June 9, 2009

The roots of Sotomayor's ethnic chauvinism

By David Paulin

Sonia Sotomayor, a self-described “wise Latina woman,” is an ethnic chauvinist if her own words are anything to go by. What are the roots of her chauvinism?

Was it her upbringing by parents who immigrated from Puerto Rico? Or her supposedly hardscrabble girlhood in the Bronx? Or perhaps it was her education at a private Catholic school, Cardinal Spellman High School?

As it turns out, it was none of the above. Judge Sotomayor's obsession with her ethnicity began during her undergraduate years at Princeton University. As Sunday's New York Times explained in a fascinating front-page article:
According to friends, Ms. Sotomayor was not active in her high school’s small Latino club. Ethnicity was not something to be ashamed of, they said, but they did not really celebrate it either.

But on Princeton’s manicured campus, Ms. Sotomayor explored her roots in a way she never had on trips to Puerto Rico or in “Nuyorican” circles back home. In a Puerto Rican studies seminar, she absorbed the literature, economics, history and politics of the island, and by senior year, she was writing a thesis on its first democratically elected governor. In its dedication, she sounds newly enchanted with her heritage.

“To my family,” she wrote, “for you have given me my Puerto Rican-ness.”

“To the people of my island, for the rich history that is mine,” she continued.
It's a fascinating revelation. Above all, it underscores how Princeton and other universities over the past few decades have helped to create the “hyphenated identifies” by which many Americans now identify themselves (especially from Mexico and Latin America) rather than assimilating into a common nationality.

The subject of hyphenated identifies was explored by Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington in his fascinating book “Who are We? The Challenges to America's National Identify.” In it, Huntington described how young college students, the offspring of immigrant parents or grandparents, arrived at college fully assimilated. They regarded themselves as Americans, period – at least until their professors got hold of them. That's when they “rediscovered” their ethnic roots. Giving up their beliefs that they were Americans -- part of a single identify and culture -- they thereafter defined themselves as hyphenated Americans in a country that was “multicultural.”

And in the case of Sonia Sotomayor, ethnicity became an obsession. In college, as the Times notes, she became a passionate advocate for “Hispanic causes.” As a judge, she later complained about the lack of “Hispanics” sitting on the bench.

Sunday's article offers another interesting tidbits about Sotomayor. Until now, the Times and other media outlets have portrayed her as having been a brilliant student who got into Princeton and Yale Law School by dint of her superior intelligence and hard work.

As it turns out, there was another reason – affirmative action. The Times cites no sources for this revelation, but it seems like a no brainer to assume that Sotomayor got a boost from affirmative action. What's interesting about this is that Sotomayor herself has never described herself as being a beneficiary of affirmative action, as the Times noted in an earlier article. And when a Washington law firm with which she interviewed dared to ask if her if she'd benefited from affirmative action, she filed a complaint against the firm with Yale, according to Sunday's article: “For Sotomayor and Thomas, Paths Fork at Race and Identify.”

That Sotomayor apparently was an affirmative action student explains a strange inconsistency – how she got into the Ivy League despite lacking basic writing skills; skills which she supposedly would have learned at a good Catholic high school.

Interestingly, the Times' Sunday piece claimed that Sotomayor overcome her inept writing all by herself at Princeton -- after shuttering herself in her dorm room and studying “grade-school grammar textbooks.” Yet an earlier article in the Times offered a different version of this story of hard work, stating: “Only with the outside help of a professor who served as her mentor did she catch up academically, ultimately graduating at the top of her class.”

Sotomayor, during her confirmation hearing, is bound to hear her most infamous words repeated to her:
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion" than a white man.

It's a remark, of course, that applies a stereotype to "Latina" women – a good stereotype. It's interesting that Sotomayor has no problem using stereotypes, but absolutely bristles when she perceives that others (conservative white men in particular) would dare to define her with the same stereotype by which she defines herself. Or as the Times explained in its concluding paragraphs:
"Judge Sotomayor saw a hitch in her own confirmation for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a not entirely dissimilar light. Senate Republicans had held up her nomination for a year, and shortly afterward, she said they made assumptions about her views simply “because I was Hispanic and a woman.”

“I was dealt with on the basis of stereotypes,” she said.
This was originally published at The American Thinker.

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