Blasian Athletes Shine at 2015 SEA Games

The 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were held in Singapore from June 5 to June 16. A standout in the 2015 SEA Games was the performance of Team Philippines and their Fil-Heritage athletes, commonly known as Fil-Ams. The SEA Games Chief of Mission Julian Camacho confirmed that the Filipino team had the most United States-based entries. The final medal count for the Philippines included five gold medals, with four attributed to Fil-American athletes.

Eric Shauwn Cray (June 9)

Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson, a pair of blasian Fil-Americans won gold in their respective 100-meter races, earning the unofficial titles of “fastest man and fastest woman in the region”. Cray clocked in at 10.25 seconds, while Richardson finished at 11.76. Cray went on to set a new SEA Games record of 49.40 seconds on the way to gold in the 400-meter hurdles, breaking a twenty-year-old record. Richardson also secured a silver medal in the 200 meters at 23.71 seconds. These two blasian athletes earned three of Team Philippines’s five gold medals.

Kayla Anise Richardson (June 9)

Following the SEA Games, Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Philip Ella Juico faced criticism for the use of Fil-foreign players raised and trained overseas to mask the lack of programs for homegrown athletes. Juico took exception to the criticisms, saying Fil-Americans, are, in the end, still Filipinos.

“We have 10 million Filipinos around the world. We are sharing our human resources with the international community. When they are there, they inter-marry with locals and beget Filipino children who are half Filipino, half foreign. If we can use half foreign Filipinos for scientists, teachers, or engineers, why not use them for sports?”, said Juico. “Why all of a sudden discriminating and frowning on this?, the former Philippine Sports Commission chairman added.

Juico said the only difference is that Fil-foreign athletes are based outside the Philippines by force of circumstances, and should not be stripped of their privilege to represent the country in international competitions. “Of course, we prefer homegrown talents but it’s not their fault that they were born there.”

Despite the criticism, Juico said they intend to recruit more Fil-Americans to beef up the athletics team. Juico spoke on this matter in a previous interview, stating, “If there are Fil-foreign (athletes), (athletes) with Filipino blood, why not? It’s a global society now, it’s a global community…if other countries can use this internationally-shared resource, why not us?”

Eric Cray – dubbed the “Usain Bolt of Southeast Asia” – responded to critics regarding the policy of searching overseas for talent with Filipino ties stating, “I just feel that if you have Filipino blood and you cherish the traditions of the Philippines, you know it’s a great honor for me to be able to represent and I am just happy that they allow me to.”

Selected Sources:

* Sports Interactive Network Philippines, “What’s wrong with having Fil-foreign athletes, says Juico in face of SEA Games criticism“, June 19, 2015.

* ABS-CBN News Channel, “New PATAFA head welcomes Fil-foreign athletes, coaches“, August 7, 2014.

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Blasian American Olympians

As we commemorate the end of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize blasians who have represented Team USA throughout the history of the Olympics.

Tai Babilonia
Figure Skating

Tai with her skating partner, Randy

With partner Randy Gardner, Tai Babilonia was the 1979 World Champion and the gold medalist at the US Figure Skating Championships in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980.  Randy and Tai competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics.  They were medal favorites at the 1980 Winter Olympics but were forced to withdraw due to an injury to Gardner.

Tai Babilonia was the first figure skater of African American descent to win US and World titles.  Her mother was African American, and her father was part Filipino and part Native American (Hopi Indian). 

Sheila Hudson
Track & Field

Sheila Hudson (Korean-African American) dominated the triple jump in the US for years.  She started competing at age 10, took a two-year hiatus from competition when her family moved to Korea, and returned to track and field in high school.  She represented the United States at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  Sheila was the only American to reach the finals in the first Olympic triple jump competition for women and finished 10th.  

Tora Harris
Track & Field

Tora Harris was a four-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Outdoor Track & Field All-American (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) and an NCAA Indoor All-American in 2002.  Harris was the number 1 ranked high jumper in the United States, according to Track & Field News, in both 2002 and 2006 and was among the top 10 every year from 2001 through 2009.   He was a member of the United States team at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

His mother, Susan (Su-Chen), is Taiwanese, while his father, who passed away in 2000, was African American.  His parents made him take Chinese lessons when he was young, and he attended first grade in Taiwan.  Tora speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.  His language skills made him very popular at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China, where he won a bronze medal.

Selected Sources:
* Tai Babilonia, Official website.
* HalfKorean.com: An online community for mixed-race Koreans, “Prominent People – Sheila Hudson“.
* USA Track & Field, Tora Harris.

Blasian Americans at the 2012 Olympics

As we celebrate the beginning of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, let us recognize the blasians representing Team USA in London this summer.

CONGRATS TO LIA, KYLA, & PAIGE Blasian Olympic medalists for Team USA!

