And why not? In addition to his cross-seasonal athletic prowess, Alvarez has a compelling story. He is the son of Cuban immigrants and said, “Being a first-generation Cuban American, my story represents the American Dream.”
Or take Athing Mu. She dominated the women’s 800-meter run, capturing gold at the age of 19. Her parents emigrated from Sudan before she was born, and she grew up in New Jersey.
Or take Jay Litherland, who grew up in Georgia as the son of a father from New Zealand and a mother from Japan and won a silver medal in swimming. Or Delilah Muhammad, a Muslim from New Jersey who ran the second-fastest women’s 400-meter hurdles race in history — and had the misfortune of seeing the fastest come in the same race. Or Yul Moldauer, who was adopted from South Korea as an infant and represented the U.S. in men’s gymnastics.
There are more. Many more. Because the U.S. Olympic team tends to reflect the best of the United States, and that always includes a lot of immigrants. American Dream, indeed.
You see, for every world-class American athlete who is an immigrant or the child of immigrants, there are hundreds or thousands of doctors and lawyers and teachers and journalists and farm workers and baristas who can trace their recent heritage to another country. All of which points out the nonsense of our immigration policy.
Yes, we must have secure borders. Despite the rhetoric from the far-right, nobody with a modicum of authority or common sense supports open borders. But with the rise of white nationalists in this country, it is essential to point out the absurdity of their philosophy and xenophobia. As far as we know, no member of the Proud Boys has brought as much glory to the United States as an Olympic medalist.
It also is essential to point out how Congress has spent many years dropping the baton on immigration policy.
Take Luis Grijalva, who came to the United States with his family at the age of 1 and has remained here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. He competes for his parents’ homeland of Guatemala and became the first runner representing a Central American country to reach the finals of the men’s 5,000 meters.
Grijalva needed an expedited re-entry permit before leaving for Tokyo. That required help from an immigration lawyer and two members of Congress as well as dispensation from immigration officials – just to ensure he could return to the only country he has ever known.
Indeed, politics are inescapable in the Olympics. But it seems they could be a little more simplistic.