BEIJING – She is an distinctive athlete who has already received medals within the Beijing Olympics. However the fascination — some may say obsession — with Eileen Gu’s origin story has threatened to overshadow something she does on the slopes.
Because the freestyle skier chases gold within the mountains northwest of Beijing, some competing narratives about her have taken maintain, from California to China.
Some have the San Francisco native snowboarding for the Chinese language group to safe extra profitable endorsements. In others, she has betrayed america, the place she was born and grew up, to ski for China, her mom’s dwelling nation.
And a 3rd: She was approach too younger to have made the choice to “abandon” america for China, the place a single misstep could lead on a repressive authorities to limit her motion or her speech.
The frenzy to “clarify” Gu’s selection displays biases and misunderstandings in america about Asian American identification. The tales about Eileen Gu are as a lot in regards to the individuals telling them as they’re in regards to the athlete herself.
For her half, the 18-year-old athlete has mentioned repeatedly that she was raised by two sturdy ladies — her mom and maternal grandmother — and she or he wished to encourage ladies in China, the place there are few feminine function fashions in sports activities.
She has genuinely sturdy connections to China, identical to many others within the Chinese language diaspora who’re benefiting from alternatives and assets each within the Western international locations the place they grew up and in an more and more rich mainland China.
“What she represents is a brand new pattern,” says Yinan He, an affiliate professor of worldwide relations at Lehigh College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, “just because China has turn out to be so rich and highly effective and engaging and producing alternatives not obtainable to immigrants right here.”
Gu is especially properly positioned to benefit from these alternatives.
As engineers retired from Chinese language authorities ministries, her grandparents have been a part of the skilled elite. Her mom, Yan Gu, 58, left China within the Nineteen Eighties to pursue graduate research within the U.S. and now works as a personal investor with a deal with China, in response to LinkedIn. Her father has by no means been publicly recognized.
Gu had an higher middle-class upbringing and personal faculty training in america, and she or he says she’s equally comfy in each international locations.
In 2019, in response to the IOC, she turned a Chinese language nationwide, however her full citizenship image stays unclear. Gu has sidestepped questions on whether or not she gave up her U.S. passport, and China doesn’t acknowledge twin citizenship.
Gu has persistently refused to decide on one nation or the opposite. As she has written on Instagram, dichotomy is her favourite phrase. And she or he informed the Olympic Channel in 2020: “Once I’m in China, I’m Chinese language. Once I’m within the U.S., I’m American.”
Many immigrants and their kids really feel this duality. Few are allowed to stay it.
Nonwhite immigrants and their descendants, specifically, face the double bind of being required to utterly assimilate as a way to be thought of American, but in addition butting up in opposition to racist notions that forestall them from being accepted as actually American.
“A part of the Eileen Gu perplexity is that the West is seen as superior and the East is seen as inferior. So why would she wish to signify China?” says Russell Jeung, an Asian American Research professor at San Francisco State College, who has tracked the rise of hate incidents in opposition to Asian Individuals and Pacific Islanders within the U.S. in the course of the pandemic.
“It’s kind of ironic as a result of in half our instances, individuals use anti-Chinese language rhetoric and are telling us to return dwelling. They’re telling us, ‘You don’t belong right here. We don’t settle for you.’ After which that is kind of the other: ‘Why aren’t you representing your house?’” he says. “And so we lose both approach.”
It seems that, in a world the place elite athletes more and more cross borders to compete, Gu is just not that uncommon.
Nobody thinks twice a couple of Senegalese winger within the English Premier League or a Japanese pitcher in Main League Baseball. On the Olympics, nation-shopping is pretty widespread: China’s males’s hockey group in Beijing is primarily made up of North Individuals, a lot of whom had no connection to the nation till they have been recruited to make sure the house group didn’t get blown out.
Asian American illustration on the Olympics has additionally come a great distance.
In 1998, cable information community MSNBC used the headline “American beats out Kwan” to explain Tara Lipinski’s win over Michelle Kwan. Each determine skaters have been born in america.
In the present day, Gu can also be simply certainly one of many Asian Individuals whose household immigration tales are on show on the Beijing Olympics.
Nathan Chen, who received a gold for the U.S. in determine skating, was born in Utah to immigrants from China. Snowboarder Chloe Kim, who received her second gold for the U.S. within the ladies’s halfpipe, was born in California to Korean immigrants. U.S. determine skater Alysa Liu is the daughter of a person who left China in his 20s as a political refugee as a result of he had protested the Communist authorities.
So what makes Gu the topic of such intense fascination? She is probably an ideal storm of components.
In contrast to many athletes who change international locations to compete, Gu might have simply skied for the U.S. group — and that maybe heightens the sensation of betrayal. Her modeling work with world manufacturers from Louis Vuitton to Victoria’s Secret makes her extra seen than different athletes.
“She will get a number of consideration due to that, as a result of there may be at all times that target femininity and look for feminine athletes,” says Robert Hayashi, a professor at Amherst Faculty who focuses on Asian American historical past and sports activities research.
That fascination is obvious from the gross tonnage of social media commentary she attracts in each international locations.
A current Instagram submit exhibiting her on the medal stand following her gold medal-winning efficiency within the Massive Air competitors garnered 402,000 likes and 51,000 feedback. And China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo mentioned its servers have been briefly overloaded with adoration for the champion following her win.
However there is usually a darkish facet. Critics in China have chided Gu for failing to make use of her platform to advocate for web freedom in a rustic that tightly restricts entry for its residents. On Tuesday, she largely dodged a reporter’s query about whether or not she compromised by selecting China, saying she makes use of her voice as a lot as she will.
And naturally pundits within the U.S. have attacked her for competing for China, typically in phrases that additional the persistent, racist othering of Asian Individuals.
“Proper now Eileen is a sizzling commodity in China, and simply handled as ‘Chinese language’ by the media and plenty of of her followers,” says Rui Ma, founding father of the San Francisco-based funding consulting agency Tech Buzz, who immigrated from China to the U.S. as a toddler in 1989.
“We’ll see if her stance … will probably be absolutely accepted there over the long term,” she says. “It definitely doesn’t appear to be accepted by many Individuals for the time being.”
Gu additionally represents how dramatically migration from China to America has modified.
“The profile of the Chinese language inhabitants right here is qualitatively totally different from many different immigrant teams,” says Jeanne Batalova, senior coverage analyst on the Migration Coverage Institute in Washington, D.C. “They’re extremely educated, they work in in-demand jobs and plenty of include substantial quantities of funds that they make investments right here.”
Whereas many proceed to maneuver to the U.S. for low-wage jobs, they’re more and more being outpaced by migrants with flexibility and the cash to spend summers in China and preserve common contact with household at dwelling.
They’re extra more likely to be bicultural, overtly embracing their heritage in contrast to earlier generations who have been informed — and believed — that integration was their ticket to acceptance.
“There are advantages to being Chinese language and interesting with China, the nation and the tradition,” Ma says.
Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and knowledgeable on China on the Heart for Strategic & Worldwide Research in Washington, DC, says Gu’s story reveals that the complexities of the globalized world don’t at all times line up neatly with geopolitical lenses.
“Her story speaks to the advantages, the worth, the alternatives that come from an interconnected world,” he says. “Her gold medal could also be positioned in China’s column. However her success is a worldwide success.”
Har reported from San Francisco. AP Information Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York, AP author Joe McDonald in Beijing, and AP Nationwide Author Eddie Pells in Zhangjiakou, China, contributed to this report.
Extra AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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