Under-Recognized Asian American Consumers Power Linsanity

Take nothing away from Jeremy Lin. He’s an accomplished athlete belatedly receiving the recognition and the opportunities well earned by the smarts and spark he brings to the Knicks.

And who can resist an underdog who achieves top-dog status in the twinkling of a magical fortnight? It’s the affirmation of fondest human hopes, if not beliefs, about the fundamental justice of life.

But these two factors alone can’t explain the marketing tidal wave building around the Jeremy Lin brand — the multi-million dollar sponsorships and endorsements, the record-breaking sales of Lin paraphernalia, the surging interest among Asian firms seeking to plaster their logos all over Madison Square Garden.

To explain the mania for all things Lin requires a third, often overlooked factor: the craving of Asian Americans — and even Asians in Asia — for recognition of who we are and what we’ve achieved educationally, economically, culturally and socially.

In the United States Asians are the best educated and most economically successful of all groups, including Whites. We are staggeringly overrepresented in the top universities relative to our numbers, making up 17-20% of Ivy League schools like the one Lin graduated from, and over 42% of the elite UC schools — while comprising just 5% of the US population. Walk around the campus of virtually any leading university and it feels like you’re in Hawaii or an Asian nation.

We’re twice as likely to be professionals, managers and entrepreneurs compared to the US population as a whole. We actually own more businesses than African Americans or Latinos who are each nearly three times as populous. And we are the growth factor in the best neighborhoods of every major metropolitan area. In other words, take Asian Americans out of the picture, and the upscale neighborhoods surrounding the biggest cities would be struggling to hold their own.

In California Asians hold four of seven seats on the Supreme Court, including that of Chief Justice. The mayors of two of our five leading cities are Asian American. Our Comptroller and Attorney General are Asian.

We have a growing awareness of our economic importance. But the only acknowledgement we see of this fact is a pat on the head for being the “model minority”, jokes about our presumed math abilities and a subtle shifting of college admission standards to reduce Asian admission rates.

Most disturbing of all is a perverse effort by the mainstream mass media to deliberately ignore our real-world achievements by refusing even to acknowledge our existence — much less our prominence — in the business and professional world.

Turn on the TV or watch a movie and you might think we are living in the 1960s when Asians were genuine curiosities in American society. Aside from a few mostly female Asian newscasters and a few supporting characters on a handful of series, even today we are conspicuous mostly by our absence — even in the many series that purport to depict the professions in which Asian Americans form the backbone — medicine, technology, finance and education. In real life these fields teem with Asians.

In America’s fantasy life, we’re practically invisible.

Of course in the arenas of sports and entertainment we are partially to blame for our mass media invisibility. Asian parents, yearning economic security and social status, drive kids to neglect all pursuits but those likely to lead to a fat regular paycheck. They’ve succeeded remarkably well, but at the expense of all those kids who might have been great athletes like Jeremy Lin or great entertainers or singers or dancers or actors.

That’s why Jeremy Lin has exploded into the American consciousness. He single-handedly proves on prime time the existence of everything we are — educated, effective, powerful, integral and fluent in English — but which are rarely shown to the vast majority of Americans with no real-life contact with us.

It is a bit absurd that one 23-year-old basketball player can have such an impact on the American consciousness, but there you have it — the major cause of the intense novelty factor in the minds of non-Asian Americans and the feverish adulation on the part of so many Asian Americans.