Photo: Danell Leyva
More than 30 foreigners are on the team representing the United States at the London Olympic Games, and all are living examples of how much immigrants are contributing to their adopted country.
The presence of numerous Hispanic surnames on the team reflect not only the immense demographic changes in recent decades, but also the determination of these athletes to overcome adversity and live the “American dream.”
Their example should serve as an argument against those who, from Congress or conservative think tanks, do all they can to belittle the contributions of immigrants to the United States, both documented and undocumented.
One example tells the story, as in the case of runner Leo Manzano, son of an undocumented immigrant worker. Manzano was crazy about sports from the time he was a toddler, and at high school in Marble Falls, Texas, he won nine state championships.
This year his victory in a 1,500-meter race earned him a place on the team going to London.
But there are many more examples.
The 23-year-old boxer Marlen Esparza, in pursuit of her dream to win an Olympic medal, will face off on Aug. 6 against the winner of a bout between a Brazilian and a Venezuelan.
Esparza, daughter of Mexican immigrants and the subject of an extensive profile last month in The Atlantic magazine, is the first woman to qualify for the Olympic Games in the first year that female boxing has been accepted as a sport.
Meanwhile the gymnast from Homestead, Florida, Danell Leyva, is also chasing a medal by competing on the parallel bars.
Born 21 years ago in Matanzas, Cuba, Leyva emigrated to the United States with her mother when she was only 3, while her stepfather and trainer, Yin Alvarez, came across the Rio Grande illegally.
An athlete who did not qualify for the Olympics this year is Henry Cejudo, but his story is also worth mentioning, since to judge by his followers on the Internet, his career has left its mark inside and outside the ring.
Barely 21, Cejudo at the Beijing Olympic Games became the youngest athlete ever to win a gold medal in wrestling.
The youngest of six children born to undocumented Mexican immigrants, Cejudo grew up poor and with no help from his dad in some of the most poverty-stricken corners of Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Cejudo won’t have a chance to take home a medal in 2012 but he did catch the eye of the Coca-Cola company, which has included both him and Esparza in a big ad campaign targeting Hispanic consumers.
The multimillion-dollar campaign extolling Hispanic athletes and the American dream will run throughout the London Olympic Games.
For 20 years, the private sector has acknowledged the importance of immigrants to the social and economic fabric of the United States.
The groups that continue to spread xenophobia would do well to follow the example of the business world and promote practical solutions to the problem of illegal immigration.
The inclusion of foreign athletes on the United States Olympic team sets a very good example.