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The real meaning of a “wise Latina”

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.

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Comment(20)

  • Avatar
    Horace
    July 15, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    “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.”
    To the average citizen this means that she’s too arrogant to admit to her mistakes. The ability to boast about one’s accomplishments and to deny one’s mistakes seems to be ingrained in Latino cutlure. It’s called machismo, a well known phenomenon with Latin American males, but sometime expressed by assertive females. It’s one reason that why so many Latin American males arrogantly demand special privilege for Latin American illegal aliens.
    As I recall, one Congressman had only to refer to someone as “macaca” to lose his job. It would be fair to deny a seat on SCOTUS based up her public statements, especially if they could be construed as expressing racial or ethnic superiority.
    “By using the term “wise,” it simply conveys a continual self-education.”
    Oh really? Now you claim to know what she was thinking when she said what she did. Ok, I challenge you. What am I thinking at this very moment? You deign to speak for someone mature enough to speak for herself. If she can’t defend herself in the court of public opinion, how can we expect to succeed as a judge?
    LG has already said that he’ll vote for her. What more do you want? He just doesn’t love her the way you do, clouded by your biased judgments based upon ethnicity and demand for diversity. I know, you like this just to be a rubber stamp session that would make a mockery of the appointment process.
    I praise Sessions because he takes the nominating process seriously, unlike the fawning Democrats who spend endless hours praising instead of vetting. At this point, all the Democrats are just marionettes, with the party bosses pulling the strings.
    Personally, I think that you will be disappointed by her, as she may not be the ethnicentric lapdog that you’d like her to be.

  • Avatar
    Evelyn
    July 16, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Let’s face it, what we’re watching here is a bunch of Good Old White Boys running scared. They’re seeing their smug, racist, misogynist world crashing down around them and they don’t like it one bit.
    ~
    If you read the liberal blogosphere, you know about Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions’s history of dubious racial statements. If you’re following on most of the mainstream media, you don’t. You might even buy the Alabama Republican’s not-so-subtle assertion that Sotomayor is a “racist” — discriminating against whites — while Sessions is above any considerations of color. This will change only if some Democratic Senator on the judicial committee (though probably not Al Franken) calls Session on his game, and calls him on his history.
    Sessions, as you may know, was rejected for a federal court seat after calling the NAACP “un-American” because it “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” He also called a white attorney a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans. And during a murder investigation of the Ku Klux Klan, he joked, as black former assistant US Attorney Thomas Figures testified in Sessions’s original hearings, about how he had no problems with the Klan until he discovered they were pot smokers. He also warned Figures to “be careful what you say to white folks.” It’s ugly stuff, and consistent with his racially charged questioning of Judge Sotomayor: He said she should have voted with a fellow Puerto Rican judge whose opinions he endorsed, asking, “Is there any instance in which you’d let your prejudice impact your decisions?”
    But the major media still hasn’t covered Sessions’s history. It’s too loaded, jarring, and ugly. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin did raise related issues, saying: “What’s worth noting about what Jeff Sessions — the line of questioning, was that being a white man, that’s normal. Everybody else has biases and prejudices … but the white man, they don’t have any ethnicity, they don’t have any gender, they’re just like the normal folks.”
    But the worst of the history remains largely buried, and therefore invisible to most of the public. For that to change, some Democratic senator on the judicial committee must breach Senate decorum, and say bluntly and unequivocally that someone with Sessions’s history can’t say Sotomayor’s relationship to her racial identity makes her less fit to be a Supreme Court Justice. They’ll have to say that so strongly that the major media has to cover it, and therefore make it central to the hearings.
    A Democratic senator must do this because it’s the truth and it will resonate politically. The way Sessions, Rush Limbaugh and others are going after Sotomayor jibes with how the Republicans are now the party of older white Southerners — barely reconstructed Confederates. In an electorate that’s becoming younger and more racially diverse, that’s not a winning brand. So while some in the heart of dear old Dixie may cheer Sessions on, my hunch is that most now coming of age feel at least somewhat embarrassed about his approach. So do most whites in the rest of the country, particularly younger ones. So do the Latinos who are proudly anticipating Sotomayor’s ratification. And the Republicans have long since lost the African American vote, something black RNC chairman Michael Steele is unlikely to reverse with recent talk of winning them back with “fried chicken and potato salad.” (What, no watermelon?)
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-loeb/the-sotomayor-hearings–b_b_234102.html

