America’s Olympic champions come from many backgrounds

SAN DIEGO — If President Trump and the nativist wing of the GOP succeed in their suicide mission of cutting legal immigration to the United States, who’s going to win all the Olympic medals?

Consider the heartwarming story of Chloe Kim, the 17-year-old snowboarder from Torrance, California, who won the gold medal in the women’s half-pipe this week at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Kim racked up a near-perfect 98.75 on her last run.

Kim’s parents were born in South Korea and emigrated to the United States two decades ago. Every weekend, they made the five-hour drive from their home in Southern California to the mountains so that Chloe — who won her first competition at 6 — could attend a training program. Imagine what went through their minds as their U.S.-born daughter — secure in the knowledge that she had won Olympic gold — hopped off her snowboard and wrapped herself in the Stars and Stripes.

“I’m so used to America,” Kim said recently. “But obviously I have a Korean face … I can’t walk around people like I’m, like, straight-up American; … I’m Korean American … [but] I identify more with the American culture.”

Or reflect upon the inspirational tale of 24-year-old Mirai Nagasu, who leapt into the record books in the figure-skating team competition when she became the first American in Olympic history to pull off a triple axel jump. After making 3 1/2 rotations in the air, Nagasu landed solidly and flashed a winning smile. She told reporters that she awoke at 4 a.m. that morning because she was nervous about delivering for her teammates. She did. The U.S. skaters won the bronze. She also said, “I wanted to make America proud.” She did that, too.

The U.S.-born daughter of immigrants from Japan, who run a sushi restaurant in Southern California, Nagasu was for a time a dual citizen of Japan and the United States. But Japanese law required that she choose one or the other before her 22nd birthday. She chose U.S. citizenship.

Are these the people we’re supposed to be afraid of — legal immigrants like the parents of these two Olympians?

Trump, White House adviser Stephen Miller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue think the American Dream is a zero-sum game. They yammer on about ending what they derisively call “chain migration” and argue for a point system that rewards “merit.”

The problem is that no one knows what that word means.

But I know what it doesn’t mean. Though this may come as news to people like Trump, Miller, Sessions, Cotton and Perdue, merit doesn’t mean being born on third base and prancing around like you hit a triple. And though Sessions recently let it slip — in remarks to the National Sheriffs’ Association — that what sends a tingle up his leg is the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” merit doesn’t mean having white skin. And in depressed areas like the Rust Belt, merit doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook for bad choices by claiming that you’re the victim of bad companies, bad trade and bad policies.

As the grandson of a legal immigrant from Mexico, I’d say merit is something along the lines of a monster work ethic, passion, optimism, determination, perseverance, fresh thinking, and the unquenchable desire to be the best at whatever you do.

Luckily for America, this kind of merit is transferable to the next generation. It’s time for Americans to quit our whining — and count our blessings.

The private sector gets it. A poignant 60-second commercial about the heritage of Olympic athletes deserves its own gold medal. The spot — for the online genealogy site — recalls the 1980 upset victory of the U.S. hockey team over the Russians in Lake Placid, New York. As it points out, the American players came from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds.

At a time when Americans have been infected by their leaders with the absurd idea that immigrants are ruining this land of immigrants, the commercial — titled “America’s Greatness Comes from Everywhere” — is a dose of penicillin.

Are we blind? The U.S. team at the Winter Olympics looks like a miniature United Nations. It’s the genius of America that it takes in throwaways and runaways from what Trump calls “shithole countries” and — in a generation or two — turns their offspring into the pride of the world.

You can see them honored in the days to come during the medal ceremonies in PyeongChang. You can’t miss them. They’ll be all decked out in red, white and blue.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group