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Sara Lioanag
Dr. Beth Tarasawa
Race and Social Justice
April 20, 2017
Desi Hoop Dreams

South Asian American masculinity is an idea often trivialized in American society.

Depicted as nerdy or terroristic, South Asian American men are stereotyped and excluded from

participating in American masculinity. Desi Hoop Dreams, a book written by Stanley I.

Thangaraj, details South Asian-only pickup basketball leagues, common in many major U.S.

cities. Thangaraj describes the nature in which the sport provides South Asian American men

with a space to navigate and perform gender and masculinity while remaining connected to their

ethnicity. Desi Hoop Dreams focuses a lens on multiple intersections and binaries within South

Asian American culture.

Desi Hoop Dreams begins by detailing pickup basketball, an unstructured form of

playing basketball where teams and other factors of the game may change, as a way for South

Asian American men to claim space in their city of Atlanta. By participating and practicing the

act of masculinity through sport, these young men are then able to form identity and legitimize

their bodies as male, (Thangaraj, 2015, p.37). The men in these South Asian American-only

basketball leagues are able to simultaneously bond with other South Asian men over ethnic and

cultural similarities while differentiating themselves as individuals amongst the larger group. The

book also discusses the dismissing of femininity and homosexuality in South Asian American

sporting masculinity. Women are thus only allowed in limited fashions and gay men are excluded

altogether. In contrast, Thangaraj explains that femininity and homosexuality structure

heterosexuality. The book describes these sport performances as an integral part to forming

gendered identities of South Asian American men and a way to take place in American society.
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In order to investigate the dynamics of sport, I performed an ethnography of basketball

games in Portland. I began by visiting a local park with a basketball court and observing the

players and how they played the sport. I positioned myself far enough away from the court as to

go unnoticed while still being able to hear the players and see what was happening in the game. I

believe this method aided in providing a more naturalistic observation. I observed three games of

basketball within two and a half hours. The methods used were aimed to create natural and

representative observations.

As observations were performed, many recurring themes arose. The first theme that

presented itself was the act of trash talk, or insulting ones opponent to intimidate and demoralize

that player. The trash talk was playful rather than hateful as one could assume the players were

friends. However, the trash talk between the teams composed of all men was sometimes of insult

to feminine characteristics. It was apparent that femininity had no place on the court. The game

of basketball was solely masculine in their eyes and to be feminine was to be an inadequate

player. In relation, another theme that seemed to be hiding in plain sight was the performance of

athleticism. The players strived to run back and forth across the court and make shots. This

desire to be seen as athletic on the court translated into being masculine. The connection made

between masculinity and athleticism bred competition between the teams as well as the need for

validation amongst peers.

Lastly, I found that the element of contact proved to be recurrent and often times

necessary in basketball. The players would block, defend, and steal the ball through contact. This

contact took form as positioning oneself close to another player, backing up against one another,

and even grabbing at, pushing, or embracing another player in order to steal the ball, which are
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deemed as fouls. These contacts made with one anothers bodies made the players more actively

involved with the game.

These recurring themes gave better insight into casual basketball games outside of the

book. The theme of trash talking in my observations somewhat mirrored Thangarajs discussion

of on-court mingling. Thangaraj states, Such teasing and trash talking affirms intimacies among

co-ethnic men while incorporating linguistic means of affiliation, (p.83). This offers a deeper

insight as to what is actually happening on the court. To participate is to belong. The act of trash

talking is about participating in the game and, thus, belonging somewhere. I also found

connections of athleticism between my observations and 9-Man, a documentary that focuses on

Chinese-only volleyball leagues in America. Similar to Desi Hoop Dreams, the subjects of the

film claim the sport as their own by making their own space within the sport. One can see how

athleticism is shown in the documentary through the outstanding talent of the players, the

rigorous practice, and the high expectation amongst the players elders (Liang, 2014). The strive

to be athletic is to claim their masculinity. Lastly, contact was another topic of discussion in Desi

Hoop Dreams. Thangaraj points out, While such physical intimacy, close quarters, frequent

bodily contact, and the pleasures of physical play can be considered homoerotic with many queer

possibilities, the basketball players consider them just basketball play, (Thangaraj, 2015, p.154).

These spaces are so far removed from homosexuality that such contact that may be deemed

gay are normal and encouraged. The way in which sports are performed, one must look deeper

into who is playing, what pleasures they derive from the sport, and the impact of that sport in

larger society.
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Liang, U. (Director). (2014). 9-Man [Motion picture]. USA: Independent.

Thangaraj, S. (2015). Desi hoop dreams: pickup basketball and the making of Asian American

masculinity. New York, NY: New York Univ. Press.