By Kunzes Goba
The morning of 12 February 2018 was a historic day for figure skater Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics. For a writer for The New York Times, however, the ‘American’ part of that statement didn’t seem as clear.
Bari Weiss, an op-ed writer for The New York Times, decided to jump in on this glorious American moment of pride, quote-tweeting the NBC Olympics’s tweet about Nagasu with the comment ‘Immigrants: They get the job done’. She was referencing the hit Broadway revisionist history musical Hamilton which features the line, “Immigrants, we get the job done.” Here’s the thing though – Nagasu was born in California and changing the “we” into “they” makes a whole lot of difference of ownership of the immigrant tag.
Controversially snubbed from the 2014 Olympics team, Nagasu’s free skating program for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics had her joining the ranks of Japanese figure skaters Midori Ito and Mao Asada, who were the only two women to have successfully performed the difficult triple axel jump on the Olympics stage. If you weren’t able to catch this moment live, here’s a video:
Nagasu was showered with messages of congratulations from all corners of American Twitter, including former American figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
Within seconds of her comment, Weiss had to deal with accusations of racism, her comment all the more infuriating in a political climate which is grappling with Trump’s ruthless anti-immigrant regulations. She then defended herself, saying she was anything but because of the source of her statement. Hamilton became famous and broke through conventionality for consciously casting people of colour to portray famous white figures in American political history, while also having them sing and rap to an original hip-hop influenced soundtrack. She then went on to say that she made the comment knowing that Nagasu’s parents were immigrants.
Weiss’ statement, both the initial quote tweet and her defense, is no different from the microaggressive comments made against people who don’t automatically look like the quintessential white American. It’s offensive enough for Weiss to have Nagasu go through an ‘othering’ experience during a moment of national pride, her comment also reminds us that the ‘model minority’ myth still lives fresh and strong. This flawed idea is based on a horrifying dichotomy of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrant, nurturing a society normalized for xenophobia.
Mirai Nagasu’s Olympic career has only just begun. She deserves better than this.