Community Leaders Demand Meeting with Gurriel, Denounce Delayed Suspension

From left: Mitchell Maki of Go For Broke National Education Center, Rick Noguchi of JANM, Gary Mayeda of JACL, and Guy Aoki of MANAA.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Representatives of Los Angeles-area Asian American community organizations held a press conference Nov. 1 at the Japanese American National Museum to denounce the Houston Astros’ Yuli Gurriel’s racist gesture toward the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yu Darvish as well as the Major League Baseball commissioner’s decision to delay punishment until next year.

They also suggested proactive steps so that something positive might come out of this incident.

In Game 3 of the World Series in Houston, first baseman Gurriel got a hit off pitcher Darvish, who is from Japan. Upon returning to the Astros dugout, Gurriel used his fingers to slant his eyes and mouthed “chinito,” a Spanish term that many Asians regard as derogatory.

Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to allow Gurriel to continue to play in the World Series and imposed a five-day suspension without pay in 2018.

“Obviously, World Series games are different than regular-season games, and I used my best judgment as to where the appropriate disciplinary level fell,” Manfred said.

Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), responded, “Many of us in the Asian American community took that to mean: ‘Your outrage can afford to wait. We can’t let it get in the way of our biggest money-making event’ …

“The feeling of many in our community is that if a player had made a racist gesture aimed at an African American, he would likely have been suspended immediately, World Series or not. In fact, there has been a precedent of suspending a player in the middle of the championships … When Draymond Green made a flagrant foul by touching his opponent’s groin area, he was suspended in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

“Many of us grew up with racial taunts and non-Asians pulling back their eyes to racially mock us. Manfred’s cop-out decision sent the message to the public that what Gurriel did wasn’t that big a deal. In fact, when the player was announced before the start of Saturday’s game, he received a standing ovation from the 40,000 gathered at Minute Maid Park.

“Some fans in the crowd even imitated him by pulling back their eyes. We fear that if the Astros win the series tonight, some of their fans may make that gesture even more, as a sign of defiance against Gurriel’s critics, against Davish, the Dodgers, and Asian people in general.”

When asked to explain himself, Gurriel said that “chinito” is a common word for Asians in his native Cuba. Aoki pointed out that Gurriel later admitted that he knew from playing baseball in Japan that “chinito” was considered offensive, and that he didn’t address the “slanted-eye” gesture at all.

“His words are not those of contrition, but of someone who was caught making an obscene gesture and forced to apologize,” Aoki added.

According to Aoki, the same gesture was made by the Spanish Olympic men’s and women’s basketball teams in 2008 just before they left for Beijing; by singers Miley Cyrus and Joe Jonas in 2009; and by the Serbian national women’s volleyball team last May upon learning they would be going to the 2018 Women’s World Championship in Japan.

“While Commissioner Manfred said Gurriel would have to undergo sensitivity training before the next season, we suggest a more proactive approach,” Aoki said. “Make all Major League players go through sensitivity training, not just those who’ve already offended people.

“We also ask for a meeting with Mr. Gurriel here in Los Angeles … to take a tour of the Japanese American National Museum and learn how at least one community has suffered because of ignorance, stereotypes and racial animosity.”

Rick Noguchi, chief operating officer of JANM, invited Gurriel and MLB leaders to “come to this museum to learn about the impact of racism in the 1940s that led to the incarceration of 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans … It would be a great opportunity … to learn about that story.”

Rev. Tim Yee of Union Church holds up a photo of congregation member Hagi Kusunoki, whose husband helped rescue the “Lost Battalion” of Texas.

Rev. Tim Yee of Union Church of Los Angeles said, “We in the Asian American community are not ‘crybabies’ or ‘sore losers,’ as some in social media would like to portray us regarding the Yuli Gurriel incident. We know that as Asian Americans we have often been far too silent on the racism endured in all the great cities of our nation. So we join together and are speaking today to invite Yuli, Major League Baseball and all Americans to help us move forward in our divided time.”

Yee held up a photo of Hagi Kusunoki, a member of his congregation. Her late husband George was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star for his service as a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. Outnumbered four to one, he and his comrades — hundreds of whom were killed or wounded — rescued a Texas battalion that had been surrounded by Germans in a forest in France.

“Hagi and George made incredible sacrifices for their country so that we would always remember the pain and injustice that racism can lead to,” Yee said. “So when 40,000 fans give a standing ovation to Yuli after being cleared to continue playing in the World Series, I think that Hagi’s story has been forgotten.

“For why would any good American cheer the overlooking of blatant