The San Francisco Mei Wahs were a crack all-Chinese, all-female basketball team out of 1930s Chinatown whose fast-paced, aggressive style of play shattered prevailing assumptions on the physical prowess of women in sport. Helen Wong Lum, from the same Chinatown, was an outstanding junior tennis player in the late 40s who also excelled in basketball and volleyball but whose potential was unfulfilled because of who she was. Kathleen S Yep wrote about their exploits in Outside the Paint: When Basketball Ruled at the Chinese Playground but their stories are largely consigned to footnotes when it comes to the history of women’s sport in the United States, according to anthropologist Stan Thangaraj, assistant professor of anthropology, gender studies and international studies at the City College of New York. Which is why, he said, the recent appointment of Kim Ng as general manager of the Miami Marlins represents a significant cultural breakthrough that cannot be understated. At a time when Donald Trump supporters gladly accept his rhetoric on the coronavirus as made in China, Ng’s rise to the top may serve to finally afford recognition to the Asian-American women who have helped to shape US sports. Helen Wong Lum, barrier breaking tennis and basketball star, dies at 84 pic.twitter.com/RR2EiF0pTS (NBC News) — Frank Macek @WKYC Studios (@MacekNewsNation) December 31, 2015 “Having a women GM and that too an Asian-American is important to jot down. There is a long history of Asians in the US being considered as foreign and never American enough,” said Thangaraj, who wrote the book Desi Hoop Dreams: pickup basketball and the making of Asian-American Masculinity . “This is an incredible statement. The hiring of Kim Ng is to really claim the ways in which Asian-Americans have a much longer history in the US and with intimate ties to the national pastime and intimate ties to the nation. “This becomes so much more important when we think about Donald Trump’s constant classifying of the coronavirus as the Chinese virus or the ‘kung flu’.” The 52-year-old Ng was last week appointed the first female GM in Major League Baseball, having been identified as a rising star two decades ago but knocked back for similar positions by six franchises. In her first interview since her appointment, Ng alluded to the time it took for her to finally become a GM, having previously risen to New York Yankees assistant general manager at the age of 29 before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers as vice-president and assistant general manager. Scott Bush, chief executive officer for the Society of American Baseball Research, said he hoped Ng’s new status would inspire more women to consider a career in baseball. “It’s a massive step forward for the entire baseball industry,” said Bush. “For quite some time, Kim Ng epitomised the glass ceiling in Major League Baseball; she has been qualified to be a general manager for two decades now. “Hopefully her hiring will encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in baseball, and lead to a more diverse and equitable composition of MLB front offices. “Of course, all of the above can also be said of Ng’s representation of people of Asian descent. In addition to a lack of gender diversity, MLB has long suffered from a lack of racial diversity. Ng has been an inspiration to many who aspire to work in MLB and the baseball industry in general, and her new position will no doubt inspire even more. A banner day for baseball.” Thangaraj said the rise of Kamala Harris as the first black and South Asian vice-president – when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20 – was significant to the American psyche and highlights the growing movement of Asian-Americans and other minorities and how they are challenging the racial restructuring of the country and its sporting landscape. “We cannot by any means talk about this without talking about the ways in which Black Lives Matter, which has become multiracial, has been pivotal to this movement and the hiring of Kim Ng,” said Thangaraj. “In this sense, we can’t forget that there is a much longer active engagement of Chinese-Americans in US sport. But that history has long been forgotten or refused a space. “Helen Wong, because of various restrictions put on Chinese in Chinatown, did not have the same type of mobility and access to sporting fame as that of white women during that time. “The Mei Wahs changed the way in which women’s participation in basketball was thought. They changed the nature of the women’s game. “When Asian women are celebrated, it is rarely ever in a national sport, and this is part of the whitewashing of sport that when you have stories of success, it is told through African-American and not Asian, as if they didn’t exist. Kim’s story is the story of the long history of Asians in the US and Asian-American life.” Kim Ng is changing the conversation. pic.twitter.com/EgSNSHiHh9 — MLB (@MLB) November 14, 2020 Ng’s appointment, while long overdue, is only a small step on the road to ensuring women are given equal respect in a white male-dominated arena, said Thangaraj. In an ideal world, Ng’s hiring would be as normal as any male candidate who possessed similar experience and qualifications. Thangaraj hopes that would indeed be the case in the future. For now, he said women – even in Ng’s case – are disadvantaged by the fact that they need men to legitimise their worth. “What it shows is the ways in which national sports have been so connected to men and performing masculinity,” said Thangaraj. “There has been a refusal to really celebrate and admit women into those ranks. It has been much tougher for women and especially Asian-American women to enter those realms as coaches, administrators and GMs, working at the highest levels of sport. “We assume sport becomes the ultimate arbitrator of merit. The language of sport, you talk about success based on this notion of merit. Statements from Brian Cashman & Jean Afterman congratulating Kim Ng: pic.twitter.com/HXJQPcZCIx — New York Yankees (@Yankees) November 13, 2020 “Here it is very clear that racism and sexism drive professional sports. Even though [Kim Ng] has been so high qualified, she has not had the same opportunities to be GM and has been passed over numerous times. “If you see articles coming out, they are all talking about her hiring, all point to men saying she is great. This showcases the idea that it is the realm of men who can validate her own merit, instead of her merit being seen for what it is – her hard work, her brilliance, her strategies, her incredible knowledge of the game and the business. “When we talk about Kim Ng, it’s also very important that we pay attention to the people who have not been able to make it and how they are fighting every day to get a job within Asian America.