( Leonel Manzano of the United States celebrates after winning silver in the Men’s 1500m Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 7, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images))

Opinion: Manzano was just showing pride for his heritage

Critics jumped on Leo Manzano when he did his victory lap wearing both the U.S. and Mexican flag when he won a silver medal at the London Olympics, running the fastest time ever by an American athlete in the men’s 1,500 meter final. Born in Mexico but now a U.S. citizen, he explained his move  to the Associated Press, saying, “I am honored and excited to represent both the United States and Mexico by earning this silver.”

Syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette thought Manzano was being disrespectful. Carrying both flags, Navarrette wrote, was “misguided and ill-mannered.” He devoted an entire column to the notion that Manzano, as an American athlete, should have only carried the Stars and Stripes. He went so far as to say the sight of Manzano with two flags, “upset my stomach.”

Navarrette needs to take an Alka-Seltzer. Who appointed him the hall monitor of the London Olympics?  The U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee each have an exhaustive set of rules for athletes participating in the games. They regulate everything from uniforms to dormitory arrangements to souvenir pins. But there is no rule limiting an athlete to one flag on a victory lap. So Manzano did nothing wrong; he was simply celebrating one of the most joyous moments of his life.

Navarrette wrote that it was “not a good idea, and not a good look,” for Manzano to carry two flags as the world looked on. I couldn’t disagree more. Manzano was honoring his country as well as his roots. According to the National Immigration Forum, Manzano is the son of an undocumented immigrant (His father legalized his status under the 1986 amnesty program). Manzano himself became a citizen in 2004. I find it inspirational that he was able to share his triumph with a global audience. He personifies the American Dream.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. The Latino Rebels, a culture and social commentary site, took Navarrette to task for his piece and called Manzano an American Hero.

And Manzano is not the first Latino athlete to tip a hat to his heritage. In 1992, boxer Oscar de la Hoya won a gold medal in Barcelona and displayed the U.S. and Mexican flags. He carried the Mexican flag, he explained, to honor his mother. In 2007, then-U.S.C. Quarterback Mark Sanchez (now with the New York Jets) wore a mouthguard emblazoned with the Mexican flag. Sanchez shrugged off the ensuing controversy among fans.  “It was a high five to people who have supported me and whom I’m similar to,” he told the Orange County Weekly. “I thought it was cool.”

Like millions of Hispanics, Manzano, de la Hoya, and Sanchez are comfortable with their bicultural identities. An April study by the Pew Center found that a majority of Latinos identify themselves by their country of origin. In other words, we say we are “Mexican,”“Cubano,” or “Dominican,” even if we were born here. Only 21 percent of us self-identify as “American.” Yet the Pew researchers noted that an overwhelming 87 percent of Latinos say life in the U.S. is better than in their home countries.

Though it may seem paradoxical, most Latinos understand that pride in our heritage does not take way from our pride in being American. There are nearly thirty different countries represented within the U.S. Olympic team, which I see as proof that we are a country like no other. The whole point of the games is to transcend politics and bring nations together. Navarrette’s carping is unwarranted and needlessly negative. Our Olympic athletes should be praised, not criticized.  Go Team USA – and Viva Manzano!

Opinion: Manzano was just showing pride for his heritage raulreyescrop news NBC Latino News

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.

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