I watched four American women shatter a world record from a distance of only a few hundred yards. Dusk had settled over the Olympic Stadium, and a light haze from the sunset drifted across the manicured central lawn and the hard surface of the track. The tranquility of the scene was undercut by thousands of people screaming, jumping and waving flags: “GO! GO! GO!”
I’ve rarely felt so proud to be an American. The runners of the women’s 4x100m relay were strong and powerful; they celebrated their victory with class and weren’t afraid to shed a tear on the podium. I waved my flag giddily with my parents and brother when the medals were placed around their necks, and I sang the national anthem with a full heart.
At other events that same evening, I screamed as loudly for Team GB as I had for Team USA. Not because everyone wants the home team to win, but because the home team was as much mine as Team USA. In many races I found myself yelling for both, one after the other, until the conclusion of an event.
That evening at the Olympic Stadium was the literalization of a conflict I’ve been struggling with my whole life. Born in Hong Kong and raised between California and London, I’ve spent more time living abroad than I have in the United States. By the time I was naturalized as a British citizen almost three years ago, I no longer felt exclusively American. Passing the UK citizenship test (which required a surprising amount of memorization) and receiving my red passport were both peak life experiences. I was grateful that I had a physical symbol of the shift in my loyalties from affinity with one country to love of two.
Yet ever since returning to the U.S. for college, friends and family on both sides of the Atlantic have been eager to make me choose one. Are you English or American? they ask. Which one do you prefer? When I give my best diplomatic answer about feeling connected to both countries for different reasons, I tend to get disgusted looks. In the aftermath of such conversations, I often feel confused and embarrassed, tired of trying to explain.
But my diplomatic answer is true: I cannot choose. My world is no longer composed of one country, one nationality — I have and am both. Moments like the Olympics are in some ways the easiest and the most challenging: I have two teams to root for, but when the sides are in conflict, there is a greater expectation that I will prioritize, pick and be content.
The more time I have spent musing on this conflict, the more I have realized that every aspect of my life — and indeed, all of our lives — has been full of such decisions: choices between religious traditions, intellectual passions, political positions to espouse. Perhaps these choices are an integral part of growing up, but I have felt diminished by decisions that forced me to abandon part of myself so I would progress in one area.
The challenge facing all of us this fall is to be both — to find the passions we love and, as much as possible, not choose between them. Find room to be the athlete who paints, the writer who runs, the mathlete who cooks, the linguist who plants trees. Inhabit the space between worlds and fill it with passion and commitment. And don’t feel that a choice is inevitable or even necessary; it doesn’t have to be.
The Olympics reminded me that it is possible to be both, and therefore more fully myself, because none of us lives in absolutes. While we celebrate the triumphs of our athletes, let us also celebrate what the Olympics represent about our world — one united in the possibility of both, multiple nationalities and accomplishments, instead of either.
Zoe Mercer-Golden is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .