Si usted es blanco totalmente en América

Zach Wiita

One of the most startling things to emerge from the nomination of federal judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court is the obsession right-wing commentators and legislators have displayed over her ethnicity.

Judge Sotomayor, for those who may not know, is the first Latino American to be nominated to the Supreme Court. She was born in New York City in 1954, and both of her parents were born in Puerto Rico – which is a United States territory. Puerto Ricans are all United States citizens. Judge Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and later attended Yale University. She has been a federal judge since 1992 when she was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by former President George H.W. Bush.

None of this is of the least concern to her detractors, however – many of whom apparently cannot bring themselves to forgive her for having chosen not to be born white. The anti-Latino bigotry has been quite startling. Mark Krikorian of the National Review Online, for instance, wrote a column complaining about the fact that one must place the emphasis on the final syllable of Judge Sotomayor’s surname in order to pronounce it correctly, claiming it was “unnatural in English.” He also seemed to claim that the Spanish language is more primitive than English because of Spanish’s use of gendered nouns (“English dropped gender in nouns, what, 1,000 years ago?”)

Then there were the accusations by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo that the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), one of the largest Latino civil rights organizations in the United States and an organization that Judge Sotomayor is understandably associated with, is the “Latino KKK without the hoods and the nooses.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina jumped on the bandwagon, too. In questioning Judge Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings, Sen. Graham quoted several anonymous comments left by lawyers who have appeared before the judge from the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, characterizing her as “a terror on the bench,” abusive of lawyers, behaving in an out-of-control manner and otherwise complaining that she has a bad temper. Perhaps I am being paranoid, but my first thought was that this was an obvious appeal to a sexist belief that a woman should not be too tough – or that it was an attempt to play to the stereotype of the hot-tempered Latina. “Maybe these hearings are a time for self-reflection,” Sen. Graham condescendingly said to Judge Sotomayor.

Perhaps most startling, though, was the behavior of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Sen. Sessions at one point chastised Judge Sotomayor for not having disagreed with conservative Judge José A. Cabranes on reconsidering a previously decided case. “Had you voted with Judge Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could’ve changed that case,” Sen. Sessions said – even though their shared ethnicity was in no way relevant to the issue at hand. It is as though he believed all Puerto Ricans should vote together.

Sen. Sessions continued with his appalling ethnocentrism, accusing Judge Sotomayor of being unsuitable because of her association with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, which he insinuated supported terrorism and criticized for having brought forth a number of discrimination lawsuits while Judge Sotomayor served on its board of directors.

Perhaps this should not be surprising, however, given Sen. Session’s history. He was denied a federal judgeship of his own in the 1980s for having called the NAACP “un-American” and “Communist-inspired,” claiming it “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” An attorney who had once worked with Session testified that Sessions had said about the Ku Klux Klan that he “used to think they were OK” until he found out that some KKK members smoked marijuana. That attorney, himself an African-American, reported that Sessions addressed him as “boy” and once warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks” after he had criticized a European-American secretary.

It all seems thoroughly bizarre to me that anyone should have such hostile feelings toward Latino Americans. Perhaps I am biased, as my uncle and eight-year-old niece are both Mexican-American, but it seems to me that we as Americans should have moved past this issue long ago.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theater studies major and a columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].