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27th May
written by Sean Noble

You knew it would happen.  Despite Obama picking a Latina for the Supreme Court, there are some in the Latino community that just aren’t as happy as they wanted to be.  Why?  She’s the wrong kind of Latina – that is, she’s Puerto Rican, not Mexican.

Many Latinos are elated that Obama has nominated a Hispanic, and they relate to her story of success from humble beginnings.

But some would have preferred to see Obama nominate a Mexican-American considering that they make up 70 percent of the nation’s 47 million Latinos.

“The argument could be made for (a Mexican-American nominee),” said Raul Yzaguirre, former head of the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation’s largest Hispanic civil-rights organization. He is now presidential professor of community development and civil rights at Arizona State University. “I want unity, so I am more inclined to overlook those things and say, ‘Let’s work together.’ “

Though Puerto Ricans and Mexicans share a common language, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and are not considered immigrants like Mexicans, said Louis DeSipio, a political-science and Chicano/Latino studies professor at the University of California-Irvine.

As a result, Sotomayor could be less sensitive to immigration issues she may face as a Supreme Court justice than if she were Mexican-American, DeSipio said.

Luz Sarmina, president and CEO of Valle del Sol, a non-profit community-based Latino organization in Phoenix, said that she was thrilled with the choice of a Hispanic but admits that she would have liked to have seen Obama nominate a Mexican-American.

“I’m thrilled having a Latina, but I also think there are many Mexican-Americans well-qualified for that role. I don’t want to pit one group against the other, but I think I would have been thrilled to see a Mexican-American.”

In the name of unity, Yzaguirre will “overlook” the snub. DeSipio thinks Sotomayor will be “less sensitive to immigration issues” because she isn’t of Mexican descent.

Watch for this issue to get some more legs as Sotomayor’s record starts getting exposed.  What Mexican-Americans will learn is that she really isn’t much like them.

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  1. Chelsea

    It’s pretty sad to me that which kind of Latina a Supreme Court nominee is has become an issue. Um, meritocracy, anyone? Oh wait, we don’t work like that anymore (sigh).

  2. Ken

    The concept of “Hispanic” is a rather artificial construct which I also find divisive. I believe it was coined by a New Mexican Senator for political purposes. The federal gov’t definition includes people from Guam and the Philippines as Hispanic. It includes indigenous Latin Americans who do not even speak Spanish. It can include blacks, whites and Asians. It makes about as much sense as talking about Mediterranean Europeans as distinct from non-Mediterranean Europeans.

    My own experience in Latin America (mostly in Central America) is that there are as many differences as there are similarities. A history as part of the Spanish Empire is really the only commonality. Thus, I am not surprised at Yzaguirre’s attitude — only that he would express it so openly.

    If we were to speak of Puerto Rican-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Guatemalan-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc just as we (on occasion) speak of German-Americans and Korean-Americans, it would not only be more useful but also more precise and, I believe, less divisive. Why should Sotomayor’s ethnic background be any more noteworthy than say Scalia’s or Robert’s?

  3. Carol

    I agree with Ken. A person’s ethnicity should have nothing to do with their ability to judge. I used to appear before a Mexican-American judge, representing a Mexican-American client, and watch the shock in that client’s face when the judge asked the hard questions in a firm, non-sympathetic tone. The judge’s rulings were often non-favorable. So there were absolutely no generalities to be drawn, and certainly none based upon any shared ethnicity.

  4. Kim

    Perception is reality and as long as there is a perception…real or conjured…that race is the primary informer of perspective, this debate will rage.

  5. Zach

    Being Latino (or Latina) is not a racial identity. It is cultural. Many people who are second or third generation decedents of immigrants from Latin American countries do not identify with the culture. By the way, Hispanic (now a passé term) was not racial, either.

    Latino is also a cultural construct unique to the US since there is no real unity without the comparison with Anglo-Saxon or European culture (the US gets lumped in here, at least the majority who usually claim European ancestry).

    The fact that some Latinos are questioning Sotomayor´s experience is significant because it takes away part of the historical significance and a major incentive for her nomination. If leading Latinos think Obama could have done better, it may allow some Senators to be a little more critical of her record and actually question her qualifications.

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