Nathan Chen recently became the first Asian American to win gold in men’s figure skating, solidifying his status as the most dominant skater of the last four years, according to Max Gao for NBC Sports. Another big-time Asian American Olympian who’s facing backlash is Chloe Kim. She won gold in Pyeongchang and South Korea. She’s a snowboarder and recently defended her crown in Beijing.
One would argue that these two becoming the faces of the U.S. Olympics has also given many Asian Americans a sense of pride. However, these two are facing the scrutiny of being Asian and not competing for their Asian countries. Many of these toxic “traitor” remarks all stem from tropes of good immigrants and bad immigrants narratives, per Rachael Miyung Joo.
Joo is a professor of American studies at Middlebury College. She claims that Asian American athletes have faced pressure to pledge allegiance to America. This traces back to the early 20th century. Before World War II, where Japanese the and Americans began to rival one another.
“Within this historical context, Nathan Chen and Chloe Kim have been praised as unquestionably American,” Joo said. “These expressions of gratitude are an expectation for immigrants and for the American public — a demonstration that the U.S. continues to be the country with the most opportunity and the most freedom.”
Nathan Chen’s loyalty questioned
Many believe while the Olympics are sports where people represent their country, it has a much more political undertone to it. As political tensions grow between America and China, the question of loyalty begins. For example, if one’s parents split up, naturally the parents will ask you to pledge their loyalty to them by staying with them. This may put many people in an odd place. However, many are expecting one to make the tough choice. This is sort of what’s taking place for Chen and Kim as they continue to represent America.
History continues to follow in patterns. For example, Eileen Gu has consistently refused to choose one country over the other. Her mother’s homeland is China, although she was born in America. Gu decides to represent China, in her triumph, she’s still facing unfair scrutiny. Gu’s addressed as a “traitor” and “jerk”; however, many argue she’s not the first to represent another country while being from America. In China, they consider Gu a national hero. However, they consider Zhu Yi to be a disgrace. Zhu fell during one of her performances and has received relentless abuse on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo. The most recent example is Nathan Chen. After this victory, China began labeling him as a “traitor” for “insulting China” and representing the U.S.A. during the Olympics.
Chen continues to break barriers while dealing with unfair criticism
All in all, Chen’s and Kim’s international success continues to pave the way for many Asian Americans today. They continue to combat age-old stereotypes and further a legacy of inclusion. Historically, the exclusion of Asian Athletes and other minorities has been concerning. However, they continue to be trailblazers and prove these fallacies and false ideologies wrong.
“Because Asian Americans are often underrepresented in other major sports leagues. The Olympics offers a brief opportunity where Asian American athletes can challenge people’s assumptions and racialized stereotypes,” Chin said. “… making it possible to reshape how Asian Americans are seen not just in sports but in society overall.”