In his July 8 editorial, “Coming together,” Publisher Arnold York describes the batting and pitching exploits of the most amazing baseball player since Babe Ruth. (Unmentioned is his amazing base stealing, a talent that was not part of the Babe’s skill set.)
Mr. York introduces this baseball phenom, “...his name is Shohei Ohtani, which you might guess is not very American.”
Gee, how would the reader guess that Ohtani’s name is “not very American”? What is an American name, be it surname or given?
Dozens of Japanese American players have played in MLB. I am quite sure that each of these guys would not wish to be considered other than American because of their name. The same can be said of women and men of Japanese descent playing any number of sports across the U.S.
Mr. York meant no harm. That is the point. Slights about names, national origin and belonging are often made with no harm intended.
We might remember that most of the persons of Japanese descent who were interned in camps across the West Coast in 1942 lived in California. It is worth visiting the remains of one of these “relocation centers” at Manzanar Historic Site, a few miles North of Lone Pine, on U.S Highway 395. Nearly every interned individual had a Japanese name. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 officially apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government.
The first U.S. immigrant of Japanese descent was named Manjiro, who came to the U.S in 1843. According to the Library of Congress, during the period of 1886-1911, more than 400,000 Japanese women and men immigrated to the United States. It is safe to say that they and their descendants were all “very American.”
Many of us would concur with Mr. York’s wish that Shohei Ohtani’s talents could bind our nation’s wounds—even as Babe Ruth gave hope to America following WWI, the 1918 pandemic, and the Great Depression. Perhaps that is too much of a burden to place on the shoulders of any hero of the Great American Pastime, of whatever name, let alone a Japanese national who has not indicated whether he will seek to become a permanent U.S. resident. But we can wish.