. Surely this is a lesson that all parents can teach their children.

{To better understand the rich and unique history of Asians in America, watch Asian Americans, the first documentary film series of its kind to air on PBS.}

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