August 20, 2008

Basketball Activism

This article came in from my NY Times alert. It's about a middle-aged Chinese American couple who started a basketball program for Chinese American girls and boys in Manhattan. It talks about the challenges they face, which are mostly cultural. RebelAzn talks about Asian Americans and sports on this site, and I agree with him--we need to promote sports, especially given the cultural stigma against sports in many Chinese American/Asian American families. The writer breaks it down by generation and socio-economic standing, which is probably accurate:
One view, particularly common among first-generation, working-class Chinese-Americans, maintains that sports are an unnecessary impediment to academic and professional achievement, according to interviews with Chinese-American athletes, students, educators and community leaders in New York.

An opposite view, typically held by more educated parents or those who have become more assimilated into American culture because they have been in the United States at least one generation, promotes sports as an integral part of a child’s maturation.

I've noticed this to be true as well. The article continues:
Pressure to excel academically can be particularly intense for those, like Ms. Law’s family, who arrived in the United States toward the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. While some members of other ethnic groups have embraced sports as a way out of poverty, Asian-Americans, for the most part, have not, said Peter Kwong, a professor of Asian-American studies and urban affairs and planning at Hunter College.

“Using physical strength to make a living is not respected; it’s a Confucian ideal,” he said. “You’re wasting your mind. Using your hands is just not a career.”

I agree with this too. Most Chinese American people I know admire Yao Ming, but they don't aspire to be Yao Ming.

On a side note, this Peter Kwong dude is getting quoted all over the Times these days. He was quoted in my last blog post too. We should get him to mention us--"Using your hands is just not a career, but it's great if you're typing entries on the Fighting 44s!"

There are some more interesting passages in the article, including this one:
“Many times we have to convince the parents,” Ms. Law said. She talks to them about not only the importance of fitness but also the educational and social value of sports, how basketball can teach teamwork, focus and commitment and give a child a sense of belonging. “I say, ‘I’m a parent of two children. We’ve been doing this for many years.’ ”

Indeed, according to educators, coaches, students and athletes in Chinatown and elsewhere, this is a common conversation in the Chinese-American community.

“For many Chinese, they don’t see sports as part of youth development,” said Howard K. Chin, president of Chinese American Student Exposure, a nonprofit group that provides sports programs, volunteering opportunities and career counseling to young people in Chinatown. He spoke on a recent evening at Columbus Park amid a crowd of about 100 people who had gathered to watch a Chinese-American basketball tournament.

I pretty much agree with everything stated in the article. As for the park that they mention, if it's the same one I'm thinking of, I used to pass by it quite often, and even though it was in the heart of Chinatown, the Chinese people mostly used it for tai chi; it was mostly non-Asians who used it for basketball.

Asian Americans need more sports in our culture, and when I read about people like the Laws, it's heartwarming. They fund these clubs with their own money, and they put the sweat equity into making sure it works. This is true activism.

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