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Politics

Michelle Kwan’s Path From The Rink To International Diplomacy

 Donning a black suit, Michelle Kwan smiles and victoriously raises a raised fist as she holds a microphone in her left hand and stands behind a podium that has a sign in support of Joe Biden for president.
Michelle Kwan at a rally in 2020 for then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in Manchester, NH.
(Joseph Prezioso
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan has returned to prominence on the international stage as President Joe Biden's pick for ambassador to Belize — a trajectory that began in the South Bay.

Kwan, 41, grew up around Torrance, where her parents — immigrants from Hong Kong — ran a Chinese restaurant.

At age five, Kwan began skating at a nearby rink where her talents landed her a scholarship several years later at the now-closed Ice Castle International Training Center in Lake Arrowhead.

That launched a lengthy skating career that saw Kwan win nine U.S. championships, five world titles and two Olympic medals — making her the country’s “most decorated figure skater in U.S. history,” the White House noted in its announcement about her nomination.

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What might be less well known, is that after leaving the world of competition, Kwan discovered a new passion: international relations. She earned a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and held various jobs within the State Department, with a special focus on youth and women’s issues.

Kwan has also been active in the Democratic party, serving in the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Biden, for whom she acted as a surrogate director.

In a statement, Kwan said she would be proud to represent the U.S. in Belize, a nation of about 400,000 on the eastern coast of Central America.

“I look forward to working with the Belizean government on economic issues, to put an end to this pandemic, and to address regional migration,” Kwan said. Her nomination will have to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then the full U.S. Senate.

On trips back home, Kwan can still get ice time whenever she wants: her family owns ice skating rinks in Artesia and Ontario.

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.