They say that when you’re a child, the world is a mirror. What you see becomes part of your identity, just like a reflection.
I don’t think I can explain how meaningful it was to be a half-Asian girl growing up in the Michelle Kwan era.
Yes, there was Kristi Yamaguchi before that, and yes, she had an impact too. I was just 6 years old when Kristi won her gold medal, but I remember the excitement in people’s voices when they talked about her performances. And I remember feeling an instinctive pull toward her, a kinship based solely on the fact that we were both Asian. Not even the same kind of Asian, but who else did I have to choose from?
When I was growing up, there were not many famous people who looked like me. Not on television or in movies, not on the radio, and not in magazines. That’s why Kristi Yamaguchi made such an impression on me. That’s why the Joy Luck Club became one of my favorite books. That’s why my friends and I watched Mulan over a dozen times.
Suddenly the world really was a mirror. One that I hadn’t even known I needed.
Suddenly I could see myself.
And for ten of my most formative years, Michelle Kwan held that mirror right up to my face and said, “You can do amazing things.” She was strong and elegant, kind and ambitious. She was hard-working and accomplished in an artistic field, one that garnered worldwide respect. If you think it’s a coincidence that there are so many young Asian-American women competing in figure skating today, then you’re delusional. Michelle revealed a new path that was open to us — and in doing so, made us wonder what other paths might be possible.
Part of the reason I love sports — and the Olympics in particular — is because they showcase the skills and achievements of all sorts of people from all walks of life. Children around the world can see athletes who look like them, or come from similar backgrounds, representing their countries, showing good sportsmanship to their competition, and maybe even taking home a medal. It’s inspiring in so many different ways.
True, we still have a long way to go before we reach fair representation in most fields — especially business, entertainment, and government — and even many sports have their skews. But every couple of years, when I watch each country enter the arena for the Parade of Nations, with athletes and coaches proudly waving and following their flag, I’m reminded that the mirrors do exist, and the reflections are only getting clearer over time.