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.

  • Pete Warden

    Thankfully he has apologized:

    I'd like to ask Darren how he earned his citizenship? Ah, you *inherited* it? 🙂

    • sethlevine

      somewhat hollow apology, but glad to see it nonetheless.

  • Great post, thank you! The most capable and productive engineering team I've ever had looked like a tiny United Nations. Some were US born, but we had brilliant members from Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Palestine, Italy, Netherlands, etc. We did have one true native….he was Navaho. This country is only 200 years old; none of us are more than 2-3 generations removed from true immigrants. Congratulations to Meb Keflezighi!

    • sethlevine

      it’s a shame that we don’t value the contributions of non-americans. more posts on this soon…

  • I agree that this is appalling, and it's sad that Rovell doesn't understand what an American is. However, I don't see any racism in the comment. Just an idiot.

    • Wiseclam

      Would Rovell make the same pronouncement about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Does he see Madeleine Albright as merely “technically American”? Henry Kissinger? If not one has to wonder why. Skin color may explain it.

      • sethlevine

        i completely agree.

  • Roy,

    I doubt that the Navaho's would consider this country to be 200yrs old!
    from an Irish immigrant thats now a US Citizen

    • Roy Kaller

      Agreed! He was the only “native”, the rest of us were “newbies”. His stories of his family's proud service as Marines, including as Codetalkers, and the systematic efforts to extinguish the culture by removing the children from the reservation was sobering. His complete lack of outward bitterness was also a lesson for us newbies.

  • Andrew Tschesnok

    Thanks for that post. When I read about the marathon in the NY Times I read the name, saw the picture of the victory and my first thought was “did he get citizenship for being an elite runner?” Then I noticed that he came here at 11. I was like “Yeah,.. a real American like me!”
    I came here when I was 14 and started running in High School at 16. I ran varsity in College. I was All New England and I was an American runner because America let me shine as an athlete where Germany never did.
    I'm appalled at Rovell. Unfortunately some of the dumbest Americans where born here – which makes sense – it does not take skill and determination to stay in the same place you were born.

  • Scott Caruso

    Good post Seth. This is clearly personal and I applaud your courage to make a public statement.

    • sethlevine

      thanks scott!

  • dave

    suck it up, its not racist he did say “Unfortunately, it's not as good as it sounds as he is black. ”

    Your own president wasn't born in America. Stop being so PC that is borderlines on stupidity.