Lia Neal
Swimming 
Lia with her parents, Siu & Rome

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lia’s father, Jerome, is African American, and her mother, Siu, is from Hong Kong.  At age 17, she is the second woman of African descent to make the US Olympic swim team.

Lia competed in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics.  She won the bronze medal on Saturday, July 28, with Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy, and Allison Schmitt, behind Australia and the Netherlands.  The team finished with a total time of 3:34:24, an American record.

To learn more about Olympic medalist, Lia Neal, go to her official website. 

Kyla Ross
Gymnastics

Kyla with her parents, Kiana & Jason

 

Kyla was born in Honolulu, Hawai’i and currently lives in Aliso Viejo, California.  Her father, Jason, is Japanese and Black, and her mother, Kiana, is of Filipino and Puerto Rican descent.  Her look reflects the multi-racialism of Hawaii.  “We call it the quadruple effect,” says her father.

Kyla earned the second-highest score on the uneven bars at the 2012 Olympic trials.  Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse,” Ross, 15, is the youngest person on Team USA’s gymnastics roster.  According to the Olympic format, each team selects three gymnasts for each of the four apparatuses in the final – balance beam, uneven bars, vault, and floor.  Kyla performed on the beam and the uneven bars.  On Tuesday, July 31, the US women captured the gold medal with an overall score of 183.596.

To learn more about Olympic medalist, Kyla Ross, go to her official website.

UPDATED
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 

Paige McPherson
Taekwondo

A native of Sturgis, South Dakota, Paige currently resides in Miami, Florida.  Born in Abilene, Texas, she was adopted when she was just four days old.  Her parents also adopted children from South Korea and Saint Lucia.  Paige is half Filipino and half African American (with a little Spanish and Japanese on her Asian side), and she likes to call herself “Blasian”.

Paige is looking forward to her first Olympics after defeating 2004 silver medalist Nia Abdallah to earn a spot on the 2012 roster.  Nicknamed “McFierce”, she is the youngest member of the US national team, having just graduated high school in January 2009.

Since turning 18, Paige has sought to connect with her biological roots.  She has an older brother, who she has already met.  She also has a half-brother and a half-sister, and she has spoken to her biological mother.  Paige plans to meet all of them after the Olympics. 

Paige represented the USA in the 67 kg women’s taekwondo event. In the preliminary round, Paige secured a surprise defeat over Sarah Stevenson of Team Great Britain, 5-1.  She went on to win a bronze medal by defeating Franka Anić of Slovenia 8-3.

UPDATED
Saturday, August 11, 2012 

Selected Sources:
* New America Media, Asian American Athletes Represent U.S. at 2012 Olympics“, July 25, 2012.
* Mas TaeKwonDo, Paige McPherson hopes to bring home a gold medal“, July 25, 2012.
* The Epoch Times,Lia Neal, Olympic Star Rising from Brooklyn“, July 5, 2012.
* The Madeleine Brand Show, SoCal gymnast Kyla Ross brings poise, nerves of steel to London Olympics“, July 11, 2012.

Blasian Reality TV Stars

Lou Jing – who gained fame as a reality show contestant in China – got me thinking about Blasians on reality TV.  There haven’t been that many.  While Asians are rare, half Asians are few and far between.  Half-African American, half Asian reality stars are even more infrequent.  There have been three blasian reality stars – Melissa Howard, Lisa Wu, and Kimora Lee.

Melissa on Real World (2000) and with her daughter (2011).

Melissa Howard (Filipino-African American) became the first blasian reality star in 2000 on MTV’s Real World: New Orleans.  She went on to appear in other reality TV shows, including Real World / Road Rules Challenge and Battle of the Network Reality Stars.  Now Melissa Beck, she is married to Glassjaw guitarist, Justin Beck, and has a daughter, Shalom Mazie.

Melissa’s parents – Maurice “Shorty” & Narcisa “Mercy” – at the MTV Studios
Lisa Wu appeared in the first two seasons (2008-2009) of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.  Her mother is of Afro-Caribbean descent, and her father is Chinese.
                               Lisa Wu’s parents

Previously married to R&B singer Keith Sweat, she was married to NFL linebacker Ed Hartwell, while on the show.  They divorced in 2011.

Lisa Wu and her sons Jordan, Justin, & EJ

Kimora Lee – better known as a model and former wife of Russell Simmons – has starred in the reality television series, Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, since 2007.  The most famous blasian reality star, she details her daily life with her three children and her husband, model/actor Djimon Hounsou.

Kimora and her mother, Kyoko Perkins

With a Korean-born Japanese mother and an African American father, Kimora was often a target of bullying and teasing as a child because of her height (5’10” by age 10) and her mixed heritage.  Her mom enrolled her in modeling classes when she was 11 years old, and Kimora was discovered at the age of 13.

