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  • Hanna Lee

Tokyo Olympics and Anti-Asian Hate (This Isn’t That Story)

While researching this article, I came across countless headlines with a very similar ring to the one above.  Post after post were filled with other writers’ thoughts and viciously opposing opinions. Some spout that anti-Asian hate is being reported by Asian Olympic athletes’ such as karate champion Sakura Kakumai and gymnast Yul Moldauer. While others believe that holding the games in Tokyo as well as the amount of Asian representation in so many categories will surely lower the heightened level of discrimination still being experienced by the Asian community. 

Meanwhile, another article pointed out the harmful ways the media has often poorly represented the Asian athletes in the past, and therefore, dehumanizes an entire race. Words like “tiny, pint-sized, fragile, and delicate,” have been used to describe both males and females alike. A coach was quoted talking about Asian women’s “very little boobs, and tight hips.” A 16-year-old Olympic skater was nicknamed “China doll,” by journalists.

Author of "Transnational Sport: Gender, Media, and Global Korea" Rachel Joo was quoted saying, “If we’re going to talk about bodies, let’s not generalize by race or nation.”

I came across another piece from earlier Olympic reporting with a sub-headline that read, "American Outshines Kwan." Unsure how that connected with the Olympics, I clicked the link. This was my first time reading about the time the media previously made a huge oops after figure skater, Michelle Kwan, from California, lost the gold medal to a New Yorker named Sarah Hughes. As you can see, the headlines like this are problematic given both competitors were, in fact, American and continues even today.

And, while the Internet can squabble among themselves, trying to speak over each other on how the Olympics will or won’t stop Asian hate, I simply want to say—none of it matters. Sure, there’s validity that the recent attacks will be affecting these athletes’ mentally. But, at the end of the day, this event isn’t going to erase racism. These athletes aren’t here as crusaders for this cause. They’re here to do what they’ve trained their whole lives for: kick some serious butt!

I’m not someone who normally watches the Olympics. But, in the spirit of writing this, I decided to tune in for a while. I was fortunate enough to start watching just as the Team USA's gymnasts were beginning. My focus was immediately drawn to Sunisa Lee, a Hmong American from St. Paul, Minnesota, not because she was Asian, but because her performances in all her subdivisions were powerfully dynamic yet gave an illusion of effortlessness. Her body vaulted up into the air, flipped and twisted as her limbs remained tensed before her feet planted squarely on the blue mat, arms reflexively jetted upwards in a proud "V."

Photo credit: Axios

As I watched her, I felt tears welling up in my eyes. Maybe it was simply because I didn’t realize how powerful or beautiful gymnastics are. Or, maybe it was because, for one of the first times in my life, I was seeing this girl lighting up the screen in front of me, and I resembled her. And, although I’d never heard her name or laid eyes on her before this moment, I was overwhelmed with pride in her. Watching her, my face mirrored the faces of her family members, who would flash onto the screen, broadcasted from their home as the scores were waiting to be announced. All of Lee’s loved ones squashed together on every piece of furniture, smiling, and cheering, and crying, letting the world know that they were behind her all the way, supporting her with their whole hearts, a warmth that you could actually feel radiating through the screen. Every time Lee would twist into the air, and then nail the landing, my chest swelled with pride. Every time she’d walk off the mat smiling ear to ear, I beamed with joy and cried, as though her triumphs were saying to the entire planet, “Do I look weak to you?”

Then, I watched Yul Moldauer, from Denver, Colorado. His gymnastics performance exhilarated me. His speed and proficiency executing strenuous maneuvers had me watching with my mouth gaping open as he spun his legs over and around the pommel horse with his arms straight and firm as they suspended his body while walking forward and back on his hands across the apparatus.

Every subdivision he performed in had me straining at the edge of my seat as he would hold himself horizontally, his body in a perfectly straight line, as he gripped a gymnastic ring in each hand. The silver metal rings hanging from their own individual chains that attached to a high overhead bar. The feat seemed impossible. A magic trick. Then, he would flip his body a couple times before flinging himself up toward the ceiling and landing perfectly in one spot. His arms shot up above his head, hands clenched in prideful fists before he yelled out through a huge, satisfied smile.

Photo credit: GymnasticsVille

Every time they won, I felt like I was also winning. And, every moment you could see them feeling pride in themselves, it made me feel pride in myself. I felt proud to see their representation of all the strength, perseverance, and resilience the entire Asian American community has inside them. I felt proud I looked like them. I felt proud that finally, after Asians have been made to appear so weak over the last year and a half, we were able to show our strength—our fighting spirits and the power we have to move mountains. I felt proud to be Asian AND American, for the first time in a very long time.

So, when I say, none of it matters—whether the Olympics will aid in stopping anti-Asian hate—what you should take away is, maybe it’s okay to not put our agendas on these athletes and Tokyo. Maybe it’s okay to simply let them do what they do, and in showing up, they’ve already won a huge battle. Our children will have people who look like them to look up to. Asian names will become more familiar to hear and see. People will gain more awareness to all the different range of ethnicities among the Asian population. Maybe, there is good that can be found, if everyone would just stop for one minute…and watch the Olympics.



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