Yuli Gurriel’s offensive gesture provokes outrage among Asian Americans
Jason Chu, a rapper based in Los Angeles, was out with his wife on Friday when he saw his Twitter feed start to blow up.
Yuli Gurriel, one of the key members of the Houston Astros, had been caught by television cameras during Game 3 of the World Series making a gesture and mouthing a word with racial overtones targeting Asian Americans.
For the record:
7:20 p.m. Oct. 28, 2017An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote to Yu Darvish. It was Yuli Gurriel who said “In Cuba and in various places, you don’t say ‘Japanese,’ you call all Asians ‘Chinitos.’ But I was in Japan and I know they are offended by that.”
After hitting a home run off the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish, Gurriel put his fingers to the sides of his face, lifted the corners of his eyes and mouthed the word “chinito,” Spanish for “Chinese boy.” Darvish, who was born in Japan, is of Japanese and Iranian descent.
“It just felt like, ‘Man, again?’ Like, we’re so used to this,” said Chu. “People don’t even pause. They think that this is acceptable, socially, to target Asian Americans in this way, or Asians in general.”
The incident prompted another round in the long-running discussion about anti-Asian stereotypes and slurs in American culture. Major League Baseball on Saturday slapped Gurriel with a five-game suspension — to be served next season.
“Unfortunately racism towards Asians is nothing new,” chef Roy Choi said in an email. “Doesn’t matter that Darvish is Japanese-Iranian and not Chinese.”
Gurriel, who later apologized, also said he was aware that “chinito” is considered offensive.
“In Cuba and in various places, you don’t say ‘Japanese,’ you call all Asians ‘chinitos,’ ” Gurriel said. “But I was in Japan and I know they are offended by that.”
As a rapper and hip-hop artist, Chu said he understood that trading insults was often part of that world.
“But at least do it creatively,” he said. “This just felt like a lowest-common-denominator type of situation where he didn’t have anything else he could do, so we just went to this very basic kind of response.”
Britny Cuellar and her husband, decked out in Astros gear, walked outside Houston’s Minute Maid Park on Saturday pushing their 2-year-old daughter in a stroller. The Gurriel gesture caused them to groan because they worried it would overshadow everything the team had accomplished and all this city has been through this year, said Cuellar, a 27-year-old elementary school teacher from nearby Crosby who has lived in the Houston area her whole life.
“I just think he was being childish,” she said of Gurriel. “I don’t think he meant any harm from it.”
The family discussed the episode as they drove to the stadium, she said, and were frustrated that it happened. Cuellar said she didn’t think Gurriel’s actions were malicious, but that they happened “spur of the moment,” in a game with a lot of adrenaline.
She also thought Houston — which according to census data is the most diverse major city in the country — would view the incident differently from the way it’s being reported in the media because its residents are comfortable around people of different races and cultures. The diversity was something she was proud of. She and her husband are of Mexican descent, she said.
Cuellar said she was proud to see how the city came together after Hurricane Harvey, noting that Islamic centers opened their doors to flood victims and people of all races did everything they could to volunteer.
The crowds at Astros games seemed to reflect that diversity, she said.
“You go to the games and you see everybody different here. Black, white, Hispanic, Indian, Asian.”
Some have argued that for Gurriel, who is from Cuba, the gesture and epithet don’t carry the same level of animus as they do in the U.S., with its record of violence against Asian Americans and other minorities. Chu brushed that explanation aside.
“I like to give people credit, that they can be smart enough and empathetic enough and good enough human beings that they can figure out what hurts people and what doesn’t,” Chu said.
Chu said he experienced this kind of racism while growing up in Delaware, and he still does today in L.A. The incident also fits into a long history of minorities being played against other minorities, he added.
“It’s ironic to me because this is a person who is themselves a person of color,” he said, referring to Gurriel. “I’m sure he knows what it’s like to be made fun of or stereotyped.”
In an apology, Gurriel said he had not meant to offend anyone — an apology that did not win over all of his critics.
“Yes, because we all know that doing this to an Asian is a universal sign of respect,” Daniel Dae Kim, a Korean American actor who starred in “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-0,” wrote sarcastically on Twitter.
Kim pointed out that the Gurriel incident was not the first time that slurs and stereotypes have been used against players in Major League Baseball.
“Clearly this is not an isolated incident in the @MLB,” Kim said in a tweet to a Times reporter. “Maybe #Gurriel will change that.”
“To me, it’s just a reminder that this is a real conversation,” Chu said. “This hasn’t stopped, it hasn’t lightened up, it’s out there, and we need to be having proactive conversations instead of reacting when something pops up in media or sports or news.”
In Koreatown, Maria Rizo, who is Cuban American, said she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “It’s like saying African American or Hispanic,” she said.
In Little Tokyo, Kei Kuroyanagi, a native Angeleno who is Japanese American, said he was also called “Chinito” growing up and learned to let it go. He said that as a professional athlete, Gurriel should be more educated about other cultures. But, he added: “Everyone’s racist.”
Nearby, Stephanie Cabrera, 28, said Gurriel should pay the price for his behavior.
“In 2017 everyone is a little sensitive — or a lot sensitive,” she said. “He should know better.”
Here is some reaction on social media:
7 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from L.A. area.
6 p.m.: This article was updated with social media.
3:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments, including from chef Roy Choi.
This article was originally published at 2:05 p.m.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.