No USA, You Can’t Claim Monica Puig’s Puerto Rico Gold Medal Win As Your Own

Her victory is the gleam of hope Puerto Rico never knew it needed until now.
Monica Puig of Puerto Rico celebrates holding her country's flag after winning the gold medal match in the women's tennis com
Monica Puig of Puerto Rico celebrates holding her country's flag after winning the gold medal match in the women's tennis competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016.

Like many boricuas on Saturday, Aug. 13, I celebrated when tennis player Monica Puig won gold in the single women’s division and became both Puerto Rico’s first gold win and a woman’s first gold win for the island.

Needless to say, it was an overall historic moment that everyone back in the island and all the boricuas in the United States (such as myself) basked in with full pride, loud cheers and immense glory—as only a Puerto Rican would do.

Until the same day and onward, I’ve noticed a trend on social media regarding the Olympics: multiple posts and tweets about how Puerto Rico shouldn’t compete independently, confused as to why Puerto Rico is competing in the first place or that a victory for Puerto Rico supposedly “counts” because it’s a U.S. commonwealth.

Puerto Rico has a population of 3.5 million citizens, its own national anthem and its own unique culture. However, we are considered U.S. citizens on paper due to the Jones Act of 1917. Even though we share the same currency, passport and social security, we are not guaranteed the same rights such as voting on presidential elections and bankruptcy protection.

Simply put: yes, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory but it still qualifies as a competing nation under the International Olympic Committee, a non-governmental organization, since January 1, 1948. It’s also why other U.S. territories compete as stand-alone countries such as Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

No, and it’s mainly that last example above that urged me to write this post. For so long I’ve watched how little we’ve mattered to Americans, both living in the United States and growing up in the rural mountainside seven miles off of San Juan, until something extraordinary happens to us like Puig’s gold win.

When I see tweets about “claiming” Puerto Rico’s gold medal victory as one for the U.S., I can’t help but think about the toxic colonialist history behind such statements and the modern micro-aggressions faced as a Puerto Rican in this day and age. I can’t help but think about how everyday, Puerto Ricans struggle with their identity because of the purgatory commonwealth status of our island. I can’t help but to think about how silent the Hamilton fandom can be on our issues when Lin-Manuel Miranda constantly advocates for Puerto Rico, whether to U.S. Congress or on HBO with John Oliver.

And with all of this, an underdog story such as Puig happens under our representation and you want to “claim” and “count” the winning for the U.S.? Even though she lives and trains in Florida and chose to represent Puerto Rico instead? Even though U.S. media broadcasted the following info graph below in order to minimize our accomplishment?

After everything that Puerto Rico is facing, from our island’s debt crisis to Zika outbreak state of emergency, Monica Puig’s outstanding achievement is the small gleam of hope that Puerto Rico never knew it needed until now.

The sheer moment that La Borinqueña, our national anthem played as footage of the flag rose high and Puig was in tears, wrapped around her own Puerto Rico flag will stick with every boricua from this moment onward. She even told The New York Times how much love and support our community has given her and why she chose to be “100 percent loyal” by representing Puerto Rico, despite growing up and training in the U.S.

Her victory and our spirit are strong gestures that nobody should even dare to “claim” or “count” for their own benefits.

A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.

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