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.

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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.

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International Week 2016: Knowing Our Campus, Community, and World

名称未設定With spring break over and classes back in session, are you already bored of studying and need to relax by doing something different? Or, are you interested in knowing and experiencing foreign languages and different cultures? If so, you will likely enjoy International Week at Illinois. Our university appoints the second week of April as International Week. This year’s celebrations will last from Monday, April 4 to Sunday, April 10.

International Week is comprised of a series of educational, cultural, and recreational events designed to foster interest in our global community. Coordinated by Illinois International and a cross-campus organizing committee, International Week seeks to raise awareness about the breadth of international education, activities, and resources available to the Illinois campus and local community. The following are some highlights:

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Image: UIUC Engineering website

International Week 2016 Schedule

Mon, Apr. 4, 5:00-6:00 pm
Undergraduate Research, Study Abroad and Internship Opportunities
“Learn about Engineering undergraduate research, study abroad and internship opportunities! Meet the Engineering Coordinator of Undergraduate Research, and get involved!”

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Image: UIUC Economics website

Tue, Apr. 5, 11:00 am-2:00 pm
Travel Around the World
“Travel Around the World (TATW) is an interactive experience that promotes cultural understanding and engagement. ‪Illinois students will take on the role of ‘travelers,’ and will each receive an Illinois travel ticket. These ‘travelers’ will then be able to collect stamps from various ‘cultural destinations’ as they navigate booths created by Illinois students from across the globe.”

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Image: Website of Peace Corps

Wed, Apr. 6, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm
Peace Corps Info Session
“Change lives, including your own, by serving in the Peace Corps. You will make a difference for a community in need, gain cross-cultural skills and field experience for your career, and bring your global perspective back home to share with others. Join us at this Information Session to learn about Volunteer experiences, have your questions answered, and gain tips to guide you through the application process.”

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Image: http://www.bridgestone.com/

Thu, Apr. 7, 3:00 pm-5:00 pm
Global Career Opportunity-Work Abroad
“5 panelists will share their work abroad experiences. They will also talk about how they found their employment opportunities, what intercultural challenges they faced, and how the work abroad experiences helped them in their career development. The list of the panelists will be announced soon.”

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Image: UIUC International Week website

Fri, Apr. 8, 8:00 pm
Utopian Songwriting: Music, Nation, Modernity and Censorship in 1960s Brazil
“This concert/discussion explores multidisciplinary connections between music and political activism during the early years of the military dictatorship in Brazil as part of the on-going program on Global Utopias of the Center for Historical Interpretation. Held at a local club, the event presents music from Brazilian songwriters including Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Geraldo Vandre, Toninho Horta and Egberto Gismonti, who became prominent through music festivals organized by TV networks during the 1960s.”

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Image: UIUC Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies website

Sat, Apr. 9, 2:30 pm-3:30 pm
Spanish Story Time: “Talking with Mother Earth/ Hablando con la madre tierra” by Lucia Angela Pérez
“Spanish Story Time is a community event organized by CLACS & the Urbana Free Library, since 2006. At this event, children and their parents join to participate in Spanish-English bilingual storytelling, live music and art.”

 

 

 

 

These events are only a few of all the events to be held during International Week. Check the International Week calendar to find an event that interests you and learn more about our global community. If you want more resources about foreign languages and cultures before, during, or after International Week, you are always welcome to visit us here at the International and Area Studies Library and at our library website.

Have a great International Week 2016!

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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
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