My only criticism of 38 at the Garden is that it's too short. But after listening to Frank Chi, the director, explain why it's only 38 minutes long, I was like..."Okay, you're right." It's 38 minutes, like "38 at the Garden," but also, at this short length, there's no excuse for anyone to not watch it. So, I hope his strategy works and that more people watch it sooner than later or watch it period, because it's a must watch.
I haven't written many blogs on recommended movies or series lately, because I've started to send all my recommendations in my monthly newsletter (which you should sign-up for if you haven't!). But I had to write about this one, because it's not only so culturally significant, it also had me reflecting on my entire cultural identity journey. So, I wanted to take some time to reflect on that here.
In 2012, Linsanity went completely over my head.
Admittedly, I didn't appreciate Jeremy Lin during Linsanity, probably because he scored 38 against my Lakers. I'm a total loyalist to my team as a sports fan, and in my naive brain, as well as where I was in my own cultural identity journey back then, I just didn't pay that much attention to him, and I definitely wasn't going to be no bandwagoner. To me, he was like wannabe Yao Ming, but that's extremely unfair and inaccurate for many reasons (and I'm very sorry I ever thought like that). Yao Ming is from China, but Jeremy was born in my hometown the same year I was born. We might've even been born in the same hospital. But in my mind at the time, I just thought - oh, another Chinese guy (yes, I know his parents are from Taiwan but let's not go there here) that's going to bring out all the Chinese people in LA whenever he comes to play at the Staple Center. I used to get so annoyed when this would happen, because my mom, who doesn't usually care that much about sports, would get excited for Yao or Jeremy, and I was like, "Mom! We're a Lakers household! You can't root for the other guy!" Tell me, it's not incredibly annoying when you go to a home game, but three-quarters of the stadium is filled with people rooting for the other team - or really, one guy on the other team.
But watching this documentary had me reflecting a lot on my own Asian American journey, and I think Hasan Minhaj pinpointed a lot of the same thoughts I've had in the past, yet was too ashamed to say out loud. As an Asian American, I think any time one of our own steps outside of the box we've been designated to in this country, one of the hardest audiences to please is our own community. Without realizing it, we're all sort of brought up to know that we don't "belong," even if we defy that mentality in our minds. And when we see someone doing something where there aren't a lot of faces that look like ours, we're more critical, because we're thinking, "Don't mess up. Don't make us look bad."
But while Jeremy Lin was showing everyone what I've known my whole life - that Asian kids can ball - I was making my way in the country music industry. In 2012 I interned at both the Academy of Country Music and CAA's Nashville office. I mean, there is nothing that stands out more than an Asian girl from LA sitting in a honky tonk singing along to Merle Haggard songs. But like I've heard Jeremy say about playing basketball at that time, in my mind I was just there for the music and I was there to show everyone I knew what what was up when it came to country music - and I did. I didn't think about my race, except for when people said things that usually made me go..."what??" Otherwise, I just wanted to show people that I was one of them. This had nothing to do with my race...or so I thought.
So, in 2012, I wasn't ready to appreciate Jeremy Lin, because I was still out proving to everyone that I was more than just a stereotype and that I "belonged." I was so focused on forging my own path, trying to defy the limitations of my race I didn't have time for Linsanity. Not to mention, I was also in law school at the time. So, if anything I was like, "Cool, I'm going to do that, too." I just wasn't thinking, "Omg I'm going to do that, too!" Am I making sense?
But also...Asian kids being ballers was nothing new to me.
I think another reason why it may not have phased me at the time, that there was anything extraordinary about an Asian kid who could ball, was because I grew up where Asian kids made up the majority of the basketball teams. So many of my closest Asian friends played basketball, and were incredible athletes. One of my best friends' sisters went on to play for USC - and they're Japanese American. So, this was normal for me. What I failed to process at the time was that this was the NBA we're talking about. There aren't people who look like us in the NBA. And most Americans look at Asians as "little," "scrawny," "unathletic," and whatever other negative attribute they apply to us. Most Americans didn't grow up knowing what I know, witnessing what I witnessed. So Jeremy killing it in the NBA was a huge deal.
I really needed this documentary, for the reason journalist Pablo Torre said in the documentary. Linsanity, that game against my Lakers, this mattered so much to Asian Americans, because we've spent our whole lives identifying with people who look nothing like us. And finally, we have someone we can identify with, who looks like us. Nowadays we're seeing more and more faces we can identify with - faces who really know us and can relate to us. Still, what makes Jeremy's story so powerful, is that he's not a Hollywood story. He's real. A real person.
Let's talk about the wave off.
I love the way Hasan Minhaj talks about this moment at the end of the game against the Toronto Raptors. Hasan received a bunch of texts from friends asking if he saw the wave off, translating it to, "Can you believe we have dignity?" It wasn't about arrogance. It was about having the same audacity and confidence that everyone else on that court had. He goes on to question how many times in his own life did he pass up the ball to someone else, instead of wave them off and take the shot himself? I think this is one of the biggest take aways we can all take from this documentary. How many times have you passed the ball instead of took the shot yourself? Remember your own worth and take the shot.
But what makes this documentary more powerful...
We're back living in a time where walking around in our own skin is dangerous. I worry that kids who witness or hear about the continuous anti-Asian violence will grow to hate their own skin. And that breaks my heart and makes me so deeply angry, because how could anyone teach a child to hate themselves? But that's what racism does. That's what stereotypes do. You don't have to get beat in the face to understand that the society around you looks at you differently, and considers you a virus, a betrayer, an object for fantasy. And that can really damage a person's identity, or at the very least make it very complex and confusing.
But if an Asian kid sees this story and learns about Jeremy's story, maybe that kid will know what's possible for us. Maybe that kid will see how strong our community. To see both Asians and non-Asians get excited about Jeremy Lin and praise him, that's just doubly impactful.
Simultaneously, we've also come to a point where our community is not sitting back and taking this bullshit anymore. How can we, when our elders are constantly being attacked and killed for no reason at all, except that they're Asian?
We have found our voices and our strength. We're fed up with everything we've all put up with for too long, and I hope that we'll all take our opportunities to wave off others in order to take our shot.
I'm sorry it took me so long to appreciate Jeremy Lin and Linsanity, but I understand it now, and I'm grateful to him and everyone who already understood his significance.
If you haven't already, take 38 minutes out of your day and watch "38 at the Garden" on HBOmax.