Nov 3 2009

The “real” America

I’ve generally avoided political issues on this blog, but this isn’t something I can keep my mouth shut on.

imageYesterday Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon in 27 years. Born in Eritrea on the east coast of Africa, Keflezighi moved to the US when he as 12 (more than 20 years ago), is an American citizen and has raced for the US Olympic team.

Still, there are some who are calling his achievement diminished because he’s not “technically” an American by virtue of having been born outside of the United States – chief among them Darren Rovell of CNBC.  Rovell writes:

It’s a stunning headline: American Wins Men’s NYC Marathon For First Time Since ’82. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it sounds. Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he’s not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies.

This is appalling (not to mention racist). I know I’m particularly sensitive to this kind of bigotry because two of our three children were born and lived for a time outside of the United States (not that far from where Keflezighi was). They are not any less American than our oldest daughter who was born in Colorado. It’s amazing (and sad) to me that people really think this way. By Rovell’s definition many of America’s Founding Fathers weren’t “technically American”.

This is  a nation that was founded by immigrants and built on the promise of equal opportunity for all those that come to this country. The vast majority of Americans are only a few generations from their immigrant pasts.  It’s unbelievably disturbing that we’re losing sight of what’s made our country great. From the basics of our immigration policy to how we handle foreign-born workers looking for jobs in America we’re increasingly becoming a nation of xenophobes.

Darren Rovell probably doesn’t think of himself as a racist or a xenophobe – and therein lies a large part of the problem.