If the US beat Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and Puerto Rico is part of the United States, does that mean the United State beat and lost to itself?On Wednesday, the United States defeated Puerto Rico 8-0 to win its first World Baseball Classic in four years. Newspapers ran headlines reading, “America Beats Puerto Rico to Win WBC.” Many were left shaking their heads, however, since Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States. Puerto Rico has been a United States territory for the almost 120 years and Puerto Ricans have been legally considered US citizens since 1918. While the island itself does not enjoy voting representation in Congress, Puerto Ricans who move to the mainland can vote in local, state, and federal elections. There is no such thing as a “Puerto Rican immigrant” here in the United States. So did the United States beat the best the world has to offer? Or was this just a game between America and itself? It depends on who you ask… Puerto Rico has long competed in international athletics under its own flag. Tennis player Monica Puig won Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro last year. If she had wanted to compete for the American team, she could have. The decision comes down to identity. While Puerto Ricans are US citizens, they salute their own flag and sing their own anthem. The same goes for many American competitors. Dozens of Americans competed on foreign teams in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Many chose this as a way of saluting their heritage. Others realized that their times/scores weren’t competitive enough to make the American national team, so they competed under foreign banners in order to punch their ticket.
For Puerto Ricans, it is a matter of national pride, but that isn’t true for all Caribbean islands. The “ABC Islands” of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Like Puerto Rico, Aruba and Curacao are largely self-governing. However, when Curacaoans competed in the World Baseball Classic this year, they were wearing the orange caps of the Netherlands. Puerto Rico is holding a referendum this summer on whether to petition for statehood or declare independence. When the island held a referendum in 2012, a slim majority of Puerto Ricans voted against remaining a US territory. However, they were split on how to proceed. The 2017 referendum will be the first in the island’s history that does not include an option to remain a US territory. Voters will only have two options: US statehood or independence. The result of this referendum will determine whether islanders can continue to compete internationally under the Puerto Rican flag. If Puerto Rico does eventually become a state, there won’t be a Puerto Rican national team. Instead, they’ll be competing under the Stars and Stripes. Many on the island want the Puerto Rican national team be disbanded as a sign of good faith if the people vote to pursue US statehood. Until then, it seems Americans will continue to dominate international baseball, just under two different flags.