The Sovereign Colony: How the Olympic Movement helps us understand Puerto Rico
This presentation will discuss my book, “The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico” (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016). I will do so contextualizing it in current events in Puerto Rico including the political, economic, and social crises since the book’s publication in 2016. The book documents the often-surprising process by which Puerto Ricans managed to become an Olympic nation despite not having political sovereignty. The Olympic Movement provides a unique vantage point for understanding the complexities of Puerto Rican politics and identity. Puerto Ricans are by law U.S. citizens, and by culture, history, and traditions Caribbean and Latin American. While the United States has politically intervened and occupied other Latin American countries, only Puerto Rico has experienced a sustained colonial relation since 1898. I argue that Puerto Ricans navigated the politics of empire and international diplomacy to negotiate their Olympic nationhood. In this way, Puerto Ricans offer an example of a way in which a peripheral society managed to negotiate the boundaries of empire, test the limits of nation and Olympism, and assert their place in the international scene. Despite Puerto Rico’s coloniality, the Olympic Movement has given Puerto Ricans the best tool to nurture and fuel feelings of national identity and has become a critical issue in the discussion about Puerto Rico’s political future.
Antonio Sotomayor is Associate Professor and Librarian of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. He received his PhD in history from the University of Chicago and has faculty appointments in the Departments of Spanish and Portuguese, and Recreation, Sport, and Tourism, and faculty affiliations at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois. His book, The Sovereign Colony, won the 2017 José Toribio Medina award, and his work has appeared in journals such as The Americas, The Latin Americanist, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Hispania Nova, and Caribbean Studies among others. He has been interviewed by major media outlets such as NPR, NBC Sports, and Backstory. His forthcoming co-edited book, Olimpismo: The Olympic Movement in the Making of Latin America and the Caribbean (Arkansas University Press) will be published in January 2020.