What Jeremy Lin Means To Asian Americans

My recent Op-Ed published this past weekend in USA Today:

My son used to be Kobe Bryant. But lately when we play hoops, he’s Jeremy Lin. As an Asian-American former backyard hoop star, I whisper, “Thank you — and it’s about time.”
When I was my son’s age, I used to be Michael Jordan because he was the best. My Tiger Dad trained me to strive for excellence, even in sports, where Asians in America didn’t excel.  We had nobody to look up to. After all, Asian Americans only represent 4.8% of the U.S. population.
Now my son has Lin to admire. And even though it’s too soon to identify a signature move, the young Knicks’ point guard has plenty of style. He’s cool, measured, and smart. He’s modest (comma removed) and fearless. He’s a man of faith, plays well with others, and puts his team first. Add all these qualities and you have a fairly standard Asian-American stereotype.
When I consider Lin’s incredible rise, I wonder if being Asian — and the old, negative stereotypes — at first worked against him. He’s smart, but few NBA players graduated from Harvard. Yao Ming excepted, Asians aren’t often tall or physical enough to play pro basketball. And, of course, Lin’s too quiet; too shy.
I grew up underneath the Bamboo Ceiling, a barrier that keeps Asian Americans from reaching the pinnacle of success in anything other than traditional professional careers like medicine, dentistry, and engineering. It has to do with how we were raised as children. We were brought up by our Tiger Parents to work hard, do well in school, respect our elders, and not to question authority. In order to reach the upper echelon of most fields, however, other “non-Asian” traits are typically necessary: networking, risk-taking, leadership, and aggressiveness.
With Lin, Asian Americans have found a role model who combines both the traditional Asian values of our parents with the Western traits needed to excel. He is the sports hero we’ve been patiently waiting for. And maybe — just maybe — “Linsanity” will make other corporate executives, and leaders in their industries, take a second look at an Asian American for a leading role, as the Knicks did with Jeremy.
Back in our driveway, I pass the ball to my son and watch him try a crossover dribble. He giggles as the ball bangs off his leg and rolls to me. I pick it up, step back, let it fly, and shout, “It’s Lin for the win!”
Felt sweet and true the moment the ball left my hand.

To read excerpts from In Stitches, my memoir about growing up Asian American and becoming a doctor, click HERE.

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Posted in: Dr. Anthony Youn in the Media


  1. I’m a longtime reader of your blog — I think it’s a great combination of educated commentary and lighthearted personal opinion. This post is the first one I’ve felt compelled to comment on. I’m Asian-American too, and watching Jeremy Lin’s recent success has been thrilling and unexpectedly emotional for me. I think you capture that feeling perfectly: “He is the sports hero we’ve been patiently waiting for.” I think a lot of minorities walk around with a constant, almost-unconscious awareness that they’re being viewed through the lens of stereotypes that may have nothing to do with who they actually are. But I really hope that the success of Jeremy Lin (and, for that matter, people like you — other Asian Americans in the public eye) will help change some of that.

    Comment by Lila on February 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm

  2. This post brought a tear to my eye, that’s wonderful! I’m not Asian American, but all the same I totally celebrate Jeremy Lin breaking down those old barriers and proving that there is no single model for success. I hope more follow in his footsteps, he’s a very inspiring figure!

    Comment by Megs on February 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm

  3. Thank you for your nice comments! The best part about being a writer is affecting people whom I don’t even know. Thank you.

    Comment by Editor on March 1, 2012 at 2:46 am

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