It’s not often that I agree with the opinion pieces posted on CNN.com, but this one really caught my eye, and I agree with the author’s critique of Leo Manzano’s post-race performance. Manzano, the silver medalist in the 1,500 meter race last week, came to the United States from Mexico at the age of four. After he came in second (the first American man to medal in the event since 1968), he paraded around the arena with both a Mexican flag and an American flag. He proclaimed on Twitter he was representing two countries— the United States and Mexico.
Hold up. What?
That’s not how it works, Manzano. A person cannot run for two countries. Although Manzano may personally possess dual citizenship, his shirt is red, white, and blue, not green, red, and white. It says “USA,” not “Mexico.” Manzano, your parents brought you from Mexico to the United States so that you could have a better life, because Mexico couldn’t provide the same opportunities that the United States could. This is how you reward the country that took you in? By waving the flag of the country that your parents fled?
Hey IOC, I wouldn’t check him for steroids after his medal was awarded– I’d check to see if he was on crack.
Other athletes are immigrants too, and you don’t see them waving the flags of their birth countries when they medal. For instance, Nastia Liukin, gold medalist in the 2008 artistic gymnastics individual all-around competition, was born in Moscow and came to the United States with her parents when she was two, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. After she won the all-around (or when she won her medals in the beam, floor, uneven bars, and team competitions), she didn’t parade around with a Russian flag, or say that her medal was won for Russia as well. Heck, the Russians are basically the archenemies of the United States in gymnastics. It’s like Red Dawn in leotards every four years.
The same is true for Danell Leyva, the bronze medalist in the men’s artistic gymnastics individual all-around competition in the London games. He was born in Cuba and moved to Miami as a child—-but a Cuban flag was nowhere to be found at his medal ceremony.
I’m suspecting Liukin or Leyva didn’t hold up flags from their native lands because, well, their native lands didn’t exactly do them any favors. Nastia’s parents, former Soviet gymnasts themselves, got out of the USSR as fast as they could—and they opened up a very successful gymnastics gym in Plano, TX. Leyva’s mother and stepfather were also gymnasts in Cuba, and his stepfather/current coach defected to the United States by swimming across the Rio Grande while his team was competing in Mexico. They also opened up a gymnastics gym, in Miami. Leyva has shown no loyalty to Cuba, and why should he? His stepfather was willing to swim across a river to escape Cuba. It’d be a slap in the face to wave the Cuban flag. Levya is American competing for the United States. Period.
I’m not saying supporting and recognizing one’s heritage is a bad thing. It’s not. This weekend I went to an Italian street festival in Portland and ate cannolis until I thought I was going to burst. As a child, I would eagerly await the La Kermesse Franco-American heritage festival each year. However, if I were to somehow magic my way on to the United States Olympic Team (is blogging a sport?), I wouldn’t wave around an Italian flag, or a Quebec flag, or an Irish flag if I won a medal. I’d be carrying the flag of the United States.
Although my relatives may have been born in other countries, they left. They recognized that the United States was a land of way better opportunity than a small village in Calabria or the outskirts of Montreal, so they came here—-and flourished. My Québécois great-grandparents opened up an incredibly successful Laundromat, and my Italian and Irish sides of the family are mostly small business owners. My grandfather was not permitted to speak Italian after a certain time: he was American, and he had to speak English. Any loyalties to the mother country were cut off. Assimilation was encouraged.
The Olympics aren’t a personal cultural heritage festival, which is something Manzano should have acknowledged. Manzano could have run for Mexico, but he did not—-probably because not a single one of the 14 Mexicans on their Men’s Athletics team won a medal in any track and field event. By choosing to run for the United States, he gained access to increased funding and better coaches, training facilities, and equipment than he would have seen in Mexico. If he had chosen to run for Mexico, there’s a good chance that he wouldn’t even have a silver medal right now. And how did he thank the United States? By sharing the glory with another country. It’s not right. It’s insulting.
I realize this situation could be awkward for any person with dual citizenship. However, Manzano had to make a choice, and he went with the United States. He needs to honor that choice, and carry the American flag only.