The words “Chinese New Year” used to frustrate me; why does the name that refers to a holiday that Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese people all celebrate have to pick out one group? Is this just another form of “all Asians are Chinese” racism? However, I realized recently that “Chinese New Year” isn’t racist at all. So let’s talk about baseball, the difference between racism and ignorance, and how I learned to change my perspective on the words “Chinese New Year.”
On October 27, 2017, during Game 3 of the 2017 World Series, Houston Astros’ rookie first baseman Yuli Gurriel pulled back the corners of his eyes, made the squinty-eyed gesture, and mouthed the word chinito, or “little Chinese Boy” in Spanish. He directed these at Yu Darvish, a Japanese pitcher for the opposing Los Angeles Dodgers, whom Gurriel had just hit a home run off of. TV cameras caught the gestures, which spread like wildfire over social media. When I read about this and watched the incriminating video on Twitter, I reacted like a majority of fans did; I got angry and posted several emotional Snapchat stories exclaiming how racist Gurriel was, how unacceptable these actions were, and how he was setting such a negative example for kids to emulate.
A few days later, I listened to a new episode from a podcast called “The Basketball Friends” that I regularly listen to. On this episode, entitled “Special Edition: A Debate About Racism,” two Asian-American sports writers, Ohm Youngmisuk and Prim Sripipat, discussed Yuli Gurriel’s actions. Youngmisuk talked about how his Guatemalan and Ecuadorian friends would call him chinito when he was growing up and how he had to point out that “[they] wouldn’t want to be called Mexican...so I don’t want to be referred to as the little Chinese boy because I’m not Chinese. I’m Thai... I think they understood that, and I understood they meant it positively, in an endearing way.”
Youngmisuk’s friends had grown up calling any Asian person chinito, and they didn’t really understand why it could be offensive to him. By making it applicable to their situation and how obviously ignorant it is to call all Hispanics Mexicans. Ths process of how Youngmisuk’s friends learned what was offensive and not gave me hope that Gurriel could learn why this word is so inappropriate. But as the podcast went on, I still viewed him as racist. Maybe it made me angrier because I’m insecure about my small eyes, but Gurriel’s squinty-eyes gesture offended countless other Asian-Americans, including Youngmisuk and Siripipat. As such, I continued listening to the podcast, still considering Gurriel a villain.
The podcast then brought on their second guest, Joon Lee. Lee explained how he had empathy for Gurriel, explaining that the huge change Gurriel went through in the past year—defecting from Cuba to play in the MLB—was incredibly difficult, especially since the culture in Cuba is so different from ours in the U.S. Lee then said that Gurriel’s sincere apology and remorse showed his willingness to learn and grow, and that it would be better for people, including me, to show empathy and learn from Gurriel rather than stay angry at him. And from this, I learned that Yuli Gurriel was ignorant in his use of offensive actions. He was still adjusting to the decorum that comes with being a member of our heterogeneous American culture and made a dumb mistake.
Yuli Gurriel, however racist his actions were, is not racist.
From Gurriel, I learned the difference between ignorance and racism and learned to forgive the former while remaining furious at the latter. I learned that I shouldn’t have been so angry at him, especially after reading his sincere apology after the game. I learned to forgive those who are only ignorant and not racist, and accept that, as Darvish tweeted out that night, “What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him.”
Just like Yuli Gurriel, the phrase “Chinese New Year” isn’t racist; it’s just ignorant. Your intention in calling it Chinese New Year isn’t to invalidate other celebrations or insinuate that all Asians are Chinese. Maybe you just didn’t know that other groups celebrate the same holiday, including Korea’s Seollal, Japan’s Shogatsu, and Vietnam’s Tết. And all of these reasons make sense, and it’s okay. But, like Ohm Youngmisuk said on his podcast, I’m not Chinese. I’m Korean. And using a more inclusive, open term is a very easy and simple adjustment, and it would mean a lot for people like me that feel frustrated by the term “Chinese New Year.”
So, Happy Lunar New Year 2018. Happy Year of the Dog.