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Athletic History and Cultural Identity
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Athletic History and Cultural Identity
The 20th century was marked as a century of nationalistic pride. Many countries chose to exhibit their nationalistic pride with such things as technological advances or military expansion, or even conquest. Such is the difference, however, with small nations like Puerto Rico . As a territory of the United States, and a nation of only four million people, its resources are limited and it does not possess things like a military. Yet Puerto Rico still exhibits its share of nationalistic pride. Through other national and cultural symbols, like sports icons and pop stars, Puerto Rico is able to make a name for itself on an international stage. This in turn brings much pride to the citizens of the island.
"Sports Sovereignty", as we have previously discussed, refers to a non-politically sovereign nation's right to participate as if it were in international competition. Puerto Ricans gain great pride in their Olympic teams and athletes. Historically, their participation in international sporting events coincides with several political movements, almost as if their athletes were seen as political diplomats (12).
Puerto Rico made its international sporting debut in 1930 at the Central American Games which at the time were played in Cuba . During this period, Puerto Rico was seen as a colony of the United States and thus had no official flag or nationally recognized symbols. They were forced to carry the United States flag at the opening ceremony. Five years later, at the next Central American Games in El Salvador , Puerto Rico won a gold medal. With no official national anthem to play, the Salvadorian anthem was played in its place. These types of events set the stage for the athletic movement in Puerto Rico , to be officially recognized at international competition.
In 1947, Puerto Rico started the National Olympic Committee to oversee the direction and participation of its country in the next years Olympic games to be held in London , England . That year, Puerto Rico held its coat of arms in the opening ceremonies in place of the traditional flag. Still a colony at the time, there was a nationalistic revolt in the country as well as attacks in Washington DC that followed. Due to this, in the next Olympics, Puerto carried both its own coat of arms and the United States flag at the opening ceremonies. During the Olympics (1952), Puerto Rico was approved as a commonwealth of the US and its constitution was ratified. This granted the island certain sovereign rights like the right to bear its own national symbols and flags. For the remainder of the games, when a Puerto Rican athlete won a medal, the new flag was raised in place of the United States flag, and if they were to win a gold medal, they played the new Puerto Rican anthem.
Since their constitution became approved in 1952, Puerto Ricans have been avid sports fans. They exhibit large scale cultural nationalism whenever one of their athletes appears on an international stage, whether its in solo competition or as a team. This happens regardless of the competition, as can be seen with individual boxing matches. International events held locally in Puerto Rico are special events for these citizens. Because the island is small enough to travel from one end to the other in under a day, these events bring out Puerto Ricans from the entire island to support their country. Throughout the stadium, hundreds of Puerto Rican flags waive proudly and national chants can be heard throughout the stadium.
Sports sovereignty is a deeper issue than just international competition. It represents the individuality of a nation that has been oppressed throughout its short history by a dominating parent nation. Although Puerto Rico has been under American control for most of its history, it clearly posses a cultural identity of its own. The people struggle to hold onto things that differ from the US such as their language as cultural symbols. Athletics is one of the only faces of the country that receives international recognition (13). In the context of its colonial status with the United States , it is a widely popular stance that Puerto Rico should keep its sports sovereignty even if it one day decides to become the 51st state. Puerto Ricans one in all love when they beat the US in international competition.
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