Opinion: Eileen Gu and the Hyphenated American Dream

The Chinese American skier’s choice to represent China in the Olympics is thrillingly subversive. But is her story so different from that of our immigrant parents?

Bryant Sharma

February 16, 2022

Opinion: Eileen Gu and the Hyphenated American Dream
Gold medalist Eileen (Ailing) Gu of China celebrates her women's big air victory at the Beijing Medals Plaza in Beijing on February 8, 2022. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

“Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” — Woodrow Wilson

At first glance, the story of Eileen Gu, the Chinese American Olympic skier, has all the elements of the predictable, model minority success story. There’s her immigrant mother, who went to Stanford Business School and raised her in San Francisco. There’s her dual culture, a California girl who also spent her childhood summers in Beijing, picking up Beijing-accented Mandarin. And no model minority would be complete without their 1580 SAT score and Stanford admission letter.

She fulfilled her end of America’s model minority bargain. She worked hard, and in the conditional-love world that is true for immigrants in America, was on the cusp of cashing in on those achievements with her Olympic medals, set to be definitively hailed as a hero once she returns home to California.

Rather than glide down that predictable path, Eileen instead did a double cork 1440. She opted to represent China, not the U.S., in the Olympics. It’s a weird and almost thrillingly subversive choice. And that choice has become a topic of conversation for nearly every American immigrant I know.