Camacho-Quinn's historic Olympic win sparks discussion on Puerto Rican identity

Jasmine Camacho-Quinn proudly displays the Puerto Rican flag after winning a gold medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (held in 2021). Screenshot from video.

Jasmine Camacho-Quinn proudly displays the Puerto Rican flag after winning a gold medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (held in 2021). Screenshot from Youtube video/NBC sports.

On the night of August 1, Puerto Ricans everywhere celebrated with rapturous joy Jasmine Camacho-Quinn's gold medal win for the women's 100-meter hurdles at the Olympics in Tokyo.

With Puerto Rico having to endure so much negative news about its fiscal woes, gender-based violence, and deteriorating public services and infrastructure, all while surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, Camacho-Quinn's historic gold medal brings a much welcome bit of good news.

Camacho-Quinn is only the second Puerto Rican ever to win a gold medal for the Caribbean island. Tennis player Mónica Puig was the first when she won five years ago in Rio de Janeiro.

Camacho-Quinn's family can be seen in the following video celebrating the historic moment:

@JCamachoQuinn's family celebrates! Boricua wins gold medal at the #Tokyo2020 #OlympicGames.

But her accomplishments don't stop there. In the semifinals, she obtained an Olympic record-setting time of 12.26 seconds, breaking the previous record of 12.35 seconds held by Australian Sally Peterson. This also makes Camacho-Quinn the first Puerto Rican to set an Olympic record.

Her story is one of perseverance. In the semifinals during her first Olympics in 2016, her leg clipped the top of the eighth hurdle (of a total of ten), impeding her from regaining her form before the ninth and causing her to fall. Now, with a renewed spirit, she was able to tweet the following:

Lawyer and human rights activist Eva Prados pointed out some important facts about this historic occasion:

Did you know that our first and only Olympic gold medals have been won by two WOMEN under the administration of the first WOMAN [Sara Rosario] that presides the [Puerto Rico] Olympic Committee? Talking about this is an example of education with #GenderPerspective in sports.

Camacho-Quinn is a Puerto Rican from the diaspora and lives in the United States. Even though Puerto Rico is not an independent country, but a U.S. territory, the IOC has recognized Puerto Rico as its own team competing separately from the U.S. Olympic team since 1948; thus, athletes can choose which country to represent. Camacho-Quinn decided to represent her mother's homeland of Puerto Rico.

However, some Puerto Ricans questioned whether or not she could be considered Puerto Rican, since she was born and raised in the U.S. Others fiercely defended her for choosing to represent the Puerto Rican flag, such as educator and activist and Xiomara Torres Rivera, who wrote the following on Todas, an online magazine dedicated to journalism from a feminist perspective:

No son pocas las personas que se han tomado el tiempo para expresar que Jasmine no es puertorriqueña porque ni siquiera entrena aquí. A esta discusión, podríamos traer el reclamo al Comité Olímpico y al gobierno de Puerto Rico para mejorar las condiciones de los y las atletas que sí entrenan aquí y no logran traer medallas, pero ese es otro tema. Los deportes siempre han sido una manera de manifestar nuestra existencia ante el mundo. De nombrarnos como otra cosa y de empeñarnos en reafirmar que no somos estadounidenses, que somos de Puerto Rico.

Quite a few people have taken the time to say that Jasmine isn't Puerto Rican because she doesn't even train here [in Puerto Rico]. To this discussion we could add the calls to both the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee and the government to improve the conditions of the athletes that do train here and do not manage to bring medals, but that's a different issue. Sports have always been a way to declare our existence before the world. Of naming ourselves as something else and to insist on reaffirming that we are not US Americans, that we are Puerto Ricans.

Clinical psychologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, Jenny Zhen Duan, who identifies as Puerto Rican and Chinese, wrote that she could relate well to the criticisms launched at Camacho-Quinn:

During the last Olympics people wouldn't stop judging “how Puerto Rican” Mónica Puig was if “she couldn't speak Spanish well and wasn't raised on the island.” I'm seeing the same discourse with Jasmine Camacho-Quinn. Don't you get tired of isolating others? I've lived it my whole life and it's exhausting.

An anonymous Twitter user made the following observation:

Neuroscientist and professor at Yale University, Daniel Colón Ramos, gave his definition of what it means to be Puerto Rican, while making another equally important point about the lack of support of Puerto Rican athletes training in Puerto Rico:

There's a legitimate question to reflect on Camacho-Quinn's accomplishments when considering how many more athletes would become like her if the ones that train here [in Puerto Rico] would get the support they need. Aside from that, to me, a Puerto Rican is someone who loves Puerto Rico and works hard for the homeland. Everything else just diminishes the merits of those who choose to represent our flag.

Journalist Alejandra Jover also pointed out one other important fact about Camacho-Quinn that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves in the conversation surrounding her Olympic victory: her ethnicity. In her Twitter thread, Jover explains why this is so important to celebrate:

¿Saben por qué es importante? Porque son muchas, DEMASIADAS las niñas y mujeres negras de la Isla a las que se les ha hecho sentir como si fueran menos por su color de piel, por su cabello natural, por sus rasgos. Por su negritud. Y Jasmine ahora las representa y le da un rostro a la lucha por defender las raíces africanas en Puerto Rico, que muchos reniegan.

Do you know why it's important? Because there are many, TOO MANY Black Puerto Rican girls and women who have been made to feel as if they're somehow less beacuse of the color of their skin, because of their natural hair, because of their features. Because of their Blackness. And Jasmine now represents and gives a face to the struggle of defending Puerto Rico's African roots, that many reject.

But perhaps the most eloquent comment about Camacho-Quinn came from Marisol LeBrón, professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California in Santa Cruz, who managed to capture in a tweet a very common Puerto Rican experience:

With Camacho-Quinn's gold medal, Puerto Rico joins the celebration in the Caribbean with Bermuda's and Jamaica's victories, made even more significant by the fact that they've all been accomplished by women.

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