About Robert Sarwark

robertsarwark.com | Twitter: @RobSarwark

Sports and Sovereignty: An Interview with Antonio Sotomayor

Antonio Sotomayor, PhD, an Assistant Professor and Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian at the International & Area Studies Library at Illinois

This week we speak with our very own Latin and American and Caribbean Studies Specialist Antonio Sotomayor about his debut full-length book The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico. In March 2016, Dr. Sotomayor and his book received an in-depth profile from the Illinois News Bureau in addition to other national and international coverage. Since the 2016 Olympic games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are growing ever nearer, we caught up with the author for a few more questions about this fascinating and little-studied topic.

Glocal Notes: Your book takes as its thesis that national sovereignty can be, more than many other means under colonial rule, expressed through athletics. What are some of the real impacts on politics or public opinion that have occurred as a result of Puerto Rico’s competition and success as a team in internationally?

Antonio Sotomayor: It depends on what you mean by “real.” I view Olympic sport, and sport overall, not only as representative of politics or culture, but as politics as such and as a cultural medium. In that regard, Puerto Rico’s membership as a sovereign nation in the Olympic Movement has “real” implications in the different dynamics involved in the Olympic movement that include international relations, foreign diplomacy, representations of the nation, women’s agency in a patriarchal society, etc. Hence, Olympic participation for Puerto Ricans has given them a voice on several international political issues throughout the existence of the delegation including the Good Neighbor policy, post-WWII reconstructions, different Cold War boycotts, etc. For example, in my book, I dedicate a chapter to the Cold War conflicts that came with Puerto Rico’s hosting of the Central American and Caribbean Games in San Juan in 1966 and discuss the different ways Puerto Ricans navigated Cold War and regional politics in relation to the participation of Revolutionary Communist Cuba. Some Puerto Ricans, as allies of the United States, wanted to exclude the Cuban delegation due to their communist ideologies and were even willing to go against any policy by the U.S. to uphold their beliefs. Other Puerto Ricans – those who sympathized with Communist Cuba – defended their Caribbean “brothers” and were willing to risk their freedom to do this. This event caught the attention of the regional and international media and the resolution involved the direct intermediation of the International Olympic Movement led by an American, Avery Brundage (President of the International Olympic Committee), and a Soviet, A. Andrianov (Vice-President).

GN: The internationally competing Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is another example of sovereignty through sports. Can you tell us about any other examples of this phenomenon, whether historical, current, or in the planning stages.

AS: The Philippines competed at the 1916 East Asian Games as a sovereign country despite being a U.S. colony. Scotland participates as a sovereign nation in the FIFA World Cup – but with Great Britain at the Olympic Games. Taiwan participates as a sovereign nation at the Olympic Games as Chinese Taipei. On the other hand, the lack of Olympic sovereignty, despite being a cultural nation, can be seen in places like Catalonia, in Spain, which has petitioned to be recognized as an Olympic nation since the early twentieth century. These examples only portray how the Olympic Movement, rather than an apolitical movement focused on entertainment, makes very political decisions by allowing some countries to participate and denying recognition to others.


Sotomayor, Antonio. (2016) The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

GN: In your opinion, what are Puerto Rico’s chances of becoming a U.S. state or otherwise altering its political status in any way?

AS: Under the current socio-political, economic, and cultural conditions in the United States, I highly doubt that Puerto Rico will become a state of the Union. As for altering its status in any way, we’ll have to keep paying attention.

GN: There has been much in the news lately about Puerto Rico’s economic situation. Can you explain a bit about this?

AS: This is a very complicated issue and given that I’m not an economist, I might be misrepresenting the issue. But in very general terms, Puerto Ricans have had a complicated relationship with the U.S. and have grown increasingly dependent on U.S. markets. This occurred as early as 1898 when the U.S. took possession of the island after the Spanish-American War by transforming the growing local economy to fit U.S. capitalistic market interests. Local capital was destroyed in order to create dependency on U.S. goods and capital. This did not only happen through one-sided U.S. intervention; local capitalists who benefited from the new relations were also involved. Reforms during the mid-twentieth century only brought in further investment by providing tax incentives, a practice that continued until the 1970s. After new free trade agreements allowed U.S. businesses to relocate to cheaper markets, Puerto Rico slowly lost its edge and Congress eliminated the provisions for the tax incentives during a ten-year process, from 1996-2006. The remaining companies that left in 2006, coupled with the Great Recession of 2008,  created a “down-spiral of death” in the economy. Again, I’m oversimplifying the process. I would recommend that those interested in these issues read Judge Juan Torruella’s recent speech at the John Jay School of Law for a brilliant summary of the crisis.