Kimora married mogul, Russell Simmons, in 1998.  They officially separated in 2006.  She has been with Djimon Hounsou, a Benin-born Oscar-nominated actor, since 2007.

Kimora and her children, Kenzo, Ming, & Aoki

While there are many who view reality TV as a less-esteemed genre of television, it can be an excellent platform to share varying perspectives and provides exposure to different types of people and ethnicities.  Reality television is a unique opportunity to potentially see and connect with people who have similar stories.

Selected Sources:
* Melissa Beck, http://melissabeck.tumblr.com/
* The Real Housewives of Atlanta, “Lisa Wu Hartwell”, http://www.bravotv.com/the-real-housewives-of-atlanta/bio/lisa-wu-hartwell
* Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane, “Kimora Lee Simmons”, http://www.mystyle.com/mystyle/shows/kimora/castbios/index.jsp

Blasian Chart Toppers in the US

For the longest time, as far as I knew, there had never been a blasian American singer – until Amerie came out in the early 2000s.  When I found out she was Korean-African American, I decided to support her before I even heard her music.  It was such a novelty to purchase the music of someone who had the same parentage as me.

Born to an African American father (Charles Rogers) and a Korean mother (Mi Suk), Amerie’s first language was Korean, and she lived in South Korea for 3 years as a child.

Amerie & her mother
Amerie’s name tattoo in Korean

Amerie’s debut album was released in 2002, and her debut single, “Why Don’t We Fall in Love” peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

There have been a few other blasian singers since Amerie, but had there been incognito blasians recording in the US before Amerie hit the music scene wearing her ethnicity on her sleeve?  Then I discovered Sugar Pie DeSanto – the 1st blasian chart topper.

Sugar Pie DeSanto was born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton.  She is the daughter of an African American mother and a Filipino father.  As a child, she spoke English and Tagalog and still speaks a little Tagalog with family.

In 1960, DeSanto’s single “I Want to Know” reached #4 on Billboard’s R&B chart.  This was her biggest hit and her highest charting hit.

A blasian hit singer over 50 years ago.  Who knew?

Selected Sources:
* Intermix.org.uk: A website for the benefit of mixed-race families and individuals, Amerie’s Happy to Talk About Ethnicity“, September 1, 2008.
* San Francisco Bay Guardian, Gimme a Little Sugar“, March 12, 2003.

Asians & Football

After spending some time thinking about Asians in the game of basketball in the US, I thought – what about football?  It can be stated that – just as there are very few players of Asian descent who have played the game of basketball – the same can be said of professional football.  In fact, most would assume there are no Asian football players.  While the game of baseball is popular in Asia, and it’s not unusual for players from China or Japan to play Major League Baseball, football remains an extremely American game, and Asian football players remain few and far between.

Dayton Triangles – 1920s

The first Asian professional football player was Walter Achiu, of Chinese and Hawaiian ancestry.  He was one of the first minorities to play in any major American professional sports league.  He played pro football for the now defunct Dayton Triangles in 1927 – 20 years before Jackie Robinson’s debut in Major League Baseball in 1947!

Roman Gabriel

After Achiu, Roman Gabriel (half Filipino/half Irish) was drafted in 1962.  He was the 1st Asian American to start as an NFL quarterback.  Then there wasn’t another Asian football player until Eugene Yon Chong (Korean) was drafted in 1992.

The majority of professional football players of Asian descent have been of mixed heritage, and surprise, surprise, most of them were blasian.  There have been  9 blasian pro football players, including 2 sets of brothers.

Hines Ward

The most well-known blasian football player is Hines Ward.  Born in Seoul, South Korea to an African American father and Korean mother, Young He Kim (김영희).  Ward was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1998.  He gained worldwide fame when he was named MVP in Super Bowl XL (2006), becoming the 1st Korean American and 2nd foreign born player to earn the award.

For the first time since he left the country as a 1-year-old, Ward returned to South Korea in 2006.  He traveled the country, speaking out against biracial discrimination.  In order to support reform regarding multiracial Korean children, he created the Hines Ward Helping Hands Korea Foundation.

In 2009, President Barack Obama established the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to improve the health, education, and economic status of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.  Ward was appointed as a member of the Commission.

After 14 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward retired from the NFL in March 2012.  A 4-time Pro Bowl selection, Ward finished his Steelers career with 1,000 catches, 12,083 yards, and 85 receiving touchdowns.  He helped Pittsburgh to 3 AFC championships and 2 Super Bowl wins.

Johnnie James Morton, Jr. and Chad Akio Morton are the sons of Johnnie Sr. (African American) and Katsuko (Japanese).

Johnnie Morton

Johnnie was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1994 NFL Draft and played for the team until 2001.  He went on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2002 to 2004 and ended his football career with the San Francisco 49ers in 2005.

