11.05.2009

but some immigrants are more equal than others

Several people have sent me this item from different sources. It's very disturbing that in "the land of immigrants," a young country where every person not purely Native American is the descendant of immigrants, the ugly face of nativism still lurks.

This is an old theme in the US, as old as the US itself, where the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants declare themselves "real Americans" and the rest less-thans. But just because it's not new doesn't mean we should accept it.
On Sunday, U.S. media outlets reported that for the first time in 27 years, an American had won the New York City Marathon. Meb Keflezighi was born in Eritrea, "growing up in a hut with no electricity." He and his family moved to Italy when he was 10 years old, and came to the United States two years later. Keflezighi "began running in junior high in San Diego, then went on to star at UCLA." He said he it was with "big honor and pride" that he wore the USA jersey while running in the marathon.

. . . .

However, CNBC Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell doesn't think Keflezighi deserves all this praise because when his mother gave birth to him, she wasn't in the U.S. Rovell wrote a column yesterday saying that Keflezighi's victory wasn't "as good as it sounds" because Keflezighi is an immigrant, and this fact "takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies":

Given our disappointing results, embracing Keflezighi is understandable. But Keflezighi’s country of origin is Eritrea, a small country in Africa. He is an American citizen thanks to taking a test and living in our country.

Nothing against Keflezighi, but he's like a ringer who you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league.


Around noon today, Rovell posted a "convoluted sort-of apology" clarifying yesterday’s piece, writing, "Let me be clear: Meb Keflezighi is an American and any suggestion otherwise is wrong." He now granted Keflezighi’s win legitimacy only because the runner was "brought up through the American system":

I said that Keflezighi’s win, the first by an American since 1982, wasn’t as big as it was being made out to be because there was a difference between being an American-born product and being an American citizen. Frankly I didn’t account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi’s running experience came as a US citizen. I never said he didn’t deserve to be called American. [...]

It turns out, Keflezighi moved to the United States in time to develop at every level in America. So Meb is in fact an American trained athlete and an American citizen and he should be celebrated as the American winner of the NYC Marathon. That makes a difference and makes him different from the "ringer" I accused him of being. Meb didn’t deserve that comparison and I apologize for that.

Note Rovell's preface "as it turns out". Is she saying she didn't know where Keflezighi trained before declaring him "not quite us"? That's highly unlikely. The New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the Marathon, has a very professional media department. It's safe to assume Rovell received the same facts as the rest of the sports media.

The ThinkProgress story quoted above mentions researchers quoted in the New York Times noting "undercurrents of nationalism and racism that are not often voiced" in sports. That's true, but it's not enough to chalk this up to sports culture. The cultures of sport reflect and often magnify the values of the larger society. Rovell's bigotry doesn't come out of nowhere. It's American to the core.

12 comments:

Olivia said...

Who is a Real American?

It saddens me to hear this story, and it takes away some of the moment for this “American citizen”.

After a negative response to his article, Darren Rovell made a half hearted attempt at correcting his statement by saying that at least Meb Keflezighi was raised in the United States.

“All I was saying was that we should celebrate an American marathon champion who has completely been brought up through the American system.”

Does this mean naturalized American citizens are to be less celebrated for their achievements if they were not “brought up through the American system”?

This still looks like xenophobia to me.

Is this another bar we naturalized Usian citizens are to be measured by? I guess I’ll fail that one too. I must be a second class American citizen since I was born and raised in Canada.

What difference does it make where a naturalized American citizen was born, or raised. A US citizen is a US citizen is a US citizen. Period. Once we start defining different types of US citizenship, it becomes worth less.

In the case of Boustani v. Blackwell election poll workers in Ohio were asking voters whether US citizens were native born or naturalized. Native born US citizens were allowed to vote immediately. Naturalized US citizens were only allowed to cast a provisional ballot and had 10 days to provide their naturalization papers or their vote would be discarded. Luckily a federal court struck down this additional proof of citizenship required of naturalized citizens. The fact that the situation developed at all is alarming.

I am concerned that American citizenship is about to fracture into “naturalized” and “native born”. The nativist sentiment here is getting so bad, and the hatred of all immigrants, legal or otherwise, runs so deep that any naturalized American citizen runs the risk of being considered “not a real American”.

Stephanie said...

Yah, but did you see this

L-girl said...

I hate copy/paste comments, even when they're relevant.

L-girl said...

Stephanie, thanks for the Onion link!

Stephanie said...

On the copy/paste thing...

So that's what that is. Here I was wondering how a person could formulate such a well put together position so quickly...while I had to google the href html sequence (doh!).

;D

L-girl said...

Yes, those copy/pasters are easily recognized once you know what to look for. One giveaway is mentioning something that's already in the post, with no acknowledgement of having read it.

There are other clues - the length of the post, the speed at which it arrives, no visible profile, someone who has never posted here before and also isn't a known blogger, and so on.

More on this here.

Stephanie said...

Okay, I recall this post but had not had any first hand experience to relate to it...

Sorry if I am taking this too off topic but tell me something...to what end? What do you suppose motivates this behaviour? And who has time for this stuff?

I mean is there some kind of score keeper out there somewhere?

L-girl said...

.to what end? What do you suppose motivates this behaviour? And who has time for this stuff?

I mean is there some kind of score keeper out there somewhere?


I've thought about this a great deal. I wish I understood it more.

In some cases, maybe the person feels very strongly about something and wants to shout it from the rooftops, but doesn't understand (or am I being too generous?) that blog comments are conversations, not private soapboxes.

Or thinks no one will listen, so uses established blogs to gain listeners.

Or... I don't know!

The way some people approach this, you'd think there was some cosmic internet scorekeeper!

L-girl said...

CORRECTION

I was wrong. Olivia is a real person, and that comment is not a copy/paste but the real deal. My apologies to Olivia!!

Stephanie said...

Ooooops!

Well my comment holds, I think, so let me take this opportunity to congratulate you Olivia.

I am absolutely impressed at your lightening speed! :)

impudent strumpet said...

Why doesn't the US want to claim the winner as their own? Like it would be one thing if he'd done something bad and people were trying to disown him as USian, but he did something good.

L-girl said...

Why doesn't the US want to claim the winner as their own?

Racism, I guess.

But your question points to a real difference between Canadian and USian culture.

Canadians want to claim everyone as their own, no matter how long they've been in or out of the country (except currently Michael Ignatieff, but that's politically motivated). I mean, when's the last time Neil Young lived in Canada? Hell, there are websites that list Saul Bellow as Canadian.

Of course, as I write this, I remember that many Cdns question the "loyalty" (??) and Canadian-ness of dual citizens. So maybe this doesn't hold up as well as I'd like.

But I think Canadians are more flexible and generous with the idea of citizenship, whereas many USians are the opposite.