GN: You open your book with a description of the thrill you felt while watching the live broadcast of Puerto Rico’s basketball team as they defeated the U.S. “Dream Team,” 92 points to 73, at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. What are some other important events in Puerto Rican athletic history?

AS: My book is not really a chronicle of great games or great events in Puerto Rican sport history. As a U.S. colony, I think  the greatest event in Puerto Rico’s Olympic history is having an Olympic delegation in the first place, a process negotiated with the most powerful empire the world has known. This story of Olympic agency and will is Puerto Rico’s greatest achievement.

GN: Finally, if our readers ever travel to Puerto Rico, what are some must-do, sports-related activities they should add to their itinerary?

AS: They should attend a professional baseball game during the winter season. The Professional Baseball League of Puerto Rico was established in 1938 and was, along with the one in Cuba, a training ground for some Hall of Fame major leaguers like Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, Perucho Cepeda, and Puerto Rico’s national hero, Roberto Clemente. The league champions participate at the famous Caribbean Series of professional baseball. They should also attend a basketball game of Puerto Rico’s Baloncesto Superior Nacional league, the island’s most popular sport along with baseball. At these games, the visitor will experience Caribbean sports, which are full of passion, music, and talent. As for sightseeing, they should visit the Parque Sixto Escobar, an art-deco stadium from 1935, named after Puerto Rico’s first boxing hero. The stadium is next to the popular Escambrón Beach. You can also visit the Casa Olímpica de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico’s Olympic Headquarters. Occupying the original YMCA building, the facility is great for hosting events and has an Olympic gym open to the public. A must-visit is Puerto Rico’s Albergue Olímpico in Salinas. There are athletic facilities to practice many sports and recreational activities. There are also children’s parks and pools, and you can visit Puerto Rico’s Olympic Museum.

The Peace Corps Celebrates 55 Years

Note: In addition to his work at the International and Area Studies Library, the author is also the Peace Corps Recruiter for the University of Illinois campus community. He served as a Volunteer in the Education sector from 2008 to 2010 in the Republic of Cabo Verde. Join Peace Corps at UIUC and the International & Area Studies Library from 3:00-4:30 on March 30, 2016 in the Main Library Room 106 for our “Peace Corps and the University” event.

Peace Corps Media Library: Ghana

Volunteer Mary McFall, 60, teaches dressmaking, math, and English at the National Women’s Training Centre in Madina, Ghana in 1980. Ghana was the first nation to receive Peace Corps Volunteers, starting in August 1961, five months after the agency was officially established. Source: Peace Corps Media Library.

When John F. Kennedy said the famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” during his presidential inaugural address on January 20, 1961, the plans were already in place to put substance and resources behind such a call to action. Soon later, on March 1st of that year, the U.S. Peace Corps was signed into law via Executive Order 10924:

This year, the Peace Corps celebrates 55 years since that day. Now, over 140 countries have been served by over 220,000 Volunteers, all working to promote the three goals of this independent federal agency:

  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women;
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served;
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

To find out more about the Peace Corps, check out these fast facts. This interactive timeline provides a wealth of historical information.

Since its inception, many books have been written about the Peace Corps experience.  Perhaps most well-known are those of the travel writer Paul Theroux. He has written both fiction and non-fiction works since he served as a Volunteer in the southern African nation of Malawi from 1963 to 1965. Theroux’s own Peace Corps story is a fascinating mix of adventure, political dissent, and humanitarianism. index.aspx

The Ugly American, a novel by government insiders William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick, was first published in 1958, when the seeds of the concept of international development support and “soft” diplomacy were just beginning to be sown in civil and political discourse. Contrary to what the title might seem to connote about U.S. hegemony and Americans’ bad behavior abroad, the eponymous “ugly American” of the story is in fact one of the few foreign nationals who integrates into the life of his adopted home, the fictional southeast Asian country of Sarkkan. His humility, goodwill, and skilled guidance in engineering allow him and his wife the opportunity to help their local community in a much more effective and sustainable fashion. This is contrasted with the more questionable approaches of the majority of other foreign workers in the region. Ideas such as Lederer’s and Burdick’s were integral to the earliest and most long-lasting principles of Peace Corps service.