Chad played for the New Orleans Saints in 2000, the New York Jets from 2001 to 2002, the Washington Redskins from 2003 to 2004, and the New York Giants from 2005 to 2006.  He was released by the Giants in 2007.

Wesly Mallard

Wesly Mallard is half Korean and half African American.
As a child, he attended Seoul American High School in Seoul, South Korea.
Mallard was drafted by the New York Giants in 2002 and remained with the team until 2004.  He played for the New England Patriots in 2005, Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2005 to 2006, Denver Broncos in 2007, and Seattle Seahawks in 2008.

Will Demps

Will and Marcus Demps are the sons of William Sr. (African American) and Kye (Korean).

Will was signed by the Baltimore Ravens in 2002 and played for the team until 2005.  He went on to the New York Giants in 2006 and played for the Houston Texans from 2007 to 2008.

Marcus was signed by the Detroit Lions in May 2006 but was released with a knee injury in September of the same year.

Patrick Chung

Patrick Chung was born to a Chinese-Jamaican father and an Afro-Jamaican mother.  He is of 1/4 Han Chinese ancestry.  Chung was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2009.

Marcus Freeman

Marcus Freeman, a Korean-African American, was drafted in the 2009 draft by the Chicago Bears.  He was waived on September 4.  Freeman was signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad on September 22.  He was released in October.  On November 4, he signed with the Houston Texans.  Freeman retired due to an enlarged heart condition in May 2010.  He is now a quality control assistant coach for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Emmanuel Moody

Emmanuel Moody’s is the son of an African American father and a Korean mother, Young Sun Chang.  In July 2011, Moody signed with the Buffalo Bills.  He was released in August.

REVISED
Thursday, March 22, 2012

Asians & Basketball

“I feel like Asians in general don’t get the respect that we may deserve whether it comes to sports, basketball, or whatever it might be.” – Jeremy Shu-How Lin

As the sports world marvels at the standout performance on the basketball court of Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks, I wondered if there had been players of Asian descent hidden within the ranks of the NBA, specifically blasians, who would easily blend into the predominantly African American sports league. There is no doubt that Lin very likely experienced racial profiling. An Asian in the NBA is a rare find, and stereotypes about athletic prowess based on race do flourish in the testosterone-filled world of sports, but what about half-Asian players? They were probably able to move beyond those limitations by fitting into the monoracial ideals held in sports and acquire a career in the NBA.

Wataru Misaka

Wataru Misaka (Japanese) became both the 1st Asian and the 1st non-Caucasian person to play for the Basketball Association of America (now known as the National Basketball Association), when he played for the New York Knicks during the 1947–48 season.  Misaka broke the color barrier in basketball as Jackie Robinson was doing the same in baseball.  After Misaka was cut in 1948, there wasn’t another Asian player until 2 blasian players came along in the 1970s and 1980s – Corey Gaines and Raymond Townsend.

Corey Gaines

Corey Yasuto (泰斗) Gaines was born to a half-Japanese mother and an African American father. In 5 seasons, he played for 4 different NBA – the New Jersey Nets (1988–89), Philadelphia 76ers (1989–90, 1994–95), Denver Nuggets (1990–91), and New York Knicks (1993–94). Gaines also played basketball in Israel and Europe, as well as for the Japanese Basketball League’s Japan Energy (1997–98). He became the head coach of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury in 2007 and led the team to their second WNBA championship. He has been the general manager of the Mercury since 2011. When discussing the Mercury’s raising funds for victims of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Gaines said, “I’ve been connected with Japan since 1997. That was the first time I went to Japan to play…. I stayed at a Japanese house with a host family in Tokyo. I didn’t speak Japanese. They didn’t speak English. I was young, but I kept going to Japan ever since.”

Raymond Townsend

Raymond Townsend’s mother was the former Virginia Marella, a Filipina from Balayan, Batangas, while his father, Ray Sr., was African American. He was selected in the 1978 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He retired from the NBA in 1982 as a member of the Indiana Pacers. He was the first Filipino-American to play in the NBA. He also played in Italy during the 1984–85 season. In 2008, Townsend returned to NBA courts as a packager of Filipino heritage events.

In a January 2011 Wall Street Journal article, Raymond Townsend is quoted as saying, “When I played, people thought I was just one of the lighter-skinned NBA players with an Afro. No one knew I was Filipino.”

There’s my answer.

Selected Sources:
* Palo Alto Online, First Person: A Conversation with Jeremy Lin“, December 15, 2011.
The Arizona Republic, “Phoenix Mercury’s Corey Gaines proves to be player’s coach”, May 23, 2011.
* The Wall Street Journal, NBA Game Promises to Be a Turkey? Call In the Turks – or the Filipinos“, January 19, 2011.