On Tuesday night, Henry Cejudo nabbed an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. and realized the dream that his mother, Nelly Rico, carried with her as she crossed the border from Mexico over twenty years ago.
Cejido is joined by 33 U.S. immigrant athletes on the Olympic team—not counting the athletes like himself who are the children of immigrants. Among his teammates are four Chinese-born table tennis players, a kayaker from Britain, and Russian-born world champion gymnast, Nastia Liukin. The U.S. men’s 1,500 meter squad is topped by Bernard Lagat from Kenya, Lopez Lomong—one of the “lost boys” of Sudan, and Leo Manzano—the son of a Mexican laborer who moved to the U.S. when he was four and didn’t gain citizenship until 2004.
Yet, while U.S. Olympic team members make significant physical and personal sacrifices to represent the country with their talents, many of them will return to a nation where hate groups and restrictionists continue to perceive immigrant triumphs—especially ones like Cejudo’s—as wrongful and undeserved.
The only thing that’s wrongful about the situation is that our broken immigration system leaves room for the disparagement of immigrants—mostly tireless laborers like Nelly Rico, but also illustrious Olympic champions like her son. Whether it’s in the form of a gold medal or a hard-worked day, immigrants share their talents in pursuit of the American dream and in turn paint a brighter future for themselves, their children, and our country. The genius of the U.S. is embodied by the Olympic team and demonstrated by the fact that so many nationalities and ethnicities find a home here and are shaped by the U.S. experience while they simultaneously participate in building a stronger country.
“I feel like I’m living the American dream,” said Cejudo. “The US is the land of opportunities and I am glad to represent it.”