South Asian American Femininity: Who Can Play?

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The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity (New York University Press, 2015) from Stan Thangaraj, a City College professor of Anthropology and friend of Tropics of Meta.  This passage comes from Chapter 5, "Breaking the Cycle." which consists of a series of fascinating vignettes about contests over identity among Asian American basketball players in the South. Women are present at [desi basketball] tournaments. Their presence constitutes part of the pleasure men take in performing athletic masculinity. The men become the main targets of gaze for a wide audience. Additionally, many women play an … [Read more...]

Politics of Surfing: Environmentalism and Feminism Among California’s Waves

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  "California's oceans, waves and beaches are about to become a little cleaner thanks to the efforts of the California State Legislature this week!" the environmental surfing advocacy group, Surfrider Foundation, recently declared. On August 29, 2014, the California legislature overwhelmingly approved a statewide ban on single use plastic shopping bags and imposed a $.10 fee for their paper counterparts. Over the past six years several iterations of similar bills had come and gone, each unsuccessful in its attempt to gain passage. However this year's version, SB 270, authored by three Los Angeles area state senators -- Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Kevin DeLeon (D-Los Angeles) and … [Read more...]

Pioneering the Pacific Rim: Baseball, California, and the Creation of Transpacific Trade

Babe Ruth in Japan, 1934

On September 1, 1964, Masanori Murakami threw a scoreless eighth inning for the San Francisco Giants. Amid a playoff push, Murakami took the mound for his first action in the big show. Though he gave up one hit, he struck out the side and would go on to make nine total appearances that year with one victory, a save, and an ERA of 1.80. The following year, Murakami made 45 relief appearances, went 4-1 with a 3.40 ERA and eight saves. After a contract dispute between his Japanese club and the Giants led to his return to Japan, another Japanese player would not enter the Major Leagues until Hideo Nomo joined the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995, which set off a consistent flow of Japanese players … [Read more...]

Riding Waves, Forging Communities: Surfing, Gender, and Feminism in 20th Century California

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"I like surfing because I feel like the true me. I think that surfing can show off to people that you can actually do something," Salinas, CA resident and pre-teen surfer, Mari Howarth, told filmmaker Jay Dunn. "If somebody says really mean things like 'Boys can do this and girls can't,' that's a stereotype. If you really want to do it, just believe in it and you can do it." As a participant in the Wahine Project, an organization and movement founded by Salinas native and surfer Dionne Ybarra, Howarth represents the upcoming generation of female surfers, and Ybarra's program embodies the multiracial, transnational, boundary eschewing nature of the sport. Established in April of 2010, the … [Read more...]

Sporting Golden State: Women and Athletics in 20th Century California

Cheryl Miller during the 1984 Olympic Games | Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

In 1971, an adolescent girl in Connecticut sued for the right to compete on an all-boys athletic team. The judge dismissed her argument with a typically gendered assessment of athletics, "sports builds character ... we don't need that kind of character in girls." 1 Whatever the judge's assertion, he clearly proved himself to be on the wrong side of history, as one year later one of the most important federal laws regarding gender passed Congress, Title IX. The landmark legislation radically altered American sport; yet, before and after 1972, California and its female athletes have been and continue to be a forerunner regarding issues of gender, race, and sexuality. Tennis and … [Read more...]

Surfing for Freedom: Black Surfers and Reclaiming Cultural History in Los Angeles

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In 1991's surfing bromance "Point Break," former Big Ten quarterback and F.B.I. agent Johnny Utah infiltrates a notorious ring of "surfing bank robbers" led by the late great Patrick Swayze's Bodhi (short for Buddhavista of course). They play beach football, go night surfing, and eventually end their relationship in a confrontation on an Australian beach as 100 foot waves from a fifty year storm crash on the beach. "Point Break's" ridiculousness has long been acknowledged, from Keanu Reaves performance -- "I am an F.B.I. agent!" -- to Swayze's mix of extreme sports and white Eastern mysticism; yet the film, and others like it, also perpetuate a problematic vision of surfing and a form of … [Read more...]

Diving into Integration: Sammy Lee, Historical Memory, and the Complexity of Housing Segregation in Cold War California

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Even with the clearest of minds, personal and historical memory ebb and flow. Recollections of our own past and that of the society around us often become shaped by current circumstance and selective recall. If one adds dementia to the mix, personal memories become scattered vestiges of our former selves that bound across the mind. Lest one thinks society as a collective operates any better, it does not. You need only point to the occasional survey of American knowledge of U.S. history to know the past might stalk us invisibly at every moment, but as Americans we seem blissfully unaware. When two-time gold medal Olympic diver Sammy Lee disappeared for several days this past April, the … [Read more...]

Not Bowling Alone: How the Holiday Bowl in Crenshaw Became an Integrated Leisure Space

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In May 2000, the New York Times reported the upcoming demolition of the Crenshaw District's Holiday Bowl. Built by Japanese American investors in 1958, just as Crenshaw and neighboring Leimart Park were reemerging as one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, the bowling alley served as an integrated leisure space where African, Mexican, and Asian Americans could interact. "It's like a United Nations in there,'' longtime employee Jacqueline Sowell told writer Don Terry. ''Our employees are Hispanic, white, black, Japanese, Thai, Filipino. I've served grits to as many Japanese customers as I do black. We've learned from each other and given to each other. It's much more than just a bowling … [Read more...]

Working to Play, Playing to Work: Mexican American Baseball and Labor in Southern California

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"I remember traveling to Lake Elsinore, which was a long way in those days," reminisced Zeke Mejia in 1996. "But the only ride we could get was from a friend who hauled fertilizer in his truck, so all the guys crawled inside ... and tried not to breath during the ride. By the time we arrived to play well we all smelled like fertilized fields. We did it because we loved the game." 1 For Mejia and thousands of other Mexican Americans laboring in Southern California during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, baseball served as a means to at once demonstrate belonging in the United States, while simultaneously asserting their own identity. In Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties, Mexican … [Read more...]

Diamonds Separated by Oceans: Baseball, Japanese Americans, and Southern California’s Pacific Rim

Baseball game at Manzanar War Relocation Center | Photo: Ansel Adams, courtesy of the Library of Congress

"If California has made any contribution to sport on a national level, it is in the democratization of pursuits that were previously the prerogatives of elites," noted the dean of California history Kevin Starr in 2005. "Most of the champions of the twentieth century who come from California first developed their skills in publicly subsidized circumstances: municipally supported swimming pools, golf courses, and tennis courts in particular, where middle class Californians, thanks to the recreational policies of Progressivism, were introduced to these previously social register sports." 1 Indeed, even under the weight of racism, groups denied equal access to mainstream U.S. society found … [Read more...]

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