Wednesday, October 05, 2005


So I'm idly browsing some stories on the announcement by 15-year-old golf prodigy Michelle Wie that she's going pro when I start to notice some oddities about the way her nationality and ethnicity are being described.

The first story, from the Rocky Mountain News:
Wie, though born in Hawaii, is of Korean ancestry and speaks fluent Korean. The straight-A student also is learning to speak Chinese and Japanese and figures to be a bigger draw in Asia than she has been in the United States.
Emphasis added, obviously: so what's with that "though"? As if her being American-born was an afterthought, secondary to her ethnic origins?

And there's another theme that I started noticing in all the articles--the idea that Wie is going to be a huge hit in Asia. But again, this story seems to make slightly too big a deal of this: why would she be so much more popular overseas than in her own country? Are Americans going to have a problem with her?

So then I see this AP story in the SF Chronicle:
But her marketing appeal is above any other woman in golf — a 6-footer of Korean heritage who was raised in Hawaii, has loads of charisma and power and a captivating smile to boot.
This avoids the question of nativity altogether--indeed, it implies that Wie is not American-born but was just brought up in Hawaii.

More on the Asian theme from Sports Illustrated:
Her heritage -- both of Wie's parents are Korean-born -- suggests that she will be embraced by Asian golf fans.
Go on, I dare you: "Tiger Woods's heritage--his father is black--suggests that he will be embraced by African golf fans."

Of course the Tiger Woods comparisons are everywhere, but without any of the "breakthrough" rhetoric that accompanied the perception of Woods as the breakthrough black golfer (even though Woods is, of course, part Asian); Wie's ethnicity is all gravy, pure marketing pleasure:
She's a Tiger-like blend of promise, magnetism, ethnicity (a Korean-American from Hawaii) and glamour.
Well, at least that guy knows the term "Korean-American."

Maybe the oddest piece is a long feature in Fortune that hauls out pretty much every stereotype of the model minority family you can think of:
Up to this point it has been the three Wies—Michelle, BJ, and Bo—vs. the world. As first-generation Americans who speak English as a second language, BJ (short for Byung-Wook) and Bo (short for Hyun Kyong) have guided their daughter's every move through the fierce world of high-stakes golf.
I'm curious about the relationship between that "As first-generation Americans..." and the rest of the sentence: just an oddly dangling modifier? Or (as I suspect) a implicit reflection of the inward-looking, controlling Asian immigrant family? (Compare the characterization of Wie's parents to, say, that of Venus and Serena Williams's father, who's usually portrayed as a raging tyrant.)

The bottom line, of course, is that Michelle Wie is (exotically) hot:
Over six feet tall, with creamy skin and black sloping eyes, Michelle Wie is a knockout.
Black sloping eyes? Oh no you didn't.

Don't worry, though. Michelle Wie is still a good all-Asian American girl.
She stresses about the SATs and getting into college. (Her top choice is Stanford.)
Look out.


barbara jane said...

hilarious. i mean, in that "how sad is this" hilarious kind of way.

Lee Herrick said...

This stuff kills me. It reminds me of a headline back when Michelle Kwan was kicking everyone's behind on the ice---"Kwan Loses to American Skater"---to cast Kwan as the foreigner, as if she were not American herself... only some exotic anomaly. What crap.

Love your post.

pam said...

Speaking of pro golfers, have people been following the J.Ro phenomenon?

Kristof said...

There's a new novel called PUNAHOU BLUES set @ Michelle's high school campus. You can read more here:

Kristof said...

Oops, i meant:

The novel's heroine is a star athlete and Korean, sound like anyone we know? :-)