By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s not too often that the many achievements of Asian Pacific Americans (APA) are highlighted in the media. A new exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum features APA athletes in sports. “Who’s Got Game” opened on Dec. 9 and runs through Sept. 17, 2017.
The exhibit offers sports memorabilia of APA athletes and their unique stories. Not only are the traditional sports of basketball, football, and baseball covered, but cricket, tennis, snowboarding, surfing, and many other sports are covered in the display.
“Who’s Got Game” explores national heroes like Jeremy Lin (basketball), Greg Louganis (Olympic diving), Ichiro Suzuki (baseball), and Kristi Yamaguchi (ice skating). It also dedicates a portion of the exhibit to local sports stars like former University of Washington (UW) track and field high jumper Rick Noji, basketball’s Ray Soo, and tennis player Amy Yee.
In addition to the athletes, the exhibit looks at the role of APA fans and coaches. At the opening of the exhibit, Franklin High School’s Frank Nam, a coach for the Southend Ultimate Program, talked about the Ultimate Frisbee program he coaches and the importance of bringing to light the role of APAs in sports.
“Many times, the story is American, but not Asian American.” Nam stated that the Ultimate Frisbee program is comprised of many Asian Americans.
“Who’s Got Game” also features a Hall of Fame, which looks at APA athletes who have broken barriers in sports, achieved at the highest levels, and influenced their sport or community. Some of the athletes featured include Native Hawaiian surfer Eddie Aikau, Chinese American tennis player Michael Chang, Chinese American women’s hockey player Julie Chue, Korean American snowboarder Chloe Kim, and Samoan American women’s basketball player Naomi Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o.
Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o was the first Pacific Islander drafted by the WNBA. She played high school basketball at Chief Sealth and then went on to play college basketball at Stanford. She spoke at the opening as well. “It’s a responsibility and I had to be a part of it in telling our story,” she said. “It will help progress our culture by being a part of this exhibit.”
Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o recalled her personal story of playing women’s basketball and many times being the only Pacific Islander on the team. “By the time I got to Stanford, I was used to people not knowing what I was,” she explained. “It was my job to tell people that I was from this little island in the South Pacific. I realized it was my job to introduce my culture.”
She was drafted in the first round by the Utah Starzz of the WNBA in 2000. Playing for that team offered a benefit due to the large Pacific Islander community in Utah. Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o recalls having a cheering section of Pacific Islanders at home games. She also visited with kids in the community while with Utah. Her most memorable moment from being in the WNBA was being drafted and having her name called by the WNBA commissioner. “They did their best,” she jokingly recalled.
In addition to her time with the Starzz, Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o also played for the Seattle Reign of the American Basketball League. She now runs a nonprofit, Education with Purpose.
The author of many of the introductions and text for the exhibits came out of a chance contact during the start of the exhibit. Ursula Liang wrote the text for the exhibit, which includes interviews, research, and oral histories with many APAs. In February 2016, Liang was contacted by the museum about using her documentary, 9-Man, as part of the exhibit. Her film is about a unique streetball tournament played by Chinese Americans. Liang wrote all of the main panels and the subtext panels for the exhibit.
“It’s a long process,” Liang explained. She collaborated with the Wing Luke Museum as she wrote the text, while the museum obtained items for the exhibits. They also shared research online. “There was not a lot of research in Asian American material and Asian Americans in sports,” noted Liang, of some of the challenges in putting together the materials.
While the exhibit focuses on the APA experience, one exception was a portion of the exhibit dedicated to Ichiro Suzuki. “Because this is Seattle, and Ichiro is one of the all-time greatest players in baseball, Ichiro was included.”
“It is a real, great exhibit,” Liang said. “So often, Asian Americans are told that their stories are not that important.”
“To see it realized in an impressive way, it was really touching.”
In addition to her documentary, Liang’s work in sports includes a stint at ESPN The Magazine. She recalls her first published piece was in The Boston Globe while in high school. She addressed the media coverage of Tiger Woods as being African American, but neglecting the fact that Woods is also Asian American.
For more information on the exhibit, visit wingluke.org.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.