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What Mónica Puig’s Gold Medal Means to Puerto Ricans

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Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune

Mónica Puig wins the gold for herself, she won the gold for la isla, she won the gold for mi gente. Unfortunately, with my people…it can never be just about you. Sorry, Mónica.

I don’t give a fuck about sports. Which means I could give two shits about the Olympics. But, when Mónica Puig won the gold for Puerto Rico, my FB feed was lit with an overwhelming presence of wepa this, wepa that and #picapower. I did not join in the festivities, because I don’t like to jump on a  bandwagon, but also because I know this moment is fleeting. It all comes with a grain of salt. Still, I’m sure Puerto Ricans would agree…it’s just nice to have something positively adjacent to the mention of La Isla del Encanto.

Puerto Rico has been sending athletes to the Olympics since 1948, the same year the “gag” law was put into effect by the Puerto Rican legislature making it a felony to own or display the Puerto Rican flag – only the flag of the USA was allowed to be flown over the island, a constant reminder of who reigned over its inhabitants – sing a song, speak, write or canoodle with anyone that promoted Puerto Rican independence. A law that remained a law until 1957. The flag we see Mónica carrying is the original azul design from 1895 chosen by Puerto Ricans involved in the Cuban Revolution. This flag that waved in the revolt against the Spanish, the flag that they changed when Puerto Rico became a “commonwealth” of the United States.   

Like so many other Puerto Ricans, Mónica is strong. It’s not surprising that Mónica adopted the nickname “pica” (someone who chops away at the obstacles in front of them) from her Belgian coach, Alain de Vos. He told her she had to fight hard and give everything she had if she wanted to be a winner. And a winner she is.

Everyone loves a hero and these days, that’s how most of us see athletes. We turn them into demigods, incapable of enacting human-like tendencies, until they do and the public goes into anaphylactic shock for what was inevitable. Now that Puerto Rico has a gold medal winning athlete, maybe they’ll finally start paying attention to our demands in hopes of monetizing on our strength. It all seems to be about more than just the Hato Rey born 22-year-old Monica, who like the flag she is carrying is both Cuban and Puerto Rican. It also seems to be about…sometimes it can be hard to see…well, it’s just nice to win one. Even if the moment is fleeting. #picapower

Cue the anthem

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