The Irony of Immigrant Olympics

 You know, I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Olympics. I have friends who will literally glue themselves to the TV during the games and who fanatically follow the medal counts and stats, but I’ve never paid all that much attention.

I did get to attend the medal-rounds of the women’s soccer games at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 – which as a young woman soccer player was truly an exhilirating and inspiring experience. (By the way, the U.S. Women took the gold, winning a 2-0 final against China.) And I’ve always enjoyed watching the women’s gymnastics events, which I find to be the most entertaining of the games.

But, after learning more about the political implications of hosting the Olympics and the way countries (and at times, violent regimes) use the games and the positive attention to gloss over any previous trangressions, I must admit that my zeal for the Olympics has waned since Atlanta. For more on this, you should definitely check out a recent post from Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican – beautiful writing on an ugly subject.

But, this past weekend, I watched the opening ceremonies with a few friends over dinner and drinks, and I must admit, I was mesmerized by the visual spectacle of it all. Since then, I have tuned in for the basketball, swimming and gymnastics portions of the coverage.



However, I was really thrilled to come across Sally Kohn’s most recent op-ed at Alternet. Kohn exposes our country’s double-standard towards immigrants, which has really been highlited during the current Olympics in Beijing.

For here we are in the United States, where though the price of gas is skyrocketing, there seems to be endless fuel to feed the fires of anti-immigrant sentiment. But the Olympics are different, I guess. Is it the same with professional sports? Or the governorship of California? We don’t like immigrants in low-wage jobs that none of us citizens want to do, but we don’t mind immigrants in the exceptionally high-paying jobs that American-born citizens can only dream of?

What’s the point complaining about an undocumented Mexican making $5 an hour in a chicken processing plant, who lost two of his fingers because of unsafe conditions and labor violations? Shouldn’t we be more upset about Yao Ming making $15 million a year, plus endorsements?

Ah, but in America, we have a long and proud tradition of picking on the little guy. We also have a proud tradition of taking half-hearted moral stands. (Remember the Southern Compromise, anyone? Our continuing tolerance of segregation after abolition? Or the Bush Administration’s rejection of nation-building … ?) Why bother standing up for what’s right when we can just talk about what we know is right but then just keep doing what we’ve always done.

Of course I don’t want the anti-immigrant hate spewers to wizen up to their inconsistencies and expel the 33 immigrants on the U.S. Olympic team this year, let alone a vast number of our nation’s doctors, nurses, engineers — and one governor. But on the other hand, it would be refreshing if the anti-immigrant fanatics would just level with us — and chant “Run home immigrant” at Lopez Lomong during his 1500 meter dash, as opposed to just chanting at the far less fortunate and far more desperate undocumented migrants who are just trying to get to work to make a day’s pay. After all, factory workers and maids and farmworkers are easy targets. Let’s see the anti-immigrant folks really test their theories and tirades by attacking people Americans really care about.

The rest of the piece is equally as smart and eloquent and I encourage you to read it in full.

And yes, I will be cheering Michael Phelps on with the rest of you…

3 responses to “The Irony of Immigrant Olympics

  1. thank you for the mention.🙂

  2. thank you for the constant stream of inspiring and thought-provoking analysis, poetry and art.

  3. Michael Phelps? who dat? But Lopez Lomong… and his fellow 1500’ers… a microcosm of the US (same with the men’s 10,000 team).

    Course, I’m a white immigrant, so it probably don’t count. It’s not as if the “natives” are chanting “go home you nazi” at me anymore. The “natives” do sometimes grow up.

    And sometimes not.

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