The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico.

(Winner of SALALM's 2017 José Toribio Medina Book Award)

HISTORY / LATIN AMERICA / POLITICAL SCIENCE / SPORTS

 

 

Ceded to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris after the Spanish-American War of 1898, Puerto Rico has since remained a colonial territory. Despite this subordinated colonial experience, however, Puerto Ricans managed to secure national Olympic representation in the 1930s and in so doing nurtured powerful ideas of nationalism.​

By examining how the Olympic movement developed in Puerto Rico, Antonio Sotomayor illuminates the profound role sports play in the political and cultural processes of an identity that developed within a political tradition of autonomy rather than traditional political independence. Significantly, it was precisely in the Olympic arena that Puerto Ricans found ways to participate and show their national pride, often by using familiar colonial strictures—and the United States’ claim to democratic values—to their advantage. Drawing on extensive archival research, both on the island and in the United States, Sotomayor uncovers a story of a people struggling to escape the colonial periphery through sport and nationhood yet balancing the benefits and restraints of that same colonial status.

 

The Sovereign Colony describes the surprising negotiations that gave rise to Olympic sovereignty in a colonial nation, a unique case in Latin America, and uses Olympic sports as a window to view the broader issues of nation building and identity, hegemony, postcolonialism, international diplomacy, and Latin American–U.S. relations.

 

Contributions

 

Olympism 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 Caribbean and Latin American. While the U.S. has politically intervened and occupied other Latin American countries, only Puerto Rico has experienced a sustained colonial relation. 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 periphery managed to negotiate the boundaries of empire, test the limits of nation and Olympism, and assert their place in the international scene.

 

The book documents the often-surprising process by which Puerto Ricans managed to become an Olympic nation despite not having political sovereignty, a process that I call "colonial Olympism." My study traces the steps towards Puerto Rican Olympism despite the island's subject status, realizing an ideal expounded by Pierre de Coubertin in his “Athletic Colonization” (1931) essay that sought to spread Olympism to African territories. I offer an interpretation of Coubertin’s “Athletic Colonization” from the perspective of a colonial Caribbean island balanced between Latin American nationalism and United States’ imperialism. This interpretation also addresses both Coubertin’s “Athletic Unification” (1913) ideals of world goodwill through sport, and his Hellenic inspired ideas of progress, civility, and democracy.

 

The Sovereign Colony also contributes to colonial and post-colonial studies by drawing parallels to other colonial and/or subdued places. While each country’s relation to the colonizer (or center of power) has been distinct—and leading to different political outcomes—all negotiated the terms of their Olympic representation. Building on Partha Chatterrjee’s explorations of distinctive nationalisms beyond the West, I analyze how Puerto Ricans, as a Caribbean people, fashioned nationalism through Olympism within the structures of political subordination. With this analysis I support sociologist John Hutchinson’s arguments about the force and significance of cultural nationalism as distinct from, but in conversation with, political nationalism.

 

Finally, this book contributes not only to the emerging academic study of sport in Puerto Rico, but also to the study of sport in Latin America, U.S. foreign relations, and international politics more generally. While there have been numerous studies on these topics, situated as it is between the "domestic" and the international, Puerto Rico is often overlooked. This book conveys the significance of Puerto Rico within the complexities of U.S.-Latin American relations and beyond.

Available at the University of Nebraska Press and Amazon.com

 

Praise

“How is it that Puerto Rico participates with a sovereign team in the International Olympic Games? The answer to that question and Puerto Rico’s sporting success in the Caribbean-Central Amercan and Pan American competitions provides the fascinating subject for Antonio Sotomayor’s book. He explains the baffling and perplexing dimensions of international sport.”—William H. Beezley, author of Judas at the Jockey Club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico.

 

In this illuminating study of “colonial Olympism,” Antonio Sotomayor uses Puerto Rico’s participation in the international Olympic movement as the lens through which to ask a variety of questions about national identities and nationalism, international sports, U.S. empire, decolonization, the Puerto Rican case as the world’s oldest colony, and others.  The result is a highly readable book that invites us to rethink many familiar tenets about contemporary colonialism, adding an important dimension to the last quarter century’s debates on what constitutes a nation--and how sports may help fashion one.”—Francisco A. Scarano, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

 

"An innovative approach to Puerto Rico's coloniality through the prism of sports. . . . This accessible account of Puerto Rican sport provides a great introduction to the complex issues of contemporary coloniality and will be an excellent addition to undergraduate collections."—B. A. Lucero, CHOICE.

