New York Times Editor Thinks American-Born Mirai Nagasu Is An Immigrant

US Figure Skater Mirai Nagasu

Perpetual Foreigner stereotype alert: shortly after US figure skater Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axel in an Olympic competition, New York Times Opinion section editor Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) tweeted “Immigrants: they get the job done,” a line from Hamilton.

The implication from Weiss’ tweet was obvious: Nagasu should be celebrated as an American immigrant. One problem, though: Nagasu was born in Montebello, California. And yet, for Weiss, the place of Nagasu’s birth doesn’t seem to matter: instead, the colour of her skin appears to have marked Nagasu as foreign.

Why is it that American media personalities commenting on the Winter Olympcs can never seem to remember that Asian Americans are American, too? Let’s not forget the infamous headline: in 1998, MSNBC published a headline declaring that “American Beats Out Kwan,” implying that US figure skater Michelle Kwan wasn’t an American. Now again, a mainstream media commentator can’t seem to figure out that Mirai Nagasu isn’t an immigrant.

When questioned about her now-deleted tweet, Weiss doubled down arguing that she was taking poetic license in referring to Nagasu as an immigrant. But, it’s hard to imagine how poetic license factors in here: there simply isn’t wiggle room on Nagasu’s identity. Although the child of immigrant parents, Nagasu is not herself an immigrant. Moreover, the marking of an Asian American person as a foreigner regardless of her citizenship status has a troublesome history in America. For centuries, Asian Americans have been treated with suspicion, hostility and violence based on the assumption that we are unassimilated, unassimilatable, and perpetually alien.

Erasing Nagasu’s birthright citizenship is no laughing matter — it perpetuates the serious and troublesome stereotypes of the Perpetual Foreigner. Moreover, Weiss’ cavalier dismissal of those who raised concerns with her original tweet suggest ignorance of — and apathy towards — the violent history of anti-Asian racism begot by those stereotypes.

In a Twitter thread, Weiss compared herself to other outlets who had underscored Nagasu’s identity as the child of immigrants, and suggested that those who were critical of her were a sign of “civilization’s end.” Such “woe is me” victimhood is an ugly distraction from those who seek to hold Weiss accountable for her callous reinforcement of the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype. After all, unlike other commentators, Weiss’ pithy Hamilton tweet failed to contextualize Nagasu as the child of immigrants, rather than as an immigrant herself.

Many Asian Americans are second generation Americans — that is, the child of immigrants. However, while most of us celebrate our connection to the immigrant narrative, I know of no second-generation Asian American who identifies as immigrants, ourselves. We do not lay claim to the identity of immigrant because we are not immigrants. We do not celebrate ourselves as evidence of immigrant success because those who prove the power of immigrants are our parents, not us.

Moreover, Weiss’ invocation of the Hamilton reference with regard to Mirai Nagasu smacks of respectability politics. Immigrants shouldn’t only be celebrated when they make history.  Immigrants aren’t only valuable if they “get the job done.” There are millions of immigrants in America: they don’t just matter if they land triple axels in the Winter Olympics.

Like all Americans born in the United States, Asian Americans are American. Our citizenship status is not subject to poetic license. What must it take, I wonder, for a US-born Asian American like Mirai Nagasu (as well as so many others) to finally be viewed beyond the narrow, racially inflammatory, and factually misleading lens of an immigration success story?

And also, what will it take for people who make mistakes like this to not double-down on their racism?

Did you like this post? Please support Reappropriate on Patreon!
  • g bum

    Asians always being labeled as immigrants. We’re always considered immigrants, outsiders, and of lesser class. And that’s why we see people like Steve Harvey, a strong proponent of civil rights and equality for people of color (though apparently, refers more to Americans of color), and still go on to make prejudiced remarks about Asians, falling in the same lines as schoolyard children making “me chinee, ching chang chong” jokes about Asians–a joke, mind you, that labels all asians as immigrants that can’t speak perfect english.

    The civil rights and equal rights battle often leaves the asian group out. Because we’re “not american.”

  • SunWuKong
  • Jamison Domingo

    Another racist jew

  • Matthew Trombley

    I can say quite confidently that most children of immigrants with whom I have interacted have identified very closely with the struggles of their parents in that respect. The intention of Ms. Weiss was clear, it’s just obviously been a slow news week.

  • Carolyn Tyjewski

    ummm No, sorry. There are plenty of white athletes (and Black athletes) that are sons and daughters of immigrants and one does not see that happening to them. In other words, one does not see the athlete being referred to as the immigrant OR not a U.S. citizen at all. This situation is specific to Asians and, to some degree those of Latin American decent at are of color (i.e. brown) — and, yes, one must make the distinction. Weiss was clear in her screw up, her racist assumption. And, instead of just admitting she made a mistake, she got upset (as if everyone should have just ignored what was clearly something that should have never been done).

    To be clear, when this same writer starts taking “poetic license” with every 2nd gen white person and calls them and “immigrant”, I’ll buy that BS. Until then, it’s racist stereotyping horseshit that feeds into the atmosphere that currently pervades the White House and the halls of Congress.

  • Satoko Berger-Fujimoto

    How about Nathan Chen?

  • trer24

    So far, just a few days into the 2018 Winter Olympics, two accomplished Asian American athletes have been referred to as non-American immigrant or a “hot piece of ass” (https://deadspin.com/barstool-radio-host-cant-resist-calling-17-year-old-oly-1822974775)

    Yep we still have a long way to go…

  • courage in anonymity

    It’s also worth adding that Mirai’s perceived “foreignness” played no small part in the USFSA deciding to unfairly give her olympic slot to Ashley Wagner before Sochi. Literally the type of racism that Weiss is displaying here has harmed her professionally in a tangible way.