The Meaning of 'Sotomayor'
By Miguel Pérez
August 11, 2009 - The feeling is hard to explain. Ethnic pride is like intense love -- something you just can't put into words. You have to feel it to understand it.
This is why, in the U.S. Hispanic community -- in ways that are incomprehensible to many non-Latino Americans -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor's rise to the U.S. Supreme Court is not seen as just one woman's achievement.
It is the triumph of an entire community. Instead of "she did it," all over the country, most of the nation's 45 million Latinos are telling themselves, "We did it!"
To us, the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court is the culmination of a long-fought struggle for community empowerment. It is due recognition that Latinos have a lot to contribute to this great nation -- as we have for centuries, since before we were even a nation.
To most Hispanics, the fact that she was born and raised the Bronx, N.Y, and describes herself as a "Nuyorican" is an immense source of pride.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some Latinos are prouder of being Republicans than Hispanic. And because they tend to repeat the same anti-immigrant hatred spewed by some GOP leaders, to them, Sotomayor is a "wise Latina" who practices reverse discrimination and who probably will rule unfairly in favor of liberal minorities. They tell you, "Yeah, it's good that she is a Latina, but she's too liberal for my taste." Ethnic pride is secondary to them.
Of course, these are a minute minority of Latinos, people much further to the right than even the lone Latino Republican in the Senate, Florida's Mel Martinez, who expressed pride in Sotomayor's nomination and voted to confirm her. But these extreme right-wing Latinos are out there, and they often are used by conservative politicians trying to justify their racist attitudes. Such politicians claim that they have Latino constituents who feel the same way.
Nevertheless, to the overwhelming majority of Latinos, not only in this country but also throughout the world, Sotomayor's Senate confirmation has elicited that ethnic feeling that words can't describe, the one felt by most members of the African diaspora when Obama was elected to become our first African-American president.
Those politicians who fail to see Sotomayor's significance to Latinos are either totally insensitive to the value of ethnic pride or purposely choosing to favor that so-called Republican conservative base that is assumed to be anti-immigrant.
Frankly, the only thing they are doing is shooting themselves in the foot, alienating themselves from a voting bloc that could swing many elections for decades to come. Instead of looking for ways to cure the widespread xenophobia among Republican conservatives so that Latinos feel welcomed by their party, they promote fear of foreigners, try to demean the ethnic pride that Sotomayor gives to Latinos, and repel Hispanic voters.
Sotomayor's confirmation, by a 68-31 margin, will not go unnoticed. The consequences in future elections will be huge. Latinos will not forget that it was Obama who nominated her and Democrats who supported her or that only nine Republican senators voted to confirm her. They will not forget how she was hounded -- over her remarks about her ethnicity -- by some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Democrat who chairs that committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, explained it quite eloquently on the Senate floor. "Judge Sotomayor's career and judicial record demonstrates that she has always followed the rule of law," Leahy said. "Attempts at distorting that record by suggesting that her ethnicity or heritage will be the driving force in her decisions as a justice of the Supreme Court are demeaning to women and all communities of color."
Among those who turned their backs on Sotomayor and her historic achievement for all Latinos was Sen. John McCain, who flirts with Latinos and tries to defend their civil rights but then always caves in to the so-called conservative base -- sometimes within a period of only hours. One day last week, McCain was on a Spanish-language TV network talking about the huge ground Republicans have lost among Latino voters, and the next day, he was on the Senate floor voting against Sotomayor and surely losing the respect of many Latinos who voted for him over Obama last November.
Perhaps even our "moderate amigo" McCain just doesn't get it. For most Latinos, when he voted against Sotomayor, he voted against all of us.
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