  • Avatar
    cookie
    July 16, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Let’s be honest here. If a white male judge had made the statement that he would make better decisions and be wiser based on his gender, race and life experiences rather than a Latino female judge, you ethnocntrics would be all over that like fleas on a dog and calling him a racist! What hypocrites!

  • Avatar
    El Guapo
    July 16, 2009 at 9:30 am

    It’s sad that so many became so fixated on the “wise Latina” comment to the extent that the actual issues and her actual positions and beliefs were virtually ignored. The fact that the comment was brought up in the Senate hearings is evidence that the Senators listen and pay attention to the idiocy of the media.
    This is how our country functions. 🙁

  • Avatar
    Cristina Noriega
    July 16, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I can’t believe how much Graham and a few others are continuing to harp on a single comment. I really don’t see the point, and it just makes them look petty. Graham himself admitted that Sotomayor would surely be confirmed as long as she didn’t have “a complete meltdown.” If he really believed this, then why keep beating a dead horse? Sotomayor has shown that she is a skilled, patient speaker and had risen above the pettiness. Graham and others should have chosen to focus on her record instead of one sentence. Only today is Graham finally admitting to Sotomayor, “Your record as a judge has not been radical by any means.”
    And he admitted that some of her speeches “bugged the hell out of me” but conceded most of her rulings were “generally in the mainstream.”
    So there you go.

  • Avatar
    irma
    July 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Sonia Sotomayor will bring the wisdom of her Latin heritage, her Princeton education and the street smarts of the Bronx to the US Supreme Court. America will be better for it.

  • Avatar
    cookie
    July 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    The “white boys” in the Demoractic party should also be appalled at her racist, sexist remarks but we have a Democrat president so they will just tow the line.

  • Avatar
    Texano78704
    July 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Let’s be honest here. If a white male judge had made the statement that he would make better decisions and be wiser based on his gender, race and life experiences rather than a Latino female judge, you ethnocntrics would be all over that like fleas on a dog and calling him a racist! What hypocrites!
    If that were the case, then you might some merit in your argument. However, that isn’t the context in which the phrase “wise Latina” was used.
    Judge Sotomayor was indicating the importance of judicial diversity in cases involving discrimination, a sentiment that is consistent with statements by numerous prominent conservatives.
    “[I]t would be weird for a white man to say it because it’s probably not true that the experience of growing up as a white male in the United States specifically enhances one’s understanding of what it means to be a disfavored minority.”

  • Avatar
    Horace
    July 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    “I can’t believe how much Graham and a few others are continuing to harp on a single comment. I really don’t see the point, and it just makes them look petty.”
    Gee, Cristina, if a Republican SCOTUS candidate didn’t give a satisfactory answer as to why he/she made the comment, the democrats would just give up and move on, ignoring the fact. Another “Get Real” moment.

  • Avatar
    Horace
    July 17, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    “Sonia Sotomayor will bring the wisdom of her Latin heritage….”
    Really Irma? Latins have inherent wisdom? I guess that why so many deem it unnecessary drop out of high school and so few go on to college.

