As the 2016 Olympics reach the finals in many events, I want to join voices like Danny Cerezo’s or Lynnette Cantos’ in the conversation about the long standing dilemma for Puerto Ricans: our nationality. Cerezo expressed in his article a sense of guilt about not being moved in the same way when Americans win a gold medal, last Saturday, August 13 when Mónica Puig won the gold for women’s single tennis. Cerezo was born in NYC of parents from the island. His sense of Puertoricanness was obtained through his experience as a kid growing up in el barrio. For a moment in his article, he felt the pull of an island nation calling him to be proud of where his family is from. As I was getting the updates of the game through rio2016.com, I was riveted by unseeded Puig’s tenacity in confronting the no. 2 seed in the world, Kerber, for the gold.
Cantos’ article, on the other hand, clarifies to Americans that this gold is for the island, which is a territory of the U.S., but not quite a state. She warns Americans not to get any ideas about owning this one. She bases her exhortations on comments found on the web about Mónica Puig’s citizenship. After all, Puig resides in Miami, which despite their Zika virus confirmation, it is still part of the continental U.S.
And this is where the Olympic dilemma is found, in the murky history of being part-of-but-not-quite-Americans. In paper, and according to the 1917 Jones Act, everyone born on the island is a U.S. citizen, a move that coincided with the U.S. government’s participation in WWI. Almost a hundred years later, watching the U.S. women’s volleyball team play the Puerto Rico team made me confront my national conundrum. As I watched the game it dawns on me that all these women are U.S. citizens, but neither Americans know that Puerto Ricans are Americans nor Puerto Ricans think that they are.
The Olympics is one of the rare moments when Puerto Rico gets to send a delegation and be united under a flag with one star. But when Laurie Hernandez wins gold for the U.S. delegation it doesn’t matter how many stars are in her flag. It would be nice to just be able to watch a game and not think about history and who am I under the Stars and Stripes. The poet from St. Lucia, Derek Walcott once wrote, “either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.” As a U.S. citizen and a Puerto Rican, I am both and no-one.
Dolly R. Tittle