The Olympics is a time when national pride runs high as people from all around the world watch and cheer for their country in this spectacular sporting event. In these moments, athletes often show off their national flags as a sign of pride for the country they are representing. Leo Manzano, an athlete representing the US, decided to hold up two flags when winning the silver medal: one of the US, where he grew up, and the other of Mexico, where he was born and is currently a citizen, despite leaving at an early age. This display of dual patriotism drew controversy among the public with people criticizing Manzano’s dual display, while others viewed it understandably given his dual identity as a Mexican American and his roots in both countries. The athlete later went on to say to the media that he was honored to be representing both the US and Mexico. But nevertheless, this move sparked the debate regarding the complex issue of identity and patriotism among immigrants to the US.
The United States has, from its start, been a country made by and for immigrants. Its strength came from the fact that it was able to create an identity for its people not based on blood, but based on common values and a dedication to this new country. Such an identity made assimilation very easy as opposed to nation states, where identity was based on the dominant ethnic group into which assimilation, especially by first generation immigrants, was very difficult. Over the course of many centuries, these immigrants integrated and assimilated into American society through the gradual renouncement of ties with the homeland, with each subsequent generation becoming more and more assimilated and less connected with their ancestors’ homeland.
The case of Leo Manzano is quite typical in the US; a first generation immigrant that grows up connected to his ethnic group and homeland while also becoming accustomed to the culture and values of the US. Thus a question arises: do such immigrants have a duty to show patriotism to the US over their home country? Do they have a duty to show patriotism for the US at all? Patriotism is a feeling that can’t be artificially created. The feeling of patriotism comes from a genuine connection to a people, culture, and common history. It is not created by a passport or bureaucratic pieces of paper, but it is created throughout one’s childhood and upbringing. It is forged by the values instilled by his family and community. The creation of such feelings to a particular nation is a very long process, with the most crucial part being when one is growing up and cementing his identity.
If a person like Leo Manzano grew up surrounded by Mexican values and connected to the homeland, it is only natural that his genuine feeling of patriotism would be to the Mexican nation, while his patriotism to the US would come from his appreciation to the country that made him who he was and provided him a place where he could grow up. However, given his upbringing in Mexican, one cannot expect him to have the same level of patriotism towards the American nation and culture. In the end, it is impractical and unrealistic to expect such immigrants to hold a deep patriotism towards America over their homeland. Though it is favorable for such immigrants to hold an appreciation for the country that gave them a home, which is a feeling that comes natural to most who grow up in the states. What we see here is two different levels of patriotism: one being on a much deeper level to an ethnic group and common culture that you have always been connected to, while the other being a courteous feeling of appreciation.
Manzano’s display of the two flags is hence a very understandable move and reflects his dual identity. He cannot ignore either side, and the calls from people saying that he should have only shown the American flag blatantly ignores his genuine identity, which he rightly expressed upon winning his medal. He cannot change or ignore who he is for the sake of an ill defined custom. The public should take a step back before criticizing this move and explore the complex identity issues that immigrants face. They should look more closely into what it means for one to be patriotic to a particular country and what that patriotism entails. They should think about how identity in general is formed before attacking Manzano’s genuine self expression of his identity.