  • Avatar
    Evelyn
    July 18, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Sonia Sotomayor will bring the wisdom of her Latin heritage….”
    Really Irma? Latins have inherent wisdom? I guess that why so many deem it unnecessary drop out of high school and so few go on to college.
    ~
    In a few years when white power and white privilege are a thing of the past and balance is restored, people of color will have the same opportunities that whites enjoy now.
    People of color wont have to work twice as hard to achieve what a white person takes for granted. There will be no need for programs like Affirmative Action to ensure that people of color get a small slice of the pie. Groups like La Raza, LULAC, or NAACP will no longer be needed.
    Then people of color will find it just as pleasant and easy to continue school and go on to collage as white people do today. They did it before, it will even be easier today.
    Free School for Everyone:
    To build the city they wanted, they knew that they would need many engineers, builders, and traders. To solve this problem, the Aztecs created schools for their children. Attendance at school was mandatory. All Aztec children had to attend school, even girls and slaves. The Aztecs were the only people in the world at this time in history to have free schools that every child had to attend.
    http://aztecs.mrdonn.org/human-environment-interactiion.html

  • Avatar
    Traci
    July 18, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    “In a few years when white power and white privilege are a thing of the past and balance is restored, people of color will have the same opportunities that whites enjoy now.”
    Out-procreating the rest of the population is useless political power if Latino culture doesn’t promote an educated Latino majority. Judging by the current trend there will just be more Latino dropouts and more ignorant illiterate Latino politicians in power.

  • Avatar
    Horace
    July 20, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    “In a few years when white power and white privilege are a thing of the past and balance is restored, people of color will have the same opportunities that whites enjoy now.”
    Tell us all about the white privilege of a high school education, when Latino drop out rates are higher than all other ethnic groups or races in the same school. Dare you challenge me to state the statistics? If they can’t graduate from high school it won’t matter how many slots there are in colleges. Nevertheless, you’ll probably complain as Marisa does, that Latinos are underrepresented in corporate level positions. Maybe you can get the dems to enact an affirmative action law that will require placement of drop outs on corporate boards.
    Marisa has pointed out the high illegitimacy rate of Latinas. This has no doubt contributed to their high school drop out rate. Will the teen mom situation fix the balance of social justice? Is that too caused by white people? You are pathetic, Evelyn.

  • Avatar
    Che
    July 20, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    “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.”
    No.
    Judge Sonia Sotomayor has gotten a lot of grief partly over the fact that she made a racist comment regarding latinas and white men.
    There. fixed it for you.

  • Avatar
    Marisa Treviño
    July 21, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Well, not sure what confirmation hearings you watched but it looked to me that she was receiving a lot of “grief” as much for who she is as what she said.

  • Avatar
    Plato
    July 21, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    A truly wise Latina judge doesn’t have to brag in public.

  • Avatar
    irma
    July 22, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Wisdom and modesty are not the same thing.
    Also, acknowledging that one has a particular attribute (wisdom, good looks, high IQ etc) is not bragging. It is simply a statement of fact.

  • Avatar
    Plato
    July 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    “Also, acknowledging that one has a particular attribute (wisdom, good looks, high IQ etc) is not bragging. It is simply a statement of fact.”
    How many others who read this blog agree with Irma’s nonsense?
    “Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the fairest of them all?”
    the witch in “Snow White”
    I suppose she we as asking to be acknowledged as being so, but most would assert that she was self-absorbed and bragging.
    Einstein and hundreds of engineers and scientists with genius level IQs have labor long an hard in our nation without posting their IQs or bragging about their wisdom. They’re humble achievers who don’t labor for praise. If Soto has to brag about her wisdom maybe it’s because she is insecure and lacking.

