Commentary: Balloon boy mom doesn’t deserve racist remarks

Arthur Hu

Arthur Hu

By Arthur Hu
For Northwest Asian Weekly

Thankfully, the latest infamous Asian American isn’t a disgruntled geek shooter or a Yale murder victim, but the Japanese American mom of “balloon boy.”

Her name is Mayumi Heene. Her son, Falcon, captured the nation’s attention for a few hours because people thought he had climbed into a homemade hot air balloon and disappeared into the sky. It turned out to be a hoax. The boy had hidden in the attic of his family’s home.

The press wondered if Mayumi was involved in the hoax or a battered victim. After telling everything to the sheriff, she may be both. I first heard the story on Dori Monson’s radio show in Seattle, and then saw the balloon land on a video posted on the Internet. Her looks, name, and accent are all Japanese. That makes her boys, Falcon, Bradford, and Ryo, Asian Americans or at least Hapa.

We then learned that they were the same “we are children of aliens” family led by a manic do-it-yourself mad scientist dad that was on the television show “Wife Swap.”  “Wife Swap” is a reality show where wives of two vastly different families switch places, careers, children, and husbands for one week.

Mayumi’s husband, Richard, called his guest wife a “man’s nightmare” and was glad “my wife was born in Japan.”

Mayumi and Richard got married in 1997 in Las Vegas. They’re not exactly what you’d expect a real life goof-off Homer and straight-woman Marge Simpson to look like.

Barbara Slusser of Fort Collins, former research partner to Richard, got close to the family working on TV projects, but pulled out over concerns about his temper. “[Mayumi’s] a highly intelligent woman, a lovely soul,” Slusser said. “[But] whatever he says goes. She’s basically his slave.” Slusser said Mayumi is a rock for her husband and should be put up for sainthood for putting up with him.’s Diana Nguyen and Jen Wang noted that the report seemed to portray that Mayumi “is essentially a sad, suffering-in-silence, subservient — a word used three times to describe her — Asian woman cliché.” But they did notice that the pair had separate his-and-hers lawyers. That’s not something you’d expect from a wife loyal enough to go down with the ship and her captain.

Now there’s a big difference between subservience and submission. The Japanese word “amae” encapsulates hierarchy and dependence. While the old are above the young and the husbands are above the wives, everybody submits to somebody else.

One Japanese woman has commented that Mayumi wasn’t being stereotypical, but a “bakka,” or crazy, and from what I’ve seen of video clips, she doesn’t seem to be an average Japanese.

At least not any more than Richard is a typical American.

This is a family living on the edge, having lived in an office space and rented homes, and driven with a broken hatch window. They love their boys and didn’t mean to hurt anybody. Many Americans can only dream of capturing the imagination and attention of America, if only for a few hours.

Though some may despise the misguided father, their misdeeds certainly don’t rise to the level of having the book thrown at them or delivering the boys into the clutches of the foster care system.

In this day of zero tolerance, America has shown how the real bad guys come out when Americans get legal excuses to demonstrate just how much they dislike some people. Judging by horrible and racist comments left on the “richardheeneofficial youtube channel,” there’s a mob out there just waiting to mete out justice, and I can’t imagine how having a wife from Japan is going to help their case.

This family is in some deep tofu, folks. Look in the history books of the American West to see what people felt justified doing to the Chinese, Mormons, and Native Americans.

The Heenes don’t have a mean bone anywhere in their bodies, but they’re pretty much at the mercy of public opinion now. After they’ve paid a fair price for their mischief, they need help to get back on track to the American dream. While Asian parents are tough on discipline, it’s to teach a lesson, not to ground people for life.

If it were up to me, I’d give the Heenes back their confiscated belongings, sentence them to a month in jail and a month of community service. Then harness their energy for the good by handing them over the Great American Celebrity Machine.

The father would make a great host of a backyard inventor show, and Mayumi would be interesting on Oprah.

Whatever wealth they get should be plowed into scholarships for other kids of crackpot parents.

