ike many of you, I have been following the Olympics. But I am, as many of you know, a serious fan of American professional sports, so if there is a Washington Redskins’ game on TV at the same time as an Olympic gold medal finals event, I would much rather watch the football game, even if it is a preseason game. By the way, the Redskins kicked Miami’s butt yesterday, 17-0.
I enjoy watching the competition in the Olympics, mind you, but the enjoyment is tempered by a complicated sense of identity, one I would rather not have to deal with if we’re only talking about sports. I often get the sense that by rooting for any athlete or any team is tantamount to rooting for a particular nation. And by rooting for one nation, I feel uncomfortable, that perhaps I am betraying one country or the other.
Back in 1965, I remember our family going to the Whittier Drive-In Theater to see the film, Tokyo Olympiad. And much to my parents’ dismay, I rooted fervently for Americans. Indeed, I remember Bob Hayes–dubbed the fastest man in the world–setting up for the race: In slow motion, he kicks his feet back into the starting blocks, and exhales heavily through closed mouth making his lips flap unnaturally, almost comically I thought back then. And while Kon Ichikawa’s purpose was to present the athletes as pure athletes–without the human drama so typical of most commercial coverage–it still could not change the outcome of the race. Bob Hayes won the 100M dash easily by two-tenths of a second, almost super-human by today’s standards where 2/100th of a second can be the difference between gold and silver even in swimming races.
However, as I grew older and more aware of my place–or lack thereof–in society, I found myself increasingly identifying myself to my racial heritage, the heritage of my parents, Japan. During my teens, I rooted for the Japanese at the Chinese Grauman Theater as my fellow Buddahheads and I cheered on the Japanese navy in Tora, Tora, Tora. We proudly wore the pin of the Japanese flag on December 7. Many of us worked in J-Town in our attempt–fruitless as I now recognize–to aproach ever closer to our Japanese heritage. Dureing the 1972 Munich Olympics, I cheered for the Japanese, much to the surprise of my Mexican-American friend, Manuel. We were watching swimming, I think, and I was rooting for Japan–how could they beat Mark Spitz?–and Manuel (he told us to pronounce it like “manual”) said, How could you root for Japan over America. I would never root for Mexico over the U.S.
I should have told him that I felt disenfranchised, that American society had not place for me and so I had to discover it elsewhere. But I didn’t know the word “disenfranchise” back then so I just shrugged my shoulders. All I could think was that this was the way of the world, that society had dealt me a specific hand and I had to play it. But, as I mentioned previously in NLUTE and other entries (I think), I began to question my identity once again after going to Japan for the first time in 1974 and after the Iran hostage incident in 1979.
Since then, I have mostly identified myself as an American. I look Asian, but I am American through and through. I have also convinced myself slowly but surely that I have the good fortune of knowing and enjoying a great deal about a heritage that is so different than my American identity that it allows me a perspective–a world view, if you will–that is much broader than many I have encountered. And this not only includes Europeans, but many Asian Americans who know their own culture only through second-hand experience, through their parents and relatives. Please realize that I am not trying to take a holier-than-thou position. But learning about Japan acadmically and through first hand experience by living there is not the same as learning the fossilized traditions practiced by previous generations who came over by boat.
But I digress…
The bottom line is that I am still conflicted. I usually cheer both Americans and Japanese, but when there is head-to-head competition, I will inevitably root for the Americans, even as I try to supress the guilt provoked by my sense of loyalty to my heritage…
Geez, and all I want to do is enjoy sports as a spectator. But these issues well up within me, so I find it much easier to root for the UCLA Bruins, or Redskins, or any team playing against the Yankees…