Old Year, New Year — Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013!

Old Year, New Year — Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013!

It’s February 2013, a new month in a new year.  So in honor of the year that just passed by, I thought I’d reflect on three areas in which Asian Americans were featured prominently in the news.

And the first place we have to start with, of course is …


Jeremy Lin at the height of Linsanity

For those familiar Linsanity, you will not need me to rehearse the highlights of Lin’s meteoric rise from near complete obscurity.

[Aside: obscure to those who hadn’t already been aware of Lin playing in the Ivy League for Harvard and dominating over UConn in his senior year–in other words, for Asian American sports fans particularly basketball fans, we might have already had Lin on our radar, but then he dropped out of sight, until February 2013 that is.]

Lin stepped into a leadership vacuum and led the Knicks to a winning streaks the likes of which they had never seen. Spike Lee apparently said that he’d never seen Madison Square Garden roar the way they roared cheering for Lin during the height of Linsanity (and as a Knicks superfan, you’d assume Lee would know). All of a sudden people were talking about this Chinese American, this Taiwanese American, this ASIAN AMERICAN man–this guy who grew up in the SF Bay Area, who attended Harvard on an athletics scholarship, who was ignored and undervalued by everyone, until BAM!  He passes. He dunks. He struts. He makes a heart-stopping 3-point shot for all the marbles during an away game in Toronto, and the arena erupts like it’s a home game at the Garden. The puns abound: Lincredible. Lintastic. Amaz-Lin. His jersey sells out. People in China and Taiwan watch his games in the wee hours of the morning. Lin talks about his family, his faith, but also the racism he has faced–the RACISM HE HAS FACED–as an Asian American athlete in a sport that has seen very few people who look like Lin.

And the racism that Lin faces isn’t a thing of the past–it’s in the tweets and reporting and puns (I Lin you long time–UGH) and fortune cookie images that proliferate.

And, of course, it’s over all too soon — Lin is out with an injury for the remainder of the season in March and in July BAM! The Knicks drop him, and he’s off to Houston to play for Yao Ming’s old team (probably the best known Asian face in the NBA).

But while it lasted, Linsanity was unbelieveable (or linbelievable). Not just because it was thrilling to watch Lin on court, but because we, the Asian American community, had someone to root who was ONE OF US. Regardless of whether we claim descent from China or Taiwan or Thailand or the Philippines or Korea or Japan or India or Malaysia or a host of other Asian nations, Jeremy Lin by calling himself ASIAN AMERICAN was saying that he’s a born and bred American of Asian descent–someone who upheld and upended a number of stereotypes (Christian nerd, yep, but also baller with attitude, check). Lin talked about what it meant for him to be Asian American — the challenges as well as the promises and pleasures. He could be our brother, cousin, best friend, high school chemistry partner, co-worker’s nephew. Lin is one of us.

And Linsanity might not be over–there’s always the chance that as he deepens and develops, we could see a return to the dominance of Lin.

So right when the saga of Lin not being picked up by the Knicks was breaking hearts everywhere in New York, along came a YouTube clip that swept through Asian American Facebook pages everywhere:


Psy doing his now famous “horse” dance (with actual horses watching in the background)

If you haven’t heard this song, if you haven’t watched this video, then you must have been trapped under a heavy object for the last six months or living completely off the grid, because “Gangnam Style” was EVERYWHERE (the vide.  And while Psy is not Asian American, per se, there are interesting resonances for Asian American life and culture in terms of thinking of Psy and this video–that he attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music and that he had that refrain, “Hey, sexy lady” in English in the middle of his song is one element. Another is the mere fact that you had Psy’s image and song everywhere–that a Korean singer and Korean language song was being played in dance clubs, on the morning talk shows and Saturday Night Live and Glee. All of a sudden people were talking about KPop and what “Gangnam style” means and all of a sudden Korean Americans and Asian Americans again gained a type of visibility that they/we seldom enjoy.

And as” Gangnam Style” was being played on every top 40 station (including the one at my gym), the nation started to pay attention to the fact that Asian Americans vote, which is significant because of the …


There actually was an Asian Americans for Romney group, but considering that Asian Americans came out in overwhelming numbers for Obama, I figure the image would go to them.

For the first time in my memory (and I’m a political junkie) Asian Americans were being talked about in the national media as a potential swing vote demographic. For the first time in my memory, people seemed to care about who Asian Americans are–what we think about–what our political affiliations are–who we’d vote for in the 2012 election.

Would we, as the product of immigrant parents, vote for Romney because we believe in pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, don’t want a government handout, and have dreamed about the American dream of success and home ownership and private enterprise as the cure for our nation’s ills?

Would we, as the product of immigrant parents, vote for Obama because we believe in the responsibility that America has to protect its most vulnerable citizens, because our parents received help when they got here and we have an obligation to pay back and pay forward, and because Obama is the closet thing we have to an Asian American president–born in Hawaii with time spent in Indonesia and with an extended family that could be OUR extended family–Indonesian American sister, Chinese Canadian brother-in-law, Asian American nieces and nephews?

As you all know by now, Obama won a second term in office. And Asian Americans came out and voted largely for Democratic candidates. But more importantly politicians and pollsters have started to pay attention to Asian Americans–for all the ways in which we are a demographic that shouldn’t be ignored because we might just be game changers in the next election cycle.

Jeremy Lin. Psy’s “Gangnam Style.” The 2012 Election.

These were the Asian American highlights of 2012–what will 2013 bring us? Thoughts? Predictions?

About Jennifer Ho

Jennifer Ho
I am an Associate Professor of English at UNC Chapel Hill, where I teach classes on Asian American literature and culture. I blog at Mixed Race America (www.mixedraceamerica.blogspot.com), and if I could pick any superpower it would have to be flight. Definitely flight. Also, that's my dog Bruno with me in the photo--a corgi-sheltie mix who is the BEST dog in the world!