If nobody has yet to stick up for these adventurous folks, it’s time for the Asian community to take a stand, starting with this Asian American dad. ♦

Arthur Hu is a regular contributor to Asian Week in San Francisco. He is a local writer living in Bothell.

He can be reached at

13 Responses to “Commentary: Balloon boy mom doesn’t deserve racist remarks”

  1. Asian American Man says:

    This is a joke. Why should I step in for this freak of a woman?

    Also, Asian American community? Joke #2. We are a community of ultra opportunists. There is no Asian American community.

  2. Leilani says:

    This website is an example of the reason why racism is just going to increase against Asians, Hispanics, etc.
    The people in those groups want acceptance as equals – and they want to be able to sue over every slight at the same time.
    Equality doesn’t work that way. You have to start giving credit where it is due – and if that means giving credit to white people, then do it!
    I grew up in the NW as a minority – often the only Asian in a group of whites. I had it just as good – and just as bad as the others. They were often poorer than me. They did not have the good family examples I had to help me mentally get through financial hard times.
    Now, I look back at the many, many white people who befriended me and I am sickened at how they are being treated by the “new bullies” like the black males in Obama’s camp who treat women like they are dirt.

  3. Leilani says:

    Intermarriage was also discouraged in Asian countries…..!

  4. Leilani says:

    You’re forgetting that many “hapas” as you label us, also have Caucasian relatives with roots deep in the West. We don’t like our Caucasian relative’s “crimes” being remembered while Pearl Harbor, the Dalai Lama and other “crimes” are swept under the rug.

  5. David Grant says:

    The issue is not whether the Heenes have a mean bone in them but whether they have the right to scam the American public and use up precious state and federal funds to look for their missing son. I don’t believe all this talk that Mayumi is some subservient woman and even if true, whats wrong with that? Asian women may be subservient but that was how American women were until feminism came along.

  6. Victoria James says:

    My husband is Japanese and to this day he still sees himself as “less” to others. He is a doctor and I do not know why this mentality still exists. His brother and two sisters are married to caucasians as well.
    I do not know why Mayumi married her husband. He treats her really bad and also his opinion on females is bigoted. Then again, she is very rude person as well and maybe got it fro her husband. There is no need to make racist remarks but both of them deserve more than token penalities. They were both involved in the hoax, throw the book at them. In addition, the foul-mouthed kids may have a better chance with foster parents.

  7. M says:

    A month in jail + community service wont do. They need to pay back all the money they wasted on resources! How selfish of them to make a spectacle and have people waste their time and care on them. They should get charged a hefty hundred thousand dollar fine + community service + some sort of intervention/therapy for their sons

  8. sheng says:

    asian women has alot of self hate, they can’t wait to be white wash and from japan, country full of self hate. look at their cartoons. they draw themselves as white and asian characters from asia as slanty eye characters.

    asian women here are not that much different. sadly she probably hated herself so much thinking the white man would save her.

  9. Mike says:

    Why do you all hate dolphins?

  10. Richard T. Brady says:

    How wrong can one be? The deranged father of the balloon boy has more than one mean bone in his body. Look at his history. He is a narcissistic jack ***.

  11. Jebediah Webb says:

    > The Heenes don’t have a mean bone anywhere in their bodies, but
    > they’re pretty much at the mercy of public opinion now.

    Correct me if I am wrong but hasn’t the father been in trouble on at least one occasion for his temper? I would hardly say he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. And for that matter, his children were extremely rude to their host family on wife swap. While I agree with the rest of your article I think you got this part wrong sir.

  12. Thankyou for writing this. I am so glad to see this message finally break through a little.

    So much of the coverage, and TV commentary by otherwise educated people used that old china doll stereoype over and over. Thinking that an asian woman who does not publically belittle and berate her husband, is as ignorant as thinking a person named hontas must live in a wigwam.

    Between that rampant stereotyping, and a Justice of the peace who would not marry interracial couples, it looks like America hasn’t come that far afterall.


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