I can't help but feel pride when I watch these 2012 London Olympics. I feel pride in watching so many more Latinos than I have been use to seeing in previous Olympics.
I began really paying attention to the Olympics in 1972 when they had baseball and of course, boxing, which always caught my attention. In that Olympics the only Latino country that would shine was Cuba as they had strong baseball and boxing teams. In the 1972 Games Cuba was the only Latin American country to win a Gold. In fact they won three gold, one Silver and four Bronze medals for a total of eight. Argentina and Mexico had each won one silver medal.
The following 1976 Summer Olympics in Canada was a year I will never forget. That year, Alberto Juantorena, the Cuban track star made Olympic history by winning, both the 400 and 800 meter races. I remember watching those races with my family in our bedroom. I still remember the ruckus that I caused screaming Juantorena on to his second Gold medal and celebrating his victory with my two young daughters jumping on the bed. They did not understand the significance of their father's excitement, but they loved jumping on the bed and screaming their lungs out.
I remember that day as if it was yesterday. Watching the Cuban flag being raised twice ahead of many of the dominant countries participating helped fill a vacuum in my soul. A soul that knew that I was more than an American citizen, since I was constantly being reminded that I was different because of my tan completion and speaking only Spanish to my parents. The fact that the Cuban flag is almost identical to the Puerto Rican flag except for the arrangement of the colors brought an incredible pride to a young Boricua from the South Bronx in need of positive role models for himself and his daughters.
That year Cuba went on to win six Gold medals, four Silver and three Bronze for a total of thirteen medals. They came in eighth out of 41 countries, winning medals ahead of many developed countries like Great Britain, France and Italy in medal counts. Mexico won one Silver and one Bronze. Venezuela won one Silver, Brazil won two Bronze and Puerto Rico won one Bronze.
Today's 2012 London Games has been quite different and has brought the game closer to home. Watching John Orozco a Puerto Rican From the South Bronx and Danell Leyva, a Cuban from Miami help lead the USA men's gymnastics team through the qualifying runs to the finals was more than I could have imagined.
My highlight was watching Orozco's mom in the stands screaming with excitement and praying with a small American flag on her head and a wrist bracelet with a small Puerto Rican flag. Though no medals were won on this day, two flags were being seen by millions of people around the world due to a young man from my community. I'm sure that many Cubans Americans felt my same pride when we heard our Spanish language in the back round coming from the stands. Leyva was getting many tips in Spanish probably from his father. Leyva smiled as he acknowledged the tips.
Dominicans must have been jumping for joy when they saw gymnast, Yamilet Peña who was a sensation due to being the first Dominican to attend the Olympic games and reached the finals of the women's singles event. Yamilet dazzled the large crowd that filled the North Greenwich Arena. She finished with 14,699, behind only the U.S. Karla Morony, which ended with 15,000, the Russian Maria Paseta, 14,806. It was the fourth best overall score of a group of over 30 competitors.
I'm looking forward to continuing to watch all these Olympic Games. I'll be looking to see the many other Latinos that will be competing to prove what the census data and demographics have been showing, we are here to stay.
Follow Julio Pabon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Brujo429