Sotomayor a racist? Hardly, South Bronx says
But growing up in a 'minority-majority' neighborhood does shape one's view of the world, residents say.
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For many young people in this neighborhood, those differences are still very much apparent – as are some of the vestiges of distrust between races and socioeconomic groups. Diane Biswas is a high school graduate with some college course work who grew up in the neighborhood surrounding the Bronxdale Houses. She's also a single mother. When she was applying for a job in an upscale store in Manhattan, she felt people were suspicious just because she lived in the South Bronx.Skip to next paragraph
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"They asked, 'Is it going to be problem for you to get down here?' " she says. "But the way they asked I knew exactly what they meant: 'Is she a ghetto girl coming from the Bronx to work here and corrupt us?' I know they didn't mean to sound that way, but it was there."
Because of such experiences, many New Yorkers believe that the gist of Sotomayor's controversial comment was on target, if poorly worded. As the first Latina on the court, they say, she will bring a new perspective.
"It's very much like the first time Thurgood Marshall [an African-American] was nominated: He brought with him a sense of this country that had been missing from the Supreme Court," says Robert Ramirez, incoming president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association in New York. "That was not exclusive of his intimate knowledge of the Constitution. It simply means that he was able to add his unique perspective and a history that may not have always been given voice to on the court. Sotomayor can do that, too, not because the other justices may not have wanted to, but just that it's impossible to have that unique perspective unless you've been raised in the Bronx where you've experienced the culture and flavor and challenge of becoming an accomplished academic performer here."
Growing up with two languages and two cultures, as well as moving between two very different economic strata – think South Bronx and Yale – creates a unique kind of dexterity, say some Latina scholars.
"I always talk about my life as jumping double Dutch – two ropes going in opposite directions and jumping really, really hard and trying not to stop either of them," says Esmeralda Santiago, author of "When I Was Puerto Rican." "Sotomayor is a very good example of that, of somebody who is on both sides and can see both sides and has the intellect to be objective about both sides. I think that's something that's very rare and unusual."
Back on Capitol Hill, though, Republican senators are scouring her record to see if there's any indication that Sotomayor's controversial comment – the "wise Latina woman" one – has influenced her judicial temperament or understanding of the law. On Fox News earlier this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina expressed his reservations about her nomination this way: "That statement is not about talking about her life experiences," he said. "It's getting from her life experiences a superiority based on those experiences versus somebody else in society. And I don't want that kind of person being a judge in my case."