In a post-Olympic article titled "Mo Farah is proof of great multicultural Britain," the British comedian Eddie Izzard got quite serious about this summer's Games.
"Some people in the UK stupidly want to denigrate refugees, so you knew these people were having a bad day when Mo won," he wrote, referring to the U.K. double gold medal winner in track who came to Britain as a refugee from Somalia.
Izzard chose to take a stand for optimism, challenging David Cameron's controversial 2011 speech, in which the British prime minister referred to "state multiculturalism" as a failure. "I think the London 2012 Games will come to be seen as a shining time for the U.K.," wrote Izzard. "It has been a time when athletes of all races and backgrounds have come together, and people have understood what modern multicultural Britain is all about, and that it obviously is working."
In many ways, the Izzard piece was uniquely British. But then again, was it? While multiculturalism's merits may not be as flatly called into question by U.S. political leaders, there's no doubt that it's still a hot topic, with the heat increasing as the 2012 election nears.
Undoubtedly, the multiple medals won by U.S. Latinos were triggering a similar 'bad day' reaction among some right here at home. U.S. silver-medal-winner Luis Manzano's controversial decision to wave both the U.S. and the Mexican flags during his 1,500-meter victory lap set off a firestorm of criticism. Not only were the usual suspects traumatized, but a significant number of Mexican-American pundits also chastised him for a lack of loyalty to Team USA.
Manzano likely will miss out on marketing opportunities that may have awaited him had he not become so polarizing so quickly. (Though who knows what unexpected opportunities he may attract as a result of his unabashed show of bi-cultural, bi-national pride.)
Dual-citizenship controversies not withstanding, I'm with Izzard. I think the London 2012 Games will be seen as a shining time for Team Multicultural USA, and specifically Team USA Latino. We are weeks away from Hispanic Heritage Month, and the success of U.S. Latino athletes puts an additional positive glow on the real meaning of this month-long celebration of heritage and heroes.
Here are a few reasons that the spotlight on US Latino athletes was shining so brightly at this year's Olympics:
Social Media. From Facebook postings to Twitter to Pinterest, the focus on the stories of struggle and success of Latino Olympians were on fire throughout the cybersphere. According to social media tracking software Starcount, through the first week of the 2012 London Olympics, African American and Latino athletes comprised six of the top 10 most popular Olympians in social media for Team USA.
"Latino-centric" News. The recent proliferation of English language spinoffs of major news outlets with a "Latino-centric" filter -- including NBCLatino, FoxLatino and HuffingtonPost Latino -- has created a narrative around the athletes that unearths specific cultural nuances that previously might never have seen the light of day (or would have been spoken only in Spanish-language circles.) On these sites, Ryan Lochte goes from being a swimmer to being a Latino swimmer, and his heritage and hankering for ropa vieja become a focal point. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Telemundo's excellent on-air and online coverage of the Olympics. Record-breaking viewership was up 42% compared to the Beijing Olympics.
Procter & Gamble's Thank You Mom campaign and Latina Mami Bloggers. A "total market" initiative, with deep universal relevance and resonance, P&G scored Gold with a campaign about moms, mums and mamis. U.S. Latino athletes were highlighted in both English and Spanish. Perhaps more importantly than P&G sites were the countless Latina mommy bloggers who spread the word to their extensive network.
The Changing Look of Cover Girl. Marlen Esparza may have taken the Bronze, but she's the Golden Girl of sponsorships. She also breaks molds on many levels, from perceptions about Latina gender roles to a fresh appreciation of beauty from a Mexican-American perspective, a look all too often left out of the traditional color and style palette. An article comparing her rise to stardom to the Irish gold medal winner, Katie Taylor's is worth a read.
Esparza's message of inner and outer beauty and strength not only graced Cover Girl ads, but was also integral to a Coca-Cola campaign entitled Luchando Juntos, the company's first ever Olympic campaign designed to shine a spotlight on the U.S. Latino athlete story.
Of course, Latinos weren't the only ones who sought to find cultural connections with the Olympic athletes. Women, African Americans, Asian-Americans and LGBT athletes served as role models as well. And with her black, Puerto Rican, Filipino and Japanese heritage, gymnast Kyla Ross is just one of the many multiracial, multiethnic members of Team USA that serves as a role model for the growing multiracial, multiethnic reality that is America today.
Those of us in the Jewish community also took great pride in identifying gymnast and "Fierce Five" team member Aly Raisman as one of our own, along with a few other competitors.
It's not only a matter of pride, but of breaking stereotypes that often don't connect the culture with athletic acumen. It's what makes this article about The Most Interesting Man In The World so interesting. Yes, that 's right, the Dos X's man is actually a Jewish actor from Marina del Rey. But that 's a whole other story.