  • Avatar
    Evelyn
    July 24, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Marisa I have cut my post way short 3 times, please post it as I have been called pathetic and should be given a chance to respond.
    Horace :
    Marisa has pointed out the high illegitimacy rate of Latinas. This has no doubt contributed to their high school drop out rate. Will the teen mom situation fix the balance of social justice? Is that too caused by white people? You are pathetic, Evelyn.
    E
    You are too funny Horace! What you are saying is your Ignorance about the advancement of Latinos in the US and the Americas makes me pathetic? What you should be worried about is how stupid your ignorance makes you look. Even with all the racism, unfair advantage, discrimination and many other obsitcals Hispanics face on a daily bases look at all the advancement and accomplishments Hispanics have managed.
    These are just Mexicans. I decided to post them because I know how much you hate them.
    ~
    Top 10 Mexican Inventors
    From birth control pills to color television, Mexican inventors have contributed to creating many notable inventions.
    http://inventors.about.com/od/famousinventors/tp/mexican.htm
    ~
    Science and technology
    Francisco Javier González-Acuña, mathematician
    José Ádem, mathematician
    Miguel Alcubierre, theoretical and computational physicist, see Alcubierre metric
    José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez, scientist
    Albert Baez, physicist
    Jacob Bekenstein, physicist, contributed to the foundation of black hole thermodynamics, see Bekenstein bound
    Guillermo González Camarena, inventor the first color television systems
    Victor Celorio, Inventor
    Carlos Canseco González, physician and philanthropist
    Reyes Taméz Guerra, immunochemist
    Ignacio Chapela, microbial ecologist and mycologist, notable for his work with natural resources and indigenous rights
    Alejandro Corichi, theoretical physics, contributed to the understanding of classical aspects of black holes
    Pablo de la Llave
    Andrés Manuel del Río, chemist who discovered vanadium
    Héctor Mayagoitia Domínguez, chemical bacteriologist
    Nabor Carrillo Flores, soil mechanics expert, nuclear energy advisor and former President of UNAM
    Carlos Frenk, astronomer, Pioneer in simulations of large scale structure
    Julio Cesar Gutierrez Vega, physicist
    Luis Enrique Erro, Astronomer
    Luis Herrera Estrella, molecular biologist, has made pioneering contributions to the development of genetically engineered plants
    Nabor Carrillo Flores, nuclear physicist
    Dr. Guillermo Haro, astrophysicist and astronomer, co-discoverer of Herbig-Haro objects
    Mario J. Molina (Nobel Prize winner, 1995)
    I have cut the list way short I am having trouble getting Marisa to post it.
    This is just the tip of the iceberg, the link below shows Mexicans who have excelled worldwide in, Sports, Religion, Politics, Military, Journalism, Intellectuals and writers, Historians, Entertainment, Music composers and songwriters, Cartoonists, Businesspeople, The Arts and Authors.
    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/List-of-Mexicans
    ~
    This is a list of notable Mexican-Americans who have excelled to international fame in the following categories.
    1.Athletes 2.Business people 3.Entertainment 4.Actors and actresses 5.Directors/filmmakers 6.Models 7.Musicians and music groups 8.Authors and poets 9.Visual arts 10.Military
    11.Political figures 12.Science and technology
    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/List-of-Mexican-Americans
    ~
    Hispanic Business Top 500 – 2009 Directory
    http://www.hispanicbusiness.com/research/500/list.asp?ListYear=2009&States=All&City=&RawText=&Conjunction=AND&
    Submit1=Find+companies
    REMEMBER THIS LIST IS COMPRISED OF ONLY MEXICANS, IMAGINE IF IT WAS COMPRISED OF ALL HISPANICS.

  • Avatar
    Evelyn
    July 25, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Whether it’s people of color, women, gays, or immigrants. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
    Today, the idea of segregated schools seems ridiculous. That African Americans and Whites can’t marry? Insane. That women shouldn’t have the right to vote or are incapable of serving at the highest levels of government? Crazy. Our culture recognizes that not everyone starts out with access to equal opportunities but given the chance we all have the capacity to do great things and live up to our individual potential. The civil rights movement of the 60’s and 70’s fought for and won legislation to ensure equal access and the opportunity to live, go to school, and work side by side. We have been able to learn from one another, to break down stereotypes and change attitudes as a result of these systemic changes. But, you cannot legislate attitudes. While the movement changed our laws, it was individual Americans who changed our country. Individual people made changes, stood up for change and made it happen both nationally and in their own communities and their own lives.
    On this next part of our American journey, the changes we need to make will again largely have to come from each one of us as individuals. We have to take responsibility for looking into our own hearts, examining and challenging our biases and speaking out or taking a stand when we can. Or, just changing the way we treat people who are different from ourselves in our own lives.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karen-finney/the-conversation-we-need_b_244529.html

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