John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man shows what can happen when a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) is tempted to use intimate knowledge of his host country for the benefit of an exploitative, for-profit endeavor after his service. The memoir offers a major caveat on the risks involved in international relations when large corporations are also interested players. This book also helps explain why the Peace Corps model may sometimes be viewed as suspicious by citizens of receiving nations.

For a comprehensive selection of titles written by Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, the Annotated Bibliography of Peace Corps Writers’ Books in the Library of Congress is an ideal starting point and is up-to-date as of the Peace Corps’ last major anniversary in 2011, its fiftieth. Below are a few more selected titles, all available at the University of Illinois Library:

Coyne, John. (Eds.) (1999) Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press.

Meisler, Stanley. (2011) When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years. Boston: Beacon Press.

Schwarz, Karen. (1991) What You Can Do for Your Country: An Oral History of the Peace Corps. New York: W. Morrow.

If you’d like to know more about the Peace Corps, realities of service, how to apply, or any other related information, please contact me at peacecorps@illinois.edu or via our Facebook page. The events below are also planned for the remainder of the Spring 2016 semester. All are welcome! Of particular note is the panel discussion on March 30th, “Peace Corps and the University,” which will bring together four University of Illinois faculty and staff members to discuss how their Peace Corps service led them to their current positions in various fields. This event is organized in collaboration with the International and Area Studies Library.

Date Event Location Zipcode  State
03/09/2016 UIUC Career and Internship Fair: Peace Corps Info Table Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), 201 E. Peabody Dr., Champaign 61820 Illinois
03/09/2016 Peace Corps Info Session: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
03/14/2016 Peace Corps Application Workshop: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
03/30/2016 “Peace Corps and the University” Panel Discussion Room 106, Main Library, 1408 W. Gregory Dr., Urbana 61801 Illinois
04/06/2016 Peace Corps Info Session: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
05/04/2016 Peace Corps Info Session: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois
05/05/2016 Peace Corps Application Workshop: Live, Learn and Work with a Community Overseas The Career Center, 715 S. Wright St., Champaign 61820 Illinois

Louis Riel, the Métis, and the Making of Modern Canada


Map of Rupert’s Land in North America, the extent of the territory administered by the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The recent Hollywood blockbuster The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an 1820s fur trader left for dead after a bear attack in the wilds of what are today the states of Montana and South Dakota. While the plot is partially fictional, much of actual North American history is referenced, including the harshness of the conditions surrounding the fur trade of the era. While some French-Canadians have condemned the film for its depictions of French-speaking voyageurs as lawless and immoral compared to the heroic American character portrayed by DiCaprio, the film is a strong contender for Best Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards. But where does the fiction end and the real history begin in this cinematic tour-de-force?

Before we answer that, let’s fast-forward from the 19th century back to the 21st for a moment. If you happen to be walking down the streets of one of Canada’s major cities like Winnipeg or Montreal, you might come across the name “Louis Riel” on certain government buildings and other official landmarks. You might suppose that this Riel fellow was a local hero, perhaps an important statesman or leader of some other kind from the pages of a history book. Given the French-sounding name, you might suppose that Monsieur Riel is somehow implicated in Canada’s origins (in part) as a colony of France. On all of these counts, you would not be wrong. But the deeper truth of Louis Riel’s story is as complex as any in North American history, and, moreover, essential to the establishment of the modern nation of Canada.

Chances are that while walking down the same hypothetical Canadian street, you would also likely be within a few miles’ radius of a certain department store called the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), often referred to today simply as “the Bay.” But, back when this particular company was founded – 346 years ago – it had a slightly longer, more ponderous title, as we will see shortly.

