The Immigrant Spirit Is Vital to the U.S. Olympic Team
July 27 2012
With thousands of athletes flooding in from every country across the globe, London is truly the epicenter of the world right now—where champions will compete on an international scale for personal glory and national pride. Americans will get their first taste of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team during the exciting Olympic Opening Ceremonies airing tonight on NBC at 7:30 EDT p.m.
Amid the national heroes marching in the ceremony, we’ll see many familiar faces, including World Record Holder and Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps, and returning athletes hoping to snag the elusive gold, like goalkeeper Hope Solo and the rest of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team. Some, like the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team, come with big expectations, while others are stacked with an unprecedented level of talent—we’re looking at you Women’s Gymnastics. But they all have one thing in common—they represent America.
Regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, how many medals they’ve won or lost, whether they’ve been on a Wheaties box or in a Gatorade commercial, every single one of those athletes are competing as much for themselves as they are for this country. And that includes those who weren’t even born here.
Just ask 27-year-old runner Leonel “Leo” Manzano, who will compete as part of Team USA in the 1500 meter race. Born in Mexico, Manzano came to the U.S. when he was four and grew up in Texas. It was track that helped open doors for him, earning him a scholarship to the University of Texas, where he became a four-time national champion and nine-time All-American.
But he still had bigger dreams.
“By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew if I ever wanted to compete for the U.S., I was going to have to be an American citizen,” Manzano told Fox News Latino. “I live in the U.S. I’m still very much connected to my Mexican heritage, but my home is the U.S. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Four years after becoming a citizen in 2004, Manzano realized his Olympic dreams by competing in Beijing and will once again represent the U.S. in London.
There are countless stories like his—U.S. team members, who weren’t necessarily born here but very much represent this country and the American Dream in every sense of the word. Perhaps viewers will see a little bit of themselves in Danell Leyva, a Cuban-born gymnast, or Peruvian immigrant Giuseppe Lazone, who will represent the U.S. in rowing. Maybe Brazilian-born Tony Azevedo will inspire kids to pick up water polo or runner and Kenya native Janet Bawcom will excite young American girls with Olympic aspirations.
There is a political debate about who is “American enough” and what kind of effect immigrants have on this country. Look no further than the international quilt that is the U.S. Olympic Team to see just how strong America can be when we embrace diversity and inclusion. They may come from different corners of this planet, but in their hearts every one of those athletes is American and we as a country are stronger because they represent us. It’s time to start embracing immigrants not just when they can win us a gold medal, but every day, because they truly are All American.