Friday, May 29, 2009

A Few Comments on Judge Sotomayor's Words, part I

Sonia Sotomayor with her parents

In this post I will expand on a few comments from her speech just published by the NYT - 

Sotomayor:  Who am I? I am a "Newyorkrican." For those of you on the West Coast who do not know what that term means: I am a born and bred New Yorker of Puerto Rican-born parents who came to the states during World War II.

Hernandez:  The family moved to NY during WWII - they were American citizens because all people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens.

Sotomayor:  The Latina side of my identity was forged and closely nurtured by my family through our shared experiences and traditions.

Hernandez:  The stereotype that being Latina or Latino means being poor and uneducated is absolutely wrong.  There are millions of Latinos who are like Judge Sotomayor, we just don't stand out.  We blend in with the rest of the nation.  People don't write about us because we are regular people.  Actually, its a really rich experience to be educated, financially solvent and be Latina...  You develop a fascinating view of the world  - and of the people who stereotype you as poor and undocumented.

Sotomayor:  For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandules y pernil - rice, beans and pork - that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events. My Latina identity also includes, because of my particularly adventurous taste buds, morcilla, -- pig intestines, patitas de cerdo con garbanzo -- pigs' feet with beans, and la lengua y orejas de cuchifrito, pigs' tongue and ears.

Hernandez:  Well, I can attest to the food thing.  Although I never ate pigs feet.  My family, who is of Mexican descent age cabrito (baby goat, considered a delicacy in northern Mexico and southern Texas) - to be honest I couldn't get myself to eat it.  But I loved beans, rice, and the flour tortillas that my aunt Rosa made me.  My Mom never made tamales, but lots of other people did and we always ate them at home.  We loved watermelon too...and canteloupe.  I lost a tooth eating canteloupe at a bull fight in Nuevo Laredo when I was six.

Sotomayor:  It is the memory of Saturday afternoon at the movies with my aunt and cousins watching Cantinflas, who is not Puerto Rican, but who was an icon Spanish comedian on par with Abbot and Costello of my generation.

Hernandez: In our small town, there was a movie theater just for Mexicans.  It was called the State Theater.  I used to go see movies with the singer/actor Miguel Aceves Mejia.  When I was six I saw him  in person and told all the kids at school I was going to marry him.

Sotomayor:  My Latina soul was nourished as I visited and played at my grandmother's house with my cousins and extended family. They were my friends as I grew up. Being a Latina child was watching the adults playing dominos on Saturday night and us kids playing loteria, bingo, with my grandmother calling out the numbers which we marked on our cards with chick peas.

Hernandez:  At my great grandmothers house (in Laredo, TX), the kids would gather around the bed of my great aunt Chata.  She would tell us stories about La Llorona.  Her sister, aunt Luisa would dance the charleston for us.  A couple of blocks away at my maternal grandmother's house I would run around the yard with my cousins and play hide and seek.  I was always afraid of the dark because the kids said a witch used to live next door in a house that had burnt down.

Sotomayor:  Being a Latina in America also does not mean speaking Spanish. I happen to speak it fairly well. But my brother, only three years younger, like too many of us educated here, barely speaks it. Most of us born and bred here, speak it very poorly.

Hernandez:  My brother and I did not speak Spanish as children.  We both learned it when we were older.  I wasn't actually fluent until I lived in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon when I was in my mid 40s.  While just about everyone in my grandparents generation only spoke Spanish, the family says my maternal grandfather, Eugenio E. Hernandez was fluently bi-lingual (he was a WWI Veteran).  Both my parents are fluently bi-lingual.  When my Dad was just starting school, his wealthy grandfather had an English speaking teacher come to the house so my Dad and his cousin would be bi-lingual.  

My daughter learned Spanish while we lived in Mexico, but doesn't speak it much now.  My son now lives in Argentina and is studying an MBA at an Argentine university - he has studied Spanish for four years- but didn't speak a word before then.  (When he was (really) little he said "carne," "leche," and "mamon")  

Sotomayor:  Many of us struggle with this tension and attempt to maintain and promote our cultural and ethnic identities in a society that is often ambivalent about how to deal with its differences.

Hernandez:  Being educated and wanting the best for my kids, I moved my family to an upscale Houston neighborhood (West University).  My mother had always told me not to live in the Barrio.  Now that the kids are grown and I am more secure with my identity I have moved to the Barrio (Houston's East End).  And I love it.  People are much nicer.  There are more trees.  There are chickens and roosters on every block.  Some of my neighbors and I trade plant cuttings.  

Sotomayor:  I became a Latina by the way I love and the way I live my life. My family showed me by their example how wonderful and vibrant life is and how wonderful and magical it is to have a Latina soul. They taught me to love being a Puertorriqueña and to love America and value its lesson that great things could be achieved if one works hard for it.

photo:  with my maternal grandmother Petra Paredes Hernandez, and my mother Maria de la Luz Hernandez

Hernandez:  I can say the same about my family.  It was a mixed experience (in terms of national identity), because while they didn't teach me Spanish, we were always listening to Agustin Lara.  My Dad told me all about Mexican history.  I knew about Mexican President Benito Juarez (who was a Zapotec Indian) and how the Catholic Church said all Masons should be excommunicated.  At the same time, my Dad took us to see the Alamo, the San Jacinto Battleground.  He is very proud of being a WWII veteran and an American citizen, but still sees himself as Mexican (he immigrated to the U.S. as an infant).

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