Asian Journalist Cherishes Memory of Being Otherized 50 Years Ago
November 03, 2017, 08:29 AM
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From the New York Times:

How Racism Made Me a Dodgers Fan

By FERN SHEN NOV. 2, 2017

This week, Yu Darvish, the Los Angeles Dodger pitcher who is half Japanese, said he was trying to “stay positive” after a star player for the Houston Astros, Yuli Gurriel, mocked him with a racist slur and slant-eyes gesture during Game 3 of the World Series. …

Too bad a racially outraged Darvish (World Series ERA 21.60) didn’t throw beanballs at the next several Astros in the grand tradition of Juan Marichal and get suspended from the rest of the World Series so Alex Wood (World Series ERA 1.17) would have had to start Game 7 in Darvish’s stead … But no, Darvish had to be a gentleman about it …
I’m not big on baseball, but I became a Dodgers fan this week, and I think a lot of Asians and Asian-Americans joined me. We were disgusted by Gurriel’s ugly behavior and winced in unison as Darvish took a drubbing from the Astros in Game 7. (The Astros won the game and the series.) But our dismay runs deeper: Many Asian people are upset about the slick and spineless handling of the incident by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred.

Let me take you back to a Catholic-school classroom in central New Jersey in the 1960s where I’m sitting at my desk, my face aflame.

A student has just turned around and made the dreaded gesture again: “Chineeese!” he says, pulling back his eyes, grinning, leering and causing a ripple of laughter the nuns never seem to mind.

As the lone Chinese student in the class — my siblings and I were the only Chinese in the school — I experienced this many times.

This is not to say I didn’t have friends or join in kickball games or share the occasional cookie from my “Beverly Hillbillies” lunch box with a classmate.

But now and then someone would confront me on the playground, pull back their eyes and remind me that I was still, to them, some kind of freak, a foreigner, a joke.

Which brings me to what happened to Gurriel after cameras caught him not only making the slant-eye gesture in the dugout, after he hit a home run off Darvish, but also uttering a slur: “Chinito,” or “little Chinese boy.” It’s the equivalent of the N-word, and the Cuban-born slugger knew it.

“In Cuba we call everybody who’s from Asia ‘China,’ ” Gurriel said afterward through a translator. “I know it is offensive to them and they don’t like that.”

By the way, I’m fascinated by what the next wave of Cubans raised under Communism are going to be like. (Communism can do things to a people, like the difference in California between the respectable old Armenians and the hooliganish new Armenian immigrants who grew up in the Soviet Union.) Recently arrived Cuban ballplayers like Gurriel and the Dodger’s colorfully eccentric Yasiel Puig are kind of different from old-time Cubans. The bat-licking Puig acts like he must have been raised by an affectionate pack of feral dogs.
So what was his punishment? Sensitivity training and a five-game suspension that starts next season, which allowed the Astros star to stay in the lineup for all seven games. …

The message sent to Asian-Americans was: Your humanity doesn’t quite make the cut. Alter the course of a World Series for this? For them? …

Until recently I’d have said we were well past all that blatant stuff. Back in the day in rural New Jersey there were so few Asian people that my father would cross a room to greet one. (“Hey, a countryman!”) Now Asians are everywhere.

A lesser known clause of the Zeroth Amendment is that it’s racist discrimination for immigrants to not be surrounded by people of their own race and nationality at all times.
So it was a bit of a shock to be confronted recently by some young white children in a supermarket parking lot in Baltimore. They were up in my face, doing the old ching-chang-charlie gibberish. It didn’t upset me so much as startle me; it was like seeing a ghost.
Baltimore, of course, is notorious for its roving gangs of racist white children.
The Gurriel incident, though, made the schoolyard tears spring to my eyes. …

“I went through this! People did this to me!” I replied, tears welling. Trying to sympathize, he said, “They’re just pushing your buttons.”

But really, I’m glad, in this world full of hate, bias and privilege, that my buttons can still be pushed. I know what it feels like to be other-ized. Sometimes we need to tap into that wounded 7-year-old inside of us.

Fern Shen is a former Washington Post staff writer and the editor and publisher of the news website Baltimore Brew.

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