At just 17 years old, Chloe Kim became the youngest woman to win a golden Olympic snowboarding medal for the United States. She competed in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea where her relatives got to see her perform live.
Kim is a first-generation Korean-American, born in Long Beach, California and raised in nearby Torrance. Kim’s father arrived in the U.S at the age of 26 with nothing but “$800 and an English-Korean dictionary,” ESPN reports. Despite financial difficulties, it is Kim’s father who recognized her talent and supported her every step of the way.
“At the age of five, she was already hitting small jumps and rails on the tiny board her father had bought for$25 on eBay,” ESPN reports. He cut up yoga mats for her snow pants to protect her from falls, melted candles on her snowboard instead of real wax and had her join the resort’s snowboard team to save money. Kim’s father even quit his job as an engineer to support his daughter’s passion.
From eight to 10 years old she trained in Valais, Switzerland before returning to California to continue training. At the 2016 X Games, she not only became the first person to win back-to-back gold medals but also to land three consecutive 180 spins at Snowboarding Grand Prix. She is believed to be the second person to have scored a perfect 100 points in snowboarding history.
The success of Chloe Kim as a first-generation Korean-American has become a part of the national conversation about immigration.
Senator Richard J. Durbin used her story to inspire those seeking U.S citizenship last Tuesday on the Senate floor. He even brought an oversized picture of Kim holding an American flag.
“Today, all across this country and all across the world, we are saluting this amazing 17 year old girl and the skill that she developed,” Durbin said. “But let’s remember, Chloe Kim’s story is the story of immigration in America.”
He continued by telling her father’s story.
“He decided to go to school. He picked up a degree in engineering technology…He decided to start a family,” he said of her father, Jong Jin Kim. “A nice little family. And a little girl, who had a special skill when it came to snowboarding. That girl was Chloe Kim, and she won a gold medal last night at the Olympics.”
His argument has been used by many Democrats who advocate for welcoming immigration policy. They reference stories that show the potential of immigrants when given the opportunity to succeed.
While Sen. Durbin had good intentions, others have viewed his response as problematic. Journalist Tanzina Vega, who often writes about issues revolving around diversity, found that Durbin’s comments “feed the exceptional immigrant narrative.”
Khaled Beydoun, a law professor and author who frequently writes about immigration, shared a similar analysis towards Durbin’s comments.
“Showcasing the stories of exceptional immigrants to justify a more humane immigration policy clashes with American values, and America’s immigration history,” he told The Fix. “It also implies that immigrants — or the children of immigrants — have to be outstanding, superhuman, or more than exceptional — like Olympian Chloe Kim or Steve Jobs — to warrant inclusion.”
Durbin clarified his intentions last Wednesday with a tweet that celebrated “young undocumented immigrants known as dreamers.”