Eileen Gu: Navigating by two cultures, by both

BEIJING (AP) – She is an exceptional athlete who has already won medals at the Beijing Olympics. But admiration…

BEIJING (AP) – She is an exceptional athlete who has already won medals at the Beijing Olympics. But Eileen Gu’s fascination – some might say obsession – with her history of origin threatened to obscure everything she did on the slopes.

When a freestyler skier chases for gold in the mountains northwest of Beijing, some competing stories about her have taken over, from California to China.

Some are skiing in San Francisco for the Chinese team to get more lucrative recommendations. In others, she betrayed the United States, where she was born and raised to ski in China, her mother’s home country.

And third, she was too young to decide to “quit” the United States for the sake of China, where a single wrong move could lead to a repressive government restricting her movement or her performance.

The madness “explains” Gu’s choice reflects prejudices and misunderstandings in the United States regarding Asian American identity. Stories about Eileen Gu are no less about the people who tell them, and about the athlete herself.

In turn, the 18-year-old athlete has repeatedly said that she was raised by two strong women – mother and maternal grandmother – and she wanted to inspire girls in China, where there are few female role models in sports.

She has really strong ties to China, like many other members of the Chinese diaspora, who enjoy the opportunities and resources both in the western countries where they grew up and in the increasingly affluent mainland China.

“What it represents is a new trend,” said Yinan He, an associate professor of international relations at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, “simply because China has become so rich, powerful and attractive and creates opportunities inaccessible to immigrants here.” “.

Gu is especially good at taking advantage of these opportunities.

When engineers retired from Chinese government ministries, her grandparents were part of the professional elite. Her mother, 58-year-old Yang Gu, left China in the 1980s to pursue graduate studies in the United States, and now works as a private investor with a focus on China, LinkedIn reports. Her father was never open to the public.

Gu received a high middle education and a private school education in the United States, and she says she is equally comfortable in both countries.

In 2019, according to the IOC, she became a Chinese citizen, but her full citizenship remains unclear. Gu bypassed questions about whether she had renounced her U.S. passport and China did not recognize dual citizenship.

Gu constantly refused to choose one country or another. As she wrote on Instagram, two is her favorite word. And she told the Olympic Channel in 2020, “When I’m in China, I’m Chinese. When I’m in the United States, I’m American. “

Many immigrants and their children experience this duality. Few are allowed to live this.

Non-white immigrants and their descendants, in particular, face double bindings that require full assimilation to be considered Americans, but also oppose racist views that prevent them from being recognized as genuine Americans.

“Part of Eileen Gu’s surprise is that the West is seen as higher and the East as lower. So why would she want to represent China? ” says Russell Jing, a professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University who tracked the rise in hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. during the pandemic.

“It’s kind of ironic because in half of our cases people use anti-Chinese rhetoric and tell us to go home. We are told: “You have no place here.” We do not accept you. ” And here on the contrary: “Why do not you represent your home?” He says. “And so we lose anyway.”

It turns out that in a world where elite athletes are increasingly crossing borders to compete, Gu is not so unusual.

No one thinks twice about a Senegalese winger in the English Premier League or a Japanese pitcher in the Premier League baseball. At the Olympics, national shopping is fairly common: China’s men’s hockey team in Beijing is made up mostly of North Americans, many of whom had nothing to do with the country until they were recruited to ensure the home team didn’t explode.

The Asian-American representation at the Olympic Games has also come a long way.

In 1998, the cable news network MSNBC used the headline “Americans Defeat Kwan” to describe Tara Lipinski’s victory over Michelle Kwan. Both skaters were born in the United States.

Today, Gu is also one of many Asian Americans whose family immigration stories are showcased at the Beijing Olympics.

Nathan Chen, who won U.S. gold in figure skating, was born in Utah to a family of immigrants from China. Snowboarder Chloe Kim, who won second gold for the U.S. in the women’s halfpipe, was born in California to a family of Korean immigrants. American figure skater Alice Liu is the daughter of a man who left China at the age of 20 as a political refugee because he protested against the communist government.

So what makes Gu the subject of such strong admiration? She is perhaps the perfect storm of elements.

Unlike many athletes who change countries to compete, Gu could easily ski for the U.S. team – and this may heighten the sense of betrayal. Her modeling work with global brands from Louis Vuitton to Victoria’s Secret makes her more prominent than other athletes.

“Because of this, it attracts a lot of attention because athletes always focus on femininity and looks,” says Robert Hayashi, a professor at Amherst College who specializes in the history and sports of Asian America.

This admiration is evident from the gross tonnage of comments on social media that it attracts in both countries.

A recent Instagram post showing her on a medal stand after her gold medal in the Big Air competition garnered 402,000 likes and 51,000 comments. And Chinese Twitter’s Sina Weibo said his servers were briefly overloaded with honoring the champion after her victory.

But there may be a dark side. Critics in China blame Gu for failing to use her platform to uphold Internet freedom in a country that severely restricts access for its citizens. On Tuesday, she largely shied away from a reporter’s question about whether she compromised by choosing China, saying she uses her voice as much as she can.

And, of course, U.S. experts have attacked her for fighting for China, often in terms of contributing to a resilient, racist other Asian American.

Eileen is now a hot commodity in China, and the media and many of her supporters simply see her as “Chinese,” said Rui Ma, founder of San Francisco-based investment consulting firm Tech Buzz, who immigrated from China to the United States as a child. 1989.

“We will see if her position will be fully accepted there in the long run,” she said. “Nowadays, of course, many Americans don’t accept that.”

Gu also shows how dramatically migration from China to America has changed.

“The profile of the Chinese population here is very different from many other groups of immigrants,” said Zhanna Batalova, a senior political analyst at the Institute for Migration Policy in Washington, DC. come with significant amounts of finance that they invest here ”.

While many continue to move to the U.S. for low-wage jobs, they are increasingly being overtaken by migrants with the flexibility and cash to spend summers in China and maintain regular contact with family at home.

They are likely to be bicultural, openly accepting their heritage, unlike previous generations who have been told – and believed – that integration is their ticket to acceptance.

“There are benefits to being Chinese and communicating with China, the country and the culture,” Ma says.

Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser and expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says Gu’s history shows that the complexities of the globalized world don’t always exactly match geopolitical lenses.

“Her story speaks to the benefits, values ​​and opportunities that come from an interconnected world,” he says. “Her gold medal can be put in a column of China. But its success is a global success. “


Har reported from San Francisco. AP News researcher Ronda Schaffner of New York, AP writer Joe MacDonald of Beijing and AP national writer Eddie Pells of Zhangjiakou, China.


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