Reporter: “I know that playing for Puerto Rico is so important for you… What do you like to say to the country right now?”
Mónica: “I just want to tell them this is for them… They need this, I needed this. I think I united a nation. I just love from where I come from.”
The more than 8 million Puerto Ricans who live in the world will never forget where we were on Saturday, August 13, 2016 when Mónica Puig won our first gold medal at the Olympics and “La Borinqueña” was heard. Jumps, shouts, smiles, tears. That’s what we saw in Mónica and that’s what we lived individually and collectively.
And it’s collectively where the true meaning of what we lived lies in. It is not only about the feat of an extraordinary athlete, of another sport victory, of Culson’s suffering when he was disqualified or of the anger over Franklin Gomez’s stolen fight. It is not about statistics or counting medals. It’s about what gives meaning to a people, of a nation’s defining identity traits, what makes us different but equal in dignity to other countries. The American interviewer understood this when, just after her victory, she asked Monica: “What would you like to say to the country”. “the” and “country” are references to our own identity which they see. And Monica’s answer: “This is for them”, “I think I united a nation”, “I love from where I come from”, are also, clear signs that she feels she represents a place with its own space in the world, with its own history, culture, food, music and unique identity. She knows she represents the Puerto Rican nation.
And it is not that we want to give political connotations to our experience in these Olympics, it’s that we have to recognize and not deny what we are. The whole discussion about whether we can have an Olympic team under statehood, or whether our athletes would compete for the USA under statehood are just useless deviations to try and ignore the truth.
Who remembers where they were when Gigi Fernández won two gold medals representing the United States? Were we moved to tears? Did the extraordinary feats of American swimmer Michael Phelps make us cry? These were Olympic moments that we applauded as great achievements from great athletes, but we didn’t celebrate them as a nation because they didn’t feel ours.
It’s the same reason why when we hear the notes from “green light of the mountain and the sea” (“verde luz de monte y mar”) we don’t think of the sea in California or the Rocky Mountains. It is the reason why when our composers and poets are inspired they write to Puerto Rico, not the United States, and why during these days “decimas” and “plenas” have been composed about Monica and Culson, but none for Phelps.
Statehood is not a commercial transaction; it is a commitment of the soul that will only be possible when we cry tears of sadness because Serena Williams was eliminated in the first round or tears of joy because Simone Biles shone in gymnastics or when we are willing to renounce the immense happiness that Monica gave us with her gold and when we heard our anthem. When we decide to give up on the hope of having another victory like this one, that’s the day we can talk to the United States about out commitment to statehood.
Many times we have seen athletes embrace their flag and cry at the podium as they sang their anthem. They are all celebrating what they are, what they carry in their souls, their heritage, their history and their identity. That’s what drove Monica to kneel and look to the sky, that mixture of feelings that burst from the heart of every Puerto Rican on that August 13 we will never forget. What we felt was the reaffirmation of our unique nationality and of a people that after more than 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, and 100 of American colonialism, still keep fighting for what we are and we assert ourselves today stronger than ever.
Thank you Monica for your talent, will and dedication; for your commitment to your country, thank you for uniting us, for gifting your nation with your triumph, for touching our innermost collective fiber and for reminding us that we are a nation of gold.