"Tennis player Monica Puig Marchan brought the island to a standstill when she won Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medal in the 2016 Summer Games. Sotomayor’s account offers some clues to those interested in Caribbean and Latin America how race, gender, and national identities helped to fuel the heady celebrations. What the book offers in abundance is a compelling explanation of how Puig and other citizens of the U.S. came to represent Puerto Rico in Rio and why Puerto Ricans celebrated the victory with such exultation. In jargon-free prose and flowing narration, Sotomayor gives undergraduate students and specialists an authoritative compendium of Puerto Rico’s politics during a period when the territory was billed as a regional showcase for the benefits of American power."  —Reinaldo Román, American Historical Review.

"Sotomayor is at his best when analyzing the development of Puerto Rico’s Olympism and its broader implications for politics and cultural identity in Puerto Rico, and for international affairs... The strengths of the book, however, far outweigh any criticisms. Filling a large void in the scholarship on Puerto Rican sport, Sotomayor has written an original analysis that asks us to consider the ways in which international sporting competitions undergirded the island’s “cultural uniqueness” (p. 132) and, in the process, stirred nationalistic passions among multitudes of Puerto Ricans." —Chris Elzey, Journal of American Ethnic History.

"Sotomayor’s impressive volume says not only a great deal about the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US, but can be used in parallel to analyse similar colonial and territorial interrelationships within the geopolitics of global sport. —Matthew L. McDowell, Sport in History.

"With the growing debt crisis, neoliberal economic policies of the US federal government, and a continually fraught relationship of colony to supposedly free and non-imperial republic, this tension will continue to be a source of interest for scholars studying issues of international relations, global politics, and nationalism. Antonio Sotomayor has provided a unique and valuable contribution to those concerns by focusing on the realm of sports. Well written, meticulously researched, and very timely, this book is highly recommended to both scholar and lay reader alike." —W. Bishop, Sport in American History.

The book "contributes to understanding colonialism and its relationship with Olympic participation. Furthermore, it facilitates the understanding of how the autonomist movement used international sports to project a control over the administration of the country to the rest of the world. In this way the Puerto Rican government avoided reflecting its colonial relationship with the United States. The text is able to present the construction of an Olympic nation without the building of an independent nation."—Félix Huertas González, The Journal of American History.

"Sotomayor reminds us how much we might miss if we adopt a narrow definition of the region, its nationalisms, and its identities...we learn from Puerto Rico to resist easy classifications based on geography or on how ideas about the nation are enacted; and that we understand the wide variety of identities available to modern Latin Americans. —Gregg Bocketti, Latin American Research Review.

"Lectura obligada para todos los que siguen el movimiento olímpico, desde cualquiera de las perspectivas controversiales que el tema genera." —Mario Ramos Méndez, El Vocero.

"The book is a reading feast for Puerto Rican sport fans. More importantly, it contributes to the understanding of colonialism where the agency of colonial subjects is emphasized in their negotiations of power structures. It is a must read for scholars of U.S. and Caribbean history." —Rosa E. Carrasquillo, Diplomatic History.

"Antonio Sotomayor's book is very well written and makes an important contribution to the study of Puerto Rico's sporting history.—Danyel Reiche, Journal of Sport History.

"Benefiting from a logical structure and accessible prose, this interesting book offers a strong analysis of the interplay between domestic politics, international relations and Olympic sports within a community seeking to reconcile the dualism that lies at the heart of what it means to be Puerto Rican. It is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the role that sport has played in modern Latin American history."—Keith Brewster, Journal of Latin American Studies.

"This book would be a valuable inclusion for any library dedicated to the history of nationalism in the Americas. Although Sotomayor’s work is not a complete history of sport in Puerto Rico, his book brings forward a powerful argument about the ways in which sport is a platform for nationalism, especially in Puerto Rico, whose real diplomats are elite athletes."—Robert Huish, The Americas.

"Essential Boricua Reading List for the 2016 Holiday Season" — Néstor David Pastor, Centro Voices e-Magazine.