Cover of Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

Louis “David” Riel, Jr. (1844-1885) was a Métis (French: “mixed” – compare to Spanish mestizo or Portuguese mestiço), a descendant of both French fur traders and Canadian First Nations peoples such as the Cree. This distinct and semi-nomadic group, now recognized by the Canadian government as an Aboriginal people by the Constitution Act of 1982, represents an important phase of North American and especially Canadian history. For centuries, colonial-era French, Scottish, and English trappers ventured deep into the wilderness of what is now the northern United States and central Canada to supply the aforementioned Hudson’s Bay Company with commodities such as beaver pelts, highly valued in Europe for their quality and utility. Many of these intrepid men married women from the various First Nations groups and settled down with them to start families in small communities near the many lakes and rivers of the region. Such a community was the Red River Settlement, where Louis Riel was born and raised, on the site of what is today the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

KIC Image 0001

Original illustrations by Ronald Searle in the satirical The Great Fur Opera: Annals of the Hudson’s Bay Company 1670-1970

When France’s hold on the North American continent fell suddenly to the British at the culmination of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Year’s War) in 1763, French-descended and -speaking peoples such as the Quebecois and the Métis were, in many ways, at the mercy of their new colonial overlords. However, in the case of the Métis, many had already moved far to the west of the more populated areas of Quebec and Ontario (then known as Lower and Upper Canada, respectively) into what are today the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. For approximately a century thereafter, the relationship between the Métis and the Hudson’s Bay Company – established by English charter since 1670 as “The Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay” – would continue as it had in the same spirit of “heroic commerce,” as some historians have put it. Therefore, these lands were not yet a part of the soon-to-be sovereign Dominion of Canada, but instead made up an unincorporated territory of the ambiguous “Rupert’s Land,” as the drainage basin of the gargantuan Hudson’s Bay had been called since the British had claimed it via the Hudson’s Bay Company in the seventeenth century.

In 1869, when the newly independent government of Canada – though still under allegiance to the British crown as the ultimate legal authority – began to expand its jurisdiction into territories west of Ontario, including what is now the province of Manitoba, the local Métis, First Nations, and also various European or Euro-descended settlers were presented with a precarious dilemma: fight for independence or become a part of the new nation of Canada?

Louis Riel was the most prominent leader of the camp in opposition to these expansionist plans envisioned by Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Riel had been educated in Montreal and thus spoke English and was well-versed in the political dynamics of the time. When the surveying of the land began, Riel immediately was able to begin negotiations with the mostly Ontario-based prospectors and administrators that sought to establish the Red River area as a new province. At one point, Riel was even elected to Canadian Parliament in Ottawa. As Riel would soon find, however, these newcomers’ plans did not consider the specific rights, cultures, and land claims of the original and historical inhabitants. Moreover, much of the Canadian government’s plans included displacing the mostly Catholic Métis with white, Protestant Ontarians. Conflict seemed inevitable.


Louis Riel circa 1884. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Riel fought against the standing powers more with his voice and his pen than with any physical violence for the more than fifteen years of his involvement in the conflict. To avoid threats to his life, he spent long stretches of time in exile at the Métis settlement of Pembina, just across the U.S. border in Montana. However, because of his implication in the controversial public execution of an Anglophone settler named Thomas Scott in 1870, Riel was eventually convicted of high treason against the British crown in 1885 and was executed later that month by hanging. Meanwhile, back east, a majority of the Francophone population of Quebec seethed in opposition to such severe sentencing.

Though Riel was executed, his story and that of his people were integral to the cultural and ideological foundations of Canada, including its French, British, and First Nations heritages (and the mixtures thereof). In recognition of the man who is now considered the Founder of Manitoba, in 1992, the Canadian Parliament established the third Monday of February as Louis Riel Day, a statutory holiday celebrated in Manitoba that coincides with Family Day celebrated in other Canadian provinces. This year, Louis Riel Day falls on Monday, February 15, 2016.

The historian Thomas Flanagan writes, “Louis Riel is perhaps the most prominent name in Canadian history. In his brief political career, he personified the enduring antagonism of Canadian history: French against English, native against white, West against East. Not surprisingly, there is intense controversy over the significance of his life. He has been called a rebel and a patriot, a villain and a hero, a madman and a saint – and still the debate continues.”

As for the Hudson’s Bay Company, today it stands as the oldest merchandising company in the world.


The Hudson’s Bay Company’s flagship store in Toronto, Ontario, 2012. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For more information about Louis Riel, the Métis, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the founding of Canada, check the links shown above as well as the following books available through the University of Illinois Library:

Adams, Christopher, Gregg Dahl & Ian Peach (Eds.). 2013. Métis in Canada: History, Identity, Law & Politics. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: The University of Alberta Press.

Andersen, Chris. 2014. Métis: Race, Recognition, and the Struggle for Indigenous Peoplehood. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: UBC Press.

Bliss, Michael (Ed.). 1974. The Queen v Louis Riel. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bown, Stephen R. 2009. Merchant Kings: When Companies Ruled the World, 1600-1900. Chapter 5: “Empire of the Beaver: Sir George Simpson and the Hudson’s Bay Company.” New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Flanagan, Thomas. 1992. “Louis Riel.” Historical Booklet, No. 50. Ottawa: The Canadian Historical Association.

Huel, Raymond (Ed.). 1985. The Collected Writings of Louis Riel/Les Ecrits complet de Louis Riel, Volume 1: 29 December 1861 – 7 December 1875. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: The University of Alberta Press.

Rich, E.E. (Ed.). 1958. The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870, Volume 1: 1670-1763. London: The Hudson’s Bay Record Society.

Sprague, D.N. 1988. Canada and the Métis, 1869-1885. Waterloo, ON, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Interview: The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

This week we sit down with IAS Library Head/Interim Japanese Studies Librarian Steve Witt to discuss the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Professor Witt is the current editor of the IFLA Journal, among other functions he has served therein. We also discuss how interested parties might become involved in IFLA.

SteveCroppedGlocal Notes: What is your role in IFLA?

Steve Witt: I’ve been the Editor of the IFLA Journal since August of 2014.  IFLA Journal is an international journal publishing peer reviewed articles on library and information services and the social, political and economic issues that impact access to information through libraries.

In the past I’ve served on IFLA Professional Committee and Governing Board plus some of the professional sections such as Social Science Libraries, Library Theory and Research, and the Library History SIG.


GN: What is the University of Illinois Library’s general relationship with IFLA?

SW: The University of Illinois is an institutional member of IFLA and has a long-standing history of leadership in the association that goes back generations of librarians. I recall being a Graduate Assistant in the 1990’s and working with Robert Wedgeworth, who was the President of IFLA at the time. Lynne Rudasill, Global Studies Librarian, just served as the Chair of IFLA’s Professional Committee, and Susan Schnuer of the Mortenson Center was awarded the IFLA Scroll in 2015. Many librarians in IAS and throughout the library are active in different IFLA sections.  IFLA’s annual conference attracts many U of I Librarians; there is a long standing joke that many of us only see each other at IFLA.


GN: What are some of the recent, popular trends in IFLA?

SW: Over the past few years, IFLA has transformed itself into a key player in advocacy globally for information policy issues that range from access, privacy, transparency, and intellectual freedom. The impact of this work directly contributed to the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/marrakesh/). The IFLA Trend Report provides an excellent overview of some of the issues that IFLA is currently focusing on: http://trends.ifla.org/. These include the way new technologies expand and limit access to information; online education as a democratic and yet disruptive force in global learning, boundaries in privacy and data protection; and the transformation of the global information environment.


GN: What can you tell us about the IFLA fellows program?

SW: The ALA’s IFLA Fellowship program is an excellent opportunity to attend this year’s conference, which will take place in Columbus, OH. Another opportunity for support to attend the conference in Columbus is to volunteer. The organizing committee is recruiting hundreds of librarians and library science students to provide volunteer help during the conference.  For more information on this, I’d suggest visiting: https://library.osu.edu/news/ifla-volunteers/.


GN: What is a simple way to get involved with IFLA?

SW: Show up! The best way to get involved with IFLA is to attend a conference and show up at one of the professional section meetings. These groups are always have interesting projects that might provide an opportunity to get involved in IFLA’s work. As an organization, IFLA presents an excellent networking opportunity to engage with librarians and leaders in the field from all over the world. Some of my closest colleagues and friends are people I’ve met through IFLA.

For more information, check out IFLA’s main site: http://www.ifla.org/.