Páginas vistas

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Image and video hosting by TinyPic Image and video hosting by TinyPic Image and video hosting by TinyPic

sábado, 30 de mayo de 2009

In Puerto Rico, Supreme Court Pick With Island Roots Becomes a Superstar

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The New York Times DAMIEN CAVE SAN JUAN, P.R. — They talk about her mom’s rice and beans. They talk about her perfect Spanish, her humble black outfits, her insistence on being called Sonia, without the honorific “jueza” or “judge.” Only a month after Sonia Sotomayor passed through here in near-anonymity — visiting relatives and lecturing to a few dozen lawyers and law students — she has been chosen for a potential seat on the United States Supreme Court and has become a superstar whose marks of Puerto Rican-ness are being memorized like the lyrics of Ricky Martin. Her family left for the United States mainland more than 60 years ago, but nearly everyone here, it seems, now wants to claim her as their own. The legislature has introduced three resolutions of congratulation. The governor, Luis Fortuño, a Republican, has described her as the embodiment of his own nonpartisan approach because she was appointed to the federal bench by the first President George Bush. Miss Puerto Rico gushed that Judge Sotomayor’s selection by President Obama proved that the island’s women were not just beautiful. “She’s a rock star,” said William Ramirez, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Puerto Rico, which was host to Judge Sotomayor for a speech on April 29. The attraction, according to cultural analysts, speaks to more than just pride in Judge Sotomayor’s success. Here on a small island that is neither a state nor a country — a place some Web sites forget to list when calculating shipping rates — there is a constant craving for recognition. Groundbreaking figures are worshipped in Puerto Rico with special zeal: Roberto Clemente, the baseball great, and now Judge Sotomayor, have catapulted to fame in part because people here see them as weapons against the world’s perceived prejudice or, worse, indifference. “Puerto Ricans always feel under-represented,” said Jorge Duany, an anthropologist at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. “It’s not just a feeling. It’s a fact.