I am currently reaching the end of my summer vacation in Avon, Colorado, which is why you haven't heard from me in the past week.
I've absconded with my brother-in-law's computer to share an interesting article I just read in the Vail Daily. There is an Olympic skier named Toby Dawson who has just helped South Korea lobby successfully for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Toby was born in South Korea and at the age of 3, was left on the doorstep of an orphanage. Six months later, he was adopted by a couple in Vail, Colorado. As is the custom up in these mountains, he was practically surgically attached to a pair of skis as soon as he could walk, and the rest is history. Since winning the bronze medal in freestyle skiing in 2006, he has reacquainted himself with his hometown in South Korea, and also with his biological family. He considers himself a Korean-American and is now trying to use his status to help children in South Korea gain the same opportunities he had growing up here in Vail.
I loved this article. How beautiful that Toby is able to connect with the place where he was born and help that community in his own way. A few questions arose in my mind, of course. Toby considers himself part of both countries and communities, as do a lot of Americans, including the recently unfashionable Arnold Schwarzenagger. But does our present society allow Americans to feel this way without being Olympic athletes or movie stars? When someone looks at me as a foreigner when I say I am originally from Puerto Rico, and I feel that shift in someone's gaze (and I do feel it often), I often feel compelled to explain that I grew up in the States. That I too, eat pizza (albeit vegan pizza). That I'm well versed in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and all their individual powers. That I can quote Top Gun with the best of them and am dying to see the new Harry Potter movie.
Why do I feel the need to give proof that I am like everybody else? We all want to fit in; it's human nature. Why are there rules stating that birth place or ethnicity mean more than an experience? And aren't we all citizens of the world anyway? Isn't a pad thai the pizza equivalent for Thailand residents? We're all living in the world together and we all experience the same feelings. Why can't our movies represent that truth?
I also wonder if Toby had been of a different ethnicity or in a different career, if he would feel the freedom to publicly explore his "roots"? Do we discriminate against certain countries when it comes to publicly announcing one's ethnic roots? If you met an Iraqi-American who won a bronze medal in skiing and is native to Vail, Colorado, can you accept that? Would you have different questions of a Korean-American in the same position? What about a Mexican-American? And would you question their ability to ski?
I leave you with this: never, ever, forget to put on sunscreen on the backs of your hands while bicycling down a tall mountain in Vail. It seems trivial, but I now look like a two-toned yeti.