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Why it's OK to wave the U.S. and Mexican flag at the Olympics

By Jesús Chairez, Special to CNN
updated 8:39 AM EDT, Wed August 15, 2012
Right after winning second place in the 1,500-meter final at the London Olympics, Leo Manzano waved just the U.S. flag.
Right after winning second place in the 1,500-meter final at the London Olympics, Leo Manzano waved just the U.S. flag.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jesús Chairez: Leo Manzano has a right to wave two flags in his victory lap at the Olympics
  • Chairez: Manzano has dual citizenship for the U.S. and Mexico
  • He says Manzano wanted the world to know that he didn't forget his heritage
  • Chairez: There is no doubt that Manzano loves America, his adopted country

Editor's note: Jesús Chairez, a Latino activist and freelance writer, is a former producer and host of the first GLBT Latino radio show, "Sin Fronteras" ("Without Borders") on KNON 89.3 FM. He has written for the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Voice and the Los Angeles Times. Follow him on Facebook.com/jesuschairez or Twitter: @JesusChairez

Dallas, Texas (CNN) -- When Leo Manzano won second place in the 1,500-meters final at the Olympics, he celebrated his well-deserved victory by waving two flags, that of the United States and Mexico. He has every right to do so: After all, he has dual citizenship for both countries.

Some observers disagree with Manzano's action. On CNN.com, Ruben Navarrette voiced his concerns that Manzano was showing disloyalty to the United States even while he's wearing the USA jersey.

Opinion: U.S. Olympic athlete, Mexican flag?

Judging by the volume of comments in response to Navarrette's opinion, one would think that Manzano had committed treason. One reader wrote, "He is pathetic. ... Go back to Mexico. You're either American OR NOT!!" OK, calm down. Let's not get too worked up here.

Jesús Chairez
Jesús Chairez

Navarrette was right when he said that "it's all about context." Like him, I personally don't like Mexican-Americans or undocumented Mexicans waving Mexican flags protesting in the United States. But keep in mind, we live in America: a country where one can voice an opinion, however different it might be. We live in a land that has freedom of speech.

But I believe Navarrette missed the larger point. Manzano is not Mexican-American but was born a Mexican and became an American. There is a reason one can have dual citizenship; it means that one can have an allegiance for two countries. There is no conflict of interest. If governments can approve of dual citizenship, why can't individuals embrace it?

Navarrette asked: "Where were the Italian-American athletes waving the Italian flag, or the Irish-Americans waving the Irish flag?" Maybe we don't have that because Italian and Irish families emigrated to the United States much earlier and their ties may not be as strong to their motherland. Also, they are too far away from Europe. However, Mexico is so close to the United States that Manzano, or any other Mexican or Mexican-American, can just drive their car across the border. Those people with Italian or Irish lineage can't just drive home: There's too much water along the way, much more water than the Rio Grande.

I found it interesting that Navarrette would say that most Mexican-Americans he knows "would need a whole team of therapists to sort out their views on culture, national identity, ethnic pride and their relationship with Mother Mexico." I don't see that, though I think some of my fellow Mexican-Americans need therapists for other reasons.

Navarrette also thinks that Mexican-Americans are "the orphans of the Southwest -- too Mexican for the Americans, too American for the Mexicans." I have heard this before. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't need to see a therapist to accept being a second-generation Mexican-American and embrace the culture of my grandparents. I am bilingual, bicultural and have two addresses: Dallas, Texas, and Mexico City. I have affinity for both the United States and Mexico, and that's perfectly fine.

In this increasingly global world we live in, don't we have an appreciation for people who do not forget where they came from? When I am in Mexico City, I certainly never forget that I am also an American. On the Fourth of July, for example, I once had a party that included American flags, hot dogs and hamburgers in order to educate my Mexican friends about American culture. No one made a big deal about it.

When I posted Navarrette's commentary about Manzano on my Facebook page, the reactions were not in Navarrette's favor. My friends, mostly Mexican-Americans and Mexicans, looked at Manzano's victory lap in a positive light.

They know that Manzano was representing the United States and never doubted his devotion to the country that took him and his family in during hours of need. It's just that, in a moment of pride, Manzano wanted the world to know that he didn't forget his heritage. As one friend aptly put it, "Identity, like borders, is porous and negotiable."

I like this statement because even though I was born and raised in Dallas, I have no problem crossing borders, loving both Dallas and Mexico City. If I am ever recognized in Mexico for any of my accomplishments, I will not hesitate to wear my U.S. flag in honor of my country.

Sure, the Olympics are a different story. The whole world is watching. While Olympic athletes should always rally behind their team, it does not mean they have to subsume their individuality. We should admire individuals for their hard work and respect their decisions in how they wish to be recognized. Manzano wanted to thank the United States and also acknowledge Mexico, the land of his forefathers.

As I see the image of Manzano running with two flags and embracing his dual citizenship, I sense no insolence. He didn't take off his USA jersey; the Mexican flag is not prominently hanging over his head, it's only dangling as some sort of secondary thought. It is clear he loves his adopted country.

Viva to Manzano for being proud of who he is: someone who is American, but also has a part of Mexico in him.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jesús Chairez.

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