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Asian American Olympians share experiences with racism

David Wharton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

The man who approached Sakura Kokumai in the park was a stranger. He began yelling at the U.S. Olympic athlete, who just wanted to take a run to stay in shape for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

“I was kind of shocked by it … I just sat there and let him say what he had to say,” said Kokumai, a Japanese American who has qualified for the U.S. squad in the new sport of karate. “There were racial slurs at the end.”

Athletes who compete with “USA” emblazoned across their chests have not been immune to a nationwide surge in hate crimes and attacks against Asians and Asian Americans. On a day when Olympians from all sports spoke to the media, the Hawaiian-born Kokumai wasn’t the only one with a story to share.

World-class gymnast Yul Moldauer, who was adopted from South Korea as a baby, recalled a recent day when another car cut him off on the road. At the next stop, he said, the female driver yelled, “Go back to China.”

“My job is to represent this country,” Moldauer told reporters. “When I heard those words, I just laughed and shrugged.”

 

Though both athletes had similar, stunned reactions at first, both thought more about the incidents later. They found larger meaning in context to recent events that have included a gunman killing six women of Asian descent and two others in the Atlanta area and an assailant attacking a 65-year-old Asian American woman in Manhattan.

“What happened to me was nothing compared to what we see on social media now — people getting hit, people getting slashed, people getting killed,” Kokumai said.

The athletes ultimately shared their experiences on social media. For Moldauer, who grew up hearing the occasional racist joke, it felt important to get the issue in front of fans in his sport.

“I’m not trying to get anyone to say sorry or take pity or anything toward me,” the gymnast said. “I’m just trying to bring awareness to everyone because I know I have a platform and I can use it.”

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