LatinaLista — As the first Latina Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has gotten a lot of grief partly over the very thing that makes her nomination so historically significant — the fact that she is Latina.
Over the last few days of her confirmation hearings, Judge Sotomayor has repeatedly been taken to task by Republican senators for uttering the words “wise Latina” when she shared her inspirational story with a Berkeley law symposium audience. Her usage of the words in that 2001 speech have now been turned into a catch phrase to mean other than what Judge Sotomayor ever intended.
She knew only too well how much of an anomaly she was as a Latina federal judge. When she was invited to participate in the UC Berkeley School of Law symposium “Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation, where she delivered, the now infamous, “A Latina Judge’s Voice,” she was addressing an audience that was keen to see more women and people of color advance to her level of success.
Her mission that night was two-fold: to deliver a speech that not only showcased a typical rags-to-riches success story but inspire and motivate the women and younger Latinos in the audience to believe they could achieve their dreams too. Being a rare breed, the first Latina nominated to sit on a federal appellate court, she had to draw on her identity to illustrate by example that if she could make it, so could they.
What wiser method of inspiration is there than through personal example?
Yet, words in a speech that achieved its goals are now being stripped of the true meaning they’re supposed to convey and being reduced as the butt of jokes.
To the disgust of the Latino community, and really, women everywhere, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham had the arrogance during his confirmation questioning to tell Sotomayor, “Don’t become a speechwriter, if this law thing doesn’t work out, because these speeches really throw a wrinkle into everything.”
It was obvious that the only wrinkles Sotomayor’s speeches created were those on the forehead of Sen. Graham as he tried to get her to admit that she had “misspoke.”
But she didn’t.
Browbeaten to admit that her selection of the words “wise Latina” was “bad,” Sotomayor has consistently pointed out that the words, when looked at in the context of the speech, are consistent with the message she was trying to convey that night.
Yet too many people are still hung up on trying to understand what is a “wise Latina.” As a Latina, and the publisher since 2004 of this blog, which in English means “Wise Latina,” I can say that the term doesn’t conceal a hidden agenda nor implies an ethnic superiority.
The usage of the term is only a means of identification but it can easily be replaced with Asian, African American, Anglo (women) etc. By using the term “wise,” it simply conveys a continual self-education.
Whether that education involves studying the facts of law cases, keeping abreast of the news or staying informed about local issues — the knowledge that is gleaned helps practitioners of this train of thought to balance the different sides of every situation and render an opinion that is felt to be the most fair.
Throughout her questioning, Sotomayor proved time and time again that she practices such a belief. Her thoughtful responses to the questions, her clarification of her remarks, and her explanations of looking at the totality of the picture, are all signs that she is not just a wise woman but she is a person who has learned her lessons well and is stronger for it.
Several senators have gone on record saying they will vote for Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court justice and that’s a positive step towards providing more high-profile judicial role models for women and people of color.
Yet, the biggest gain from Sotomayor’s confirmation is that she brings with her to the bench a collective pride from an underrepresented community that is still trying to prove they are equally worthy for positions that call for intelligence, experience and yes — wisdom.