American-born freeskier and two-time Olympic champion Eileen Gu has drawn heavy criticism after her decision to quit the US Ski Team in 2019 to compete for China at the recent Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Gu, whose mother is Chinese, made the decision to compete for China instead of the United States because of her deep connection to her Chinese heritage, cultivated during summers spent in Beijingand because of its mission to inspire millions of young people in China as a multinational role model.
Just 18, Gu has earned $35 million in endorsements and endorsements and is the face of 30 Chinese and Western companies like Cadillac, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Oakley and Visa.
She is not the first Olympian to choose to represent another country rather than her native country and will not be the last, but Fox News and even leftist publications are calling Gu a traitor.
Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the UN, and actor Bill Maher criticized Gu for representing a country with a history of human rights abuses. A former U.S. teammate has called Gu an “opportunist” for accepting multimillion-dollar endorsements that her own country didn’t offer.
As an American raised in Los Angeles by Filipino immigrant parents, Gu’s decision resonates with me. At age 52, due to my need to enrich my biculturalism, the lack of opportunities to nurture and express my authentically Filipino American voice, and the realization that I drank the Kool-aid from the American DreamI broke up with America and moved to Paris in November 2021.
“I was unwaveringly loyal to the United States of America and its ideals of meritocracy. In the end, that loyalty was not fully reciprocated.
Striving for my American Dream all my life, I once religiously immersed myself in being an All-American. I was born in Flushing, New York, and my parents prioritized my assimilation into American culture over my Filipino heritage. I became a stereotypical 80s American kid, engrossed in all things American, whether it was sports, video games, movies, or American pop music.
Rightly, the American team, the Dallas Cowboys, were my favorite football team. I played brand name Little League baseball, then became a gymnast after watching Team USA win men’s gold at the 1984 Olympics, which led to me attending West Point for varsity gymnastics and a degree in economics. Most of my friends were white and I mostly dated white girls.
Although I didn’t spray myself with talcum powder like my sister to see what I looked like as a white person, I was a classic “substitute white” (as defined by Chinese-American journalist Helen Zia).
Except I was indelibly yellow-brown. In elementary school, I was sometimes called “nip”, “chink” or “gook”. Sometimes even the N-word because I sounded more “Blasian” than Asian. But I never considered it bullying. I was thinking everyone was called names.
I was unwaveringly loyal to the United States of America and its ideals of meritocracy. In the end, this loyalty was not fully reciprocated.
Whether in my short stint as an army officer or in my 20-year film career in Hollywood, I have consistently failed in my quest for greatness. I was conditioned to believe that my flaws were the reason so many of my white American peers got past me, though many of them didn’t get up by their bootstraps with the same intensity as me. I was a workaholic, often putting in 70-80 hours a week, but that didn’t stop me from being sacrificial. Caught up in the model minority stereotype, when I pushed for a promotion, I was often fired.
Visiting the Philippines for the first time at age 51, I discovered in Manila what Gu probably experienced during his summers in Beijing: a real connection to my heritage. In a mall in Manila, I noticed that hundreds of people looked and behaved like me. In the middle of the mall, I was overwhelmed by a wave of tears, feeling a stillness I had never felt before.
In the nearly 50 years of my life in America, usually as the only Filipino person in the room, I often felt… separated, maybe unsure of myself. Maybe less whole. What heights had I missed because of my blind loyalty to America, where I haven’t been fully seen? I was wondering.
Moments like these have brought to light the negative impact my skin color and heritage have played in my American dream. I traced the times when I fell short of my ambitions. I realized becoming All-American was not the path to my dreams.
“Visiting the Philippines for the first time at age 51, I discovered in Manila what Gu probably experienced during his summers in Beijing: a real connection to my heritage.”
Except for a lingering sense of feeling somewhat out of place among my peers, the discrimination was at an undetectable dog whistle frequency. Knowledge was not imparted to me, nor was I given access to opportunities through a back door. I was artificially held to much higher standards than my peers. I certainly didn’t have the same supportive community as them.
The Hollywood gatekeepers didn’t want my authentic voice as an American and Filipino man. They wanted the whitewashed versions of a unique Asian American voice that would be digestible for mainstream American audiences. Although I gave him the All-American tryout, whitewashing my voice never felt right.
I was also not fully integrated into the Filipino community. Take, for example, when I couldn’t understand a Filipino museum guard who was speaking Tagalog to me. Disgusted, he said, “These Filipinos who don’t know their roots are sleeping with rats.”
I suffered from cultural schizophrenia.
But there were five months in Paris between 2016 and 2018, in my late 40s, where I felt totally connected to myself; when I learned to fully embrace both my American personality and my Filipino DNA. Due to France’s proximity to many other countries, Parisians have a heightened appreciation for cultural diversity. From these trips to Paris, I finally understood that I was Filipino and American.
Gu said competing for China gave her “an unimaginable amount of viewership to be able to spread this message” to millions of girls in China and around the world.
For reasons similar to Gu’s, I redefined my allegiance to America and sought a new home beyond its borders. For me, it’s Paris, a more multinational platform from which to express my authentic voice while being immersed in the richness of a cultural diversity that does not exist in the United States.
Part of the immigrant tax that we pay, even as first-generation Americans, is that we are expected to unequivocally assimilate into the American way of life, which as Filipino Americans has done at the cost of feeling invisible and minimizing my authentic self for much of my life. Instead of being praised for making a living, I was often told that “I was lucky” and to accept all the crumbs from the table I was given. Not anymore.
Like Gu, I am the new American. Not just American or Chinese, but a multinational, a citizen of the world. I will always have deep pride in my American upbringing and my Filipino heritage, but I no longer define myself by one or the other.
Just as Eileen Gu said at the Olympics, “I’m living my best life here” without limits.
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