Friday, July 17, 2009

Other Wise Latinas Speak

Los Angeles Times editorial writer Marjorie Miller posted a remarkable op-ed piece which is comprised of the responses of three successful Latinas to the manufactured kerfuffle over Sonia Sotomayor's use of the term "wise Latina" in a speech given eight years ago. Those responses are brilliant counterpoints to the sterile posturing of the privileged old white boys on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

First, Rossana Rosado, Publisher, El Diario, New York:

I've given a lot of thought to why the "wise Latina" speech caused such an uproar and how it plays to different audiences. Women in my professional and personal circles are busy ordering T-shirts and buttons with the phrase. We want to be wise Latinas.

The senators seem to be reacting to the second half of her statement, the part where she said a wise Latina was likely "to reach a better conclusion than a white man who had not lived that life." ...

I think most women in this country embrace the concept that you bring something as a woman that you don't bring as a man. "Better" in the context of that speech was fine. I think surely that if you knew something you said today was going on the record for something very important you were going to do years from now, surely you would say it very differently. But as we have watched a panel of predominantly white men questioning her, it's no surprise that they might be put off by that description.

Next, Maria Elena Durazo, Executive secretary-treasurer, L.A. County Federation of Labor:

For me, a wise Latina means diversity. I think she brings the experiences of people of color, the experiences of families struggling from lower socioecon backgrounds. She brings the experience of overcoming enormous obstacles to go to an Ivy League school and graduate cum laude. It's a very good experience to bring to the judiciary because her background represents more people in this country than the background of those members of the court who come from well-to-do families. ...

Sotomayor is more experienced and qualified than anyone sitting on the Supreme Court today from a strictly legal perspective. She's been a prosecutor, she worked at a firm, she's been a District Court judge, a Court of Appeals judge, she's had the best education from a qualified legal perspective. As a Latina, I really take offense when you're supposed to work your hardest, you're supposed to do everything they tell you to do, and then they hang you up for a speech you made years earlier.

When she made the "wise Latina" comment, you have to understand the context. For her generation -- my generation -- there weren't any role models. We are trying to be role models to our younger generation. And that speech was made in that context, an inspirational, motivational speech to motivate others.

I think her demeanor and comportment in these hearings have been a real positive for all young women. I think she is positioning herself so that girls can see, yes, even under very unpleasant circumstance, it's possible to take the high road. That's the positive.

Finally, from Josefina Lopez, author of the play/film "Real Women Have Curves" and the novel "Hungry Woman in Paris":

Working in Hollywood makes me jaded, but seeing her on the Supreme Court bench makes me think anything is possible. I think it will also make young women, young Latinas, take themselves seriously. There was a study done that Latina teenagers have the highest suicide rate. A lot of them suffer depression, which is a normal response to being told they don't have options. To see this woman, who has behaved beautifully and powerfully and has earned this right to be there, makes other women like me go, "Yeah, it's our turn, we're not waiting anymore, we're not just here to be your cleaning lady. We're put on this Earth to contribute intellectually and creatively too!" I am so proud of her. We should be proud of ourselves as Americans for this moment in history.

I have no illusions that Sonia Sotomayor will lead the court, by herself, to a place where justice will be the norm for all people. So far, she gives no indication that she will be another Justice Douglas. Like Justices Roberts and Alito, her testimony before the Senate committee was geared to make her sound like nothing more than a legal mechanic.

Still, I do think she will bring a unique and hitherto unprecedented perspective to that integral third part of our tripartite democracy. If nothing else, she represents those of us who were not born on third base and carried across the plate by wealthy parents and their connections as most of her inquisitors on the Senate Judiciary Committee were. And for our latest group of new citizens, she stands as a beacon.

And for all of that I am grateful.

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