Former Undocumented Immigrant Leo Manzano Wins Silver Olympic Medal for U.S.

On Tuesday, Mexican-born American runner Leo Manzano won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter final, running the fastest time ever by a U.S. athlete at the Games. Manzano, 27, entered the U.S. at the age of 4 without papers, according to LetsRun. He didn’t gain legal residency until 10 years later.

“Silver medal, still felt like I won! Representing two countries USA and Mexico!”, Manzano tweeted shortly after his win. Most of his tweets throughout the Olympics have been in both Spanish and English.

All the feels right now, guise.

Formerly undocumented runner Leo Manzano wins silver at Olympics

Manzano won his first Olympic medal representing the U.S. in his second Olympic games.


Mexican-born American runner Leo Manzano won a silver medal in the 1,500 meter final on Tuesday at London 2012. In a dramatic finish, he sprinted from 6th to 2nd in the last 150 meters of the race.

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Why Ruben Navarrette misses the point by attacking Leo Manzano

Ruben Navarrette could’ve used real arguments to make his point. But he didn’t.


Ruben Navarrette is arguably the most prominent Hispanic columnist in the United States. Given his lofty status, I would have expected more from him in his criticism of Olympic hero (and former undocumented immigrant) Leo Manzano.

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Waiter, can we have a side of facts with this hyperbole and cliché?

Yes, Manzano arrived in the United States at the age of 4. In 1987, his father, Jesús, who was working in the United States without authorization, secured permanent residency. Soon thereafter, he would gain his green card, ultimately sending for his family.

Leo was born in central Mexico, a place “where education ceased by fourth grade, running water did not exist and electricity was practically unheard of.” While certainly a life of poverty, to say that his country offered him “nothing” is one of tremendous disrespect. Worse yet, you erase history; you erase the ways that the United States and globalization has impacted Mexico. In recent times the United States through its neo-liberal policies such as the Bracero Program (1942-1964), Border Industrialization Program, a.k.a “maquiladoras” (1964-1996) and finally the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have slowly destroyed the traditional if not Jeffersonian agrarian society that provided self-sufficiency and subsistence.

All of these agreements, under the guise of “development” and “progress,” have forced people from their land, created environmental disaster, and provided a boon for Mexico’s underground economy–drug trafficking. The Mexican government provides little to no protection for its citizens against these economic polices. Labor rights and any illusion of a social safety net have collapsed. These policies are in place because it benefits the U.S. economy by providing cheap goods and cheap labor, to the detriment of the Mexican people.

Ruben, what do you mean that the United States gave Manzano the “opportunity to live out” his dreams. Manzano, like his parents, worked hard to secure everything he and his family has achieved. His parents work hard, with his father working as a machine operator at a gravel quarry and his mom holding down “odd jobs.” He, too, fought to get where he is today. Nobody gave him anything. According to the New York Times’ Aimee Berg:

All the while, Manzano needed to help his family financially. He got his first job at the age of 11. Later, his father would drop him off at school at 5 a.m. and Manzano would juggle practice at 6:15 a.m., his schoolwork and late shifts at an Italian restaurant until he became, in 2004, the first in his family to earn a high school diploma.

Had his family immigrated in 1999 or 2009, there would be no Leo Manzano, American silver medalist; there would be no American citizen Leo Manzano. In today’s political climate, one of racism and demonization, it is more likely he would have been Georgia or Arizona, pushed to “self-deport”, or otherwise subjected to harassment than live the purported “American Dream.” Even if one takes the position, as you do, that America gave Manzano this opportunity–that because of the 1986 Immigration and Reform Act, because of immigration, because of the opportunity to attend the University of Texas, Manzano has secured greatness–please know that opportunity would be nearly impossible today, or at least impossible because of the Republican Party and its supporters (yes, the people commenting on your piece and those celebrating you on your Facebook page).

So this national anti-immigrant pathos really bothers me. The San Antonio Express-News blog reposted an opinion article by Chris Chase of Yahoo! Sports, in which Ruben Navarette, Jr. criticizes Olympian athlete Leo Manzano’s choice to wave both the American & Mexican flags after winning his silver medal. Chase cites Navarette:

What am I missing? Where were the Italian-American athletes waving the Italian flag, or the Irish-Americans waving the Irish flag? I didn’t see that.

The last one is the money quote. We all come from somewhere. Not everyone is an immigrant, but every Olympian has roots. But did you see Danell Leyva holding a Cuban flag at his medal ceremony? Or Michael Phelps carrying a Union Jack because he has English blood in his ancestry?

What is with this mentality? Nobody is barring athletes from being proud of their roots. If a Greek-American athlete wants to celebrate his ancestry, then let him/her! This nation celebrates stuff like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, Lunar New Year, etc. all over the freakin’ place. Come on. America is immigrants. Where does this negative attitude come from?