Could the “’Lin’-sanity” surrounding Jeremy Lin have happened without past immigration reform? There’s a chance it may not have.
It wasn’t until The Immigration Act of 1965 that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was significantly repealed. The 1943 Magnuson Act did allow 105 Chinese immigrants to enter the US per year, largely because China was an ally in World War II. However, from that date until 1965, less than 3,000 Chinese were legally allowed into the United States. The Immigration Act of 1965 allowed much freer movement, but gave special priority to immigrants with skilled backgrounds. My dad’s uncle, a medical doctor educated in China before 1949, was able to enter the US from Hong Kong in the 1960s much more easily. In 1975, he applied to re-unify his family and was able to bring his sister’s family, including my dad and his siblings, to San Francisco. My mother’s family was also reunified in 1973, through an uncle who had already been in California since the 1940s after being sold and smuggled into the US for hard labor—a vastly different experience to say the least. My mom and dad met in San Francisco in their mid-20s and the rest is history.
This experience is just one of many that compose the greater, multifaceted Asian American immigration experience. This complex experience has led to, among other things, the formation of stereotypes from their immigration contexts. This can lead to misconceptions like the “model minority”, which attributes “approved” characteristics of good morals, success and work ethic to a racial background rather than the demographic formed by selective immigration policies. Some of these policies include the priorities of the 1965 Immigration Act for “highly-skilled” immigrants. This larger context and immigration history is just one more thing that makes the story of New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin so interesting. After all, the model minority misconception didn’t make room for basketball.
Jeremy Lin, an American-born child of immigrant parents who emigrated from Taiwan in the mid-1970s, has taken the basketball world by storm. At the time of this writing, Lin has scored 109 points in his first four starts for the New York Knicks—the most from any player since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. He is also one of two players since 1976 to have averaged 20+ points and 8+ assists per game in his first two starts. The only other player to have achieved this feat is LeBron James. In his last five games, Lin and the New York Knicks are 5-0. Lin’s story is covered by national news and followed by basketball fans, but the roots of his story are similar to the many, albeit less televised, experiences in the saga of American immigration.
Immigrants and their families face challenges just like any other human being. Jeremy Lin’s story is no less remarkable. His persistence and character, formed after being undrafted and spending nearly two seasons bouncing around to different teams before finally landing at the Knicks reflects the countless immigrant families in this nation toiling long hours, unseen, facing cultural and sociolinguistic challenges. Though Jeremy’s opportunity came on hardwood floor under bright lights and in front of national TV audiences, it is important to remember those that are unseen. For every Jeremy Lin leading a basketball team, there are thousands of other immigrants and immigrant families staffing our technology firms, cooking and growing our food, leading our research laboratories, and constructing our homes, each one pressing onward in hope of the opportunity this great nation can give. Many of them, including 1.3 million Asian immigrants, do so without the benefits of legal status.
It is in America’s interest to ensure the free movement of human capital. After all, were it not for the Immigration Act of 1965, New York Knicks fans may have never had such hope in their current NBA season. How many other talents are we losing as a nation because we’re failing to see those who contribute to our society?
**Photo Credit: nikk_la, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic**
Nathan Liu resides in an intentional community with low-income refugee families in Chicago. He graduated from Wheaton College with dual degrees in Chemistry and Sociology. He is currently working in a healthcare executive search consulting firm and plans to attend medical school in the near future.
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