Eileen Gu, three-time Olympian medalist, shows Asian Americans that they don’t have to choose one identity over another.
Born in San Francisco, California, Gu could choose between representing the United States or China during the Beijing 2022 Olympics earlier in February. Her choice of representing China sparked intense backlash from media outlets, accusing her as a traitor to the country she was born in.
One of her outspoken critics, Nikki Haley, UN Ambassador, criticized Gu’s choice to represent the host country China stating, “In terms of the citizenship, look, China or the U.S.? You have got to pick a side. Period,” Haley said. "You’ve got to pick a side, because you're either American or you're Chinese, and they are two very different countries.”
On Tucker Carlson Tonight, a Fox News show hosted by Tucker Carlson, Gu was labeled as “ungrateful” for American facilities that have trained her to compete for the Olympics.
This situation models the exact dilemma many Chinese Americans in the United States face today.
The illusion that there is a “choice” in their own identity sends many Chinese Americans in a never-ending quest of trying to meet the standards of both their Chinese families and American peers. Trying to “fit in” to either of these identities only creates more backlash from the other, turning the very existence of being Asian-American into an exhausting experience.
The impossible standards to meet between the two identities puts Chinese Americans, and many Asian-Americans, in the unique position of never satisfying either side and therefore, never embracing either side of their identity.
But Gu shows the potential to break the definition of this “choice” by doing what she wants. By representing China last month, she showed the world a public embracement of her identity as a half-Chinese person.
Eileen Gu isn’t ungrateful, nor is she a traitor.
But she is controversial, and her decision is supposed to make others feel uncomfortable. That’s because breaking this normalized illusion of only having one identity as Chinese OR American is supposed to make others feel uncomfortable.
Gu writing her own narrative of what her identity means to herself is so different in what people normally expect but simultaneously gives other Asian-Americans a chance to break free from the constraints on identities.