Emil Guillermo: America's Asian confusion, Stephen A., and DACA

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Yes, I am still talking about ESPN’s Stephen A.Smith’s remarks about an Asian being the biggest star in baseball, America’s national pastime.

Hate needs to be called out.

Listen to my show No. 94 on to hear the audio tape, where Smith singles out Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani for being a foreigner, who by being so exceptionally gifted (33 homers AND a 4-1 pitching record) is the de facto face of baseball.

Smith said Ohtani’s “harming the game” when the box office draw is an Asian face.

Who should it be? Said ESPN’s Smith: “It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys.”

Not us guy Asians.

And “those guys” Harper and Trout? W.B.I.A.—White Born In America.

You don’t have to be a baseball player to feel that sting.

You can be a broadcast veteran like me, who so often in my forty years in media found myself to be the only Asian American, or the only Filipino American, in the room.

I was never WBIA. But I was the first Asian American to host NPR’s “All Things Considered” as a senior host back in 1989. There hasn’t exactly been a glut of Asian American hosts since then. I could have been the Shohei Ohtani of broadcasting. Doesn’t matter. To people with Smith’s mentality, there’s an insidious racist, xenophobic message in the media industry. You’re not good enough, thanks for applying to WBIA.

And now we hear that message from a Black man paid $12 million by ESPN, Stephen A. Smith.

What happened to the unofficial universal truth of true diversity? That’s what I call the phrase, “When you take the elevator up, don’t forget to send it back down.”

Smith has admitted to his ignorance. But this is going to take more than, “I’m sorry.”

And where’s ESPN on their $12 million dollar loudmouth? This is more serious than the recent Rachel Nichols debacle, in which the white female ESPN sportscaster is caught on tape saying disparaging things about a Black colleague and ESPN’s diversity record.

ESPN has said it will hold a “town hall” on the Nichols matter. But it has said nothing on the Smith/Ohtani outburst, which is far more significant.

Maybe it’s not significant enough? Sure, there’s just 22 million or so Asian Americans, and Ohtani is an Asian who can’t speak English. What’s he going to say? ESPN must think it can play dumb, and the whole thing will just go away. (In this era of the short attention span news cycle, it probably will.)

Or we will just forget and go away. And turn silent again.

Then there’s the other problem—that Asian Americans are still in the “seen one, seen them all” category.

No one bothers to drill down and get granular. An “Asian” can be from as many as 50 countries, each with a unique Asian flavor. Mix your curry and your fish sauce at your own risk.

Add the American part to the equation and it further adds to people’s confusion. Ohtani is an Asian who just came to the U.S. But there are some Japanese Americans who have been in the U.S. for generations, most of whom are born here and are not immigrants.

When Smith goes after Ohtani, he fails to see the nuance in Asian and Asian American. He did in his apology, no doubt with help from Asian Americans at ESPN. But his initial attitude is common. Hey, foreigner: Not on my team.

We know it all too well in the pandemic, when someone sees any Asian face and, at the prompting of a scapegoating xenophobic ex-president, goes into hate mode. China Virus? Then why are Filipinos, Thai, Vietnamese, Indians, etc. among those attacked?

And that’s why I keep talking about it. Because history does and will repeat itself. Ignorance assures it. The ignorance Smith displayed last week plays into a general ignorance in America.

We will see it again. We always have.

American xenophobic rhetoric goes back to the entire history of Asians in America.

It’s quite a list. Executive Order 9066 incarcerated Japanese Americans at the start of WWII. Then there’s the more recent Muslim Ban.

In the 1930s, the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 turned colonized Filipinos here back into aliens. The Immigration Acts of the 1920s went after all countries. But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 specifically targeted immigrants from China.

That’s the legacy of ignorant rhetoric in America.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, in full-throated passion when he dissed the “foreigner” Ohtani, is part of that legacy.

In my last column on this, I brought up the Dodgers’ Al Campanis, who lost his career for saying ignorant racist remarks against Blacks back in 1987.

It’s history that compels ESPN to say and do something about their $12 million dollar loudmouth now.

Certainly, Smith must do more.

If you haven’t noticed, to be an Asian American is really a political act. And in 2021, aside from ESPN and Stephen A. Smith, we have issues.

DACA is one of those issues, and the Texas judge who dropped a bombshell on Friday knew how to wreck a weekend. Not just for the Dreamers, but for all fair-minded Americans.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, a G.W. Bush appointee, ruled that President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was “unlawful,” and that he had overstepped his authority when he created DACA.

The judge agreed with Texas and other states that have rejected DACA. But the judge didn’t stop the program because he doesn’t have authority to legislate from the bench. So who gets to legislate? Congress.

And that’s where we are with DACA right now. No new applicants can be accepted or approved at this point. And the more than 600,000 DACA dreamers are still in a kind of limbo. Legal but in an “unlawful” program.

What to do?

Call your member of Congress. DACA recipients will continue to be a political football until Congress takes action to protect the DACA recipients and give them a pathway to citizenship.

That means something more than getting money into the budget Reconciliation Act being discussed now. But if the votes aren’t there for an immigration overhaul that includes DACA, the reconciliation maneuver in Congress may be the only way to protect the Dreamers.

700,000 people’s lives are all the line, including more Asians who were brought here as young kids to America than you think.

Your member of Congress is the answer here.

This is yet another reminder. To be Asian in America, to be Asian American, is to be in a constant unresolved political state. We have issues. Keep talking about them.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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