Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When and Where I Enter...


Watching Barack Obama name Federal Appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his Supreme Court nominee gave me chills; it was an example of coalition building at its finest.

It was a singularly stunning moment: the nation's first African-American president, born of modest means and raised by a single parent, proferring this honor upon a Latina of Puerto Rican descent, born of modest means and raised by a single parent. Hey LaVida, listen closely -- hear that? It's the sound of a paradigm shifting.

You just know that privately, conservatives everywhere were rolling around on the floor in a circle like Curly from the Three Stooges, frustrated. Mad!

They are mad because, like with Obama, there's little they can legitimately assail about Sotomayor. Both Obama and Judge Sotomayor are beneficiaries of affirmative action and the Civil Rights movement who, unlike Clarence Thomas, have engaged those advantages in thoughtful, strategic and forward-thinking ways. She's a solid moderate with at least 400 published opinions for which very few have been overturned.

So I had to laugh listening to Ann Coulter, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, assorted Republican legislators and others of their ilk call the Ivy Leagued-educated appellate judge everything from stupid to "racist" for the now-famous line from her 2001 speech "A Latina Judge's Voice" where she asserted,
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Their reactionary fog, of course, prevents them from seeing that affirming herself and her experiences does not negate white men or anyone else. The exploitation of that quote got me to actually go back and read the entire speech and it made me respect her even more. Sotomayor was born in 1954 -- the same year as the landmark Brown v. Bd. of Ed. decision, and the era she grew up in is never lost on her. I think there's great beauty and great intellect in her acknowledgement of how she moves through the world.

That she talks with as much ease about growing up in a Bronx tenement eating arroz, gandoles y pernir with family members as she can about the negligible representation of Latino and African-American judges in the federal judiciary speaks volumes. Sotomayor is not interested in downplaying any part of herself, as she recognizes that she doesn't have to. That she loves and values her Latina self as much as she does her legal scholar self should be applauded, not feared. You can't recognize one without the other and all of it makes her better.

Obama's selection inspired a TIME Magazine piece claiming that this is a bridge in the Black-Latino divide. The story fails to take take into account that there has always been coalition building between Blacks and Latinos on important issues, from them standing with us during the civil rights movement to us standing with them on various issues, including Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers and all of us standing together to usher Obama into office shouting and singing "Si se puede".

I was reminded, watching coverage of Judge Sotomayor's nomination, of the great quote from African-American educator and feminist Anna Julia Cooper's 1892 speech to Black clergyman: "When and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood...then and there the whole race enters with me."

Viva Sotomayor!


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