Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Straitjacket Friday ... The Subject is Race

Oh, come back here. We can discuss race. For me, it's not as controversial a topic as religion, politics or how girly lil' Zac Efron got added to People magazine's "Sexiest Man" list.

This week Oakland Athletics bench coach Don Wakamatsu was named the new manager for the Seattle Mariners, making him the first Asian-American manager in major-league history.

Call it a character flaw, but baseball puts me to sleep. Whenever I'm forced to attend a game, I enjoy visiting the concession stands, waving to the mascots and doing anything but watching the play. So I don't usually follow MLB news, but Wakamatsu's hiring caught my eye because he's Asian-American like me. (Except he has a Japanese-American father and an Irish-American mother, and all my descendants hailed from a pre-melamine China.)

A poster on a message board that I frequently visit posed this question:

"Do you consider Wakamatsu an Asian, a hapa (popular nickname in Hawaii for a half-white person), or White? If he had a Caucasian last name, would there be a big deal of his background?By the same token Tiger (Woods) should be Asian because he is 1/2 Thai."

How would you answer this?

I like questions that force me to use my brain cells. So I thought and thought (and no, it didn't hurt!) and here's my take: I would be lying if I said I were blind to race. Just the fact that a name like "Wakamatsu" caused me to read the sports section is proof of that.

When I watched an interview with him, he looked and sounded like a good ol' Texas boy to me (which is what he is right now, living in Texas with his family). But in other interviews, he also has discussed the internment of his father's family and other Japanese-Americans during World War II, something I was very pleased to see addressed by a prominent sports figure. So in my mind, he is Asian because he has publicly identified himself as such. As for Tiger Woods, I don't know. Has he ever discussed being Asian? I really don't know, as I don't follow golf, so I don't view him as anything.

Mixed-race issues are pertinent to me because both my kids are half-Chinese, half-Scandinavian. And they look it. Do I see them as Asian or white? Neither, because I see them as my darling kids. (And on bad days, as the little heathens who turn my hair gray.) They don't pay much attention to race on a day-to-day basis.

But there are reminders. They root for the Asian contestants when watching Survivor, as does my white husband. And they've become very accustomed to checking the "Other" box on forms that ask for ethnic backgrounds.

We live in a very mixed-race community so their ethnicity is no big deal, but I know that at some point in their lives they will probably travel through areas where they might get called out. And if that happens, I hope they have the confidence, backbone and social skills to handle the situation. I also hope they'll continue to be able to view people as people first, and race as just another interesting facet of the game.

Photo Brad Vest / Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Mokihana said...

I consider myself fortunate to have been born and raised in Hawai'i. I had mix plate friends, spoke mix plate language, ate mix plate foods. My friends had last names like Keawe, Yamamoto, Pai, Murphy, Chong, and Diaz. I never noticed a difference; they were just my friends.

Blind to race now? No. And I must admit that like you, local-sounding names always get my attention. Don Wakamatsu got my attention for the same reason you have. If his last name had been Elliot, I probably wouldn't have taken any notice of him at all.

Go figgah.

Nate-n-Annie said...

The only reason this is being discussed is because he has a Japanese last name. Therefore whether he identifies himself as Asian or not doesn't matter - the media and the public have labeled him Asian. The question is, was he chosen because he is Asian, or because he is the best candidate?

Jenster said...

Good question, Nate and Annie. Time will tell....

Anonymous said...

There is a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints named Scott Fujita. He was adopted by a Japanese American Father and a White American mother. Even though he doesn't have any Japanese blood in him he considers himself Asian American because how his family raised him.

Hopefully Wakamatsu was the best candidate for the job because of his skill and not because of his name.