by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 4, 2009 in DNA Around the World, DNA in General
Why did I mention that he was born in Eritrea? Because critics say that an immigrant like Keflezighi who moved to the U.S. at age 12 isn’t a legitimate American.
A post on Letsrun.com said:
Give us all a break. It’s just another African marathon winner.
How about making that African-American?
Silly me. I thought that naturalized American citizens equal American citizens at birth with the same rights and privileges (with the exception of getting to be the President of the United States). Leaving that debate aside, however, the belief that East Africans are genetically endowed for marathon running has also clouded Keflezighi’s celebration.
The success of distance runners from Kenya and Ethiopia has fostered a lore of East Africans as genetically gifted, unbeatable, dominant because of their biology. Scientists have looked for — but not found — genes specific to East Africans that could account for their distance ability, said John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies race and sports.
No doubt Keflezighi has genes which enhance his physiological capabilities for endurance and other traits found in winning marathoners. This does not mean that Keflezighi is any more or less American than other non-East African runners who have the same genes.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “nationality” in two parts:
noun (pl. nationalities) 1 the status of belonging to a particular nation. 2 an ethnic group forming a part of one or more political nations.
Even though ethnic groups are mentioned, the U.S. is clearly a country of many ethnic groups so genes should not be part of the debate when discussing whether someone is American or not.
Quite frankly, I’m not even sure what makes a person American and I don’t think anyone else does either. I hold an American passport and spent the years between ages 6 and 26 in the U.S. I’ve lived in six different countries in the past 10 years and as a result, my national identity is slightly muddled. My son is even more confused. He holds an American passport as well but has never lived in the U.S although he’s lived in four different countries in his seven years. He was born in Japan so some days he says that he’s Japanese and now that he lives in Singapore, he sometimes says he’s Singaporean. I’m sure some people would say he’s not American at all.
It might be simpler to say we’re global citizens with ties to more than one country. Truth be told, I’m proud to say I’m Chinese-American with the accent to prove it.
Edited to add this video of Meb Keflezighi on David Letterman:
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