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Diversity lotto #5: the true winner of the Olympics

Mar. 13, 2018
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There are a lot of stereotypes about the Asian-American culture that I hope to demystify. And although this one isn’t very prevalent, it is very personal. When I was about 13, I went snowboarding with my family. Being the scrawny, clumsy kid I was, I fell off the chairlift and sprained my wrist on the first day. I then made a humiliating trudge down the slope, my instructor carrying my snowboard. Thinking back, this instructor was probably somewhat close to my age, and I feel even worse now thinking of a 19 year-old tending to a crying 13-year old down the slope when all he probably wanted was a nice winter break job. Anyways, as I was going down the slope, I remember this white boy, probably my age or even younger, looking at my runny nose and broken wrist, laughing and snarkily saying Asians should just stick to reading books and told me to go back—wherever that was.  

Now, this entire incident was very embarrassing and I rarely told this aspect to anybody else. I don’t remember my reaction, being cold and hurt and all, but I remember these words. And I feel like this Olympics season, I somehow regained the dignity that I lost on the Lake Tahoe chairlift years ago.

Chloe Kim, a 17-year-old Olympic gold medalist, has been a household name this season, and her hundreds of thousands of followers and appearances at high-end fashion shows and after-parties just about prove that. She was on the news everywhere, from CNN to The New York Times, and recently was a guest on both Cordon and Fallon. Basically, the entire world loves Chloe Kim, and rightfully so. 

Her father, Mr. Jong Jin Kim, emigrated to California from South Korea in 1982 and has been the biggest supporter of Chloe’s dreams of becoming a snowboarder, so much so that he quit his own job to fully dedicate his time to her passions. 

According to Huffington Post, Kim recollects how when “she was in middle school, her dad would drive her six hours to Mammoth Mountain every weekend so she could train there.”

“What would happen is that he would carry me out of bed,” Kim recalled in a 2016 interview, “I would wake up in a new spot every time without even knowing what happened.” 

Because the world is somehow so surprisingly beautiful, the Olympics were held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Chloe’s parents and grandmother cheered her on in their home country. And if you haven’t seen this photo of Mr. Kim holding a laminated sign, you are missing out. But beyond those lovely reasons, I wanted to write about Ms. Chloe Kim’s story because Mr. Kim said that his daughter was his “American Dream.” 

For a long time, I couldn’t get that out of my head. And I couldn’t help but keep drawing parallels to everyone in my family who sacrificed their livelihood just so that I could have a silver-lining chance of succeeding in this land filled with promises. Despite a contemporary culture in which the notion of the American Dream seems all but dead, and the entire notion of merit and work as a road to success seeming like a pretty excuse to justify the very opposite, I felt a glimmer of hope hearing this phrase. 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I don’t really care about sports at all. The Olympics, Championships, the World Cup, and even the Super Bowl are markers in my week that annoyingly crowd my news apps and create noisy talk from friends. And although I am so happy for Ms. Kim and all the Olympic medalists, the true winner for me, this season, is Mr. Jong Jin Kim. He has reminded everyone that the American Dream exists, no matter how broken and frayed. He has reminded us that his entire life was worth its sacrifice for his child’s undoubtedly bright future. He has reminded us that this country, despite all its convoluted history, values those who prove to the world they can, even if they have to work twice as hard and twice as much to catch up to those who “inherently” get an early start.

So, to that kid who insulted me ten years ago, this is my big middle finger to you, because I have worked my butt off and am going to work all that much harder (and if that means being an “Asian stereotype,” so it be) to be my family’s American Dream. And there is no amount of snow or sprained ankles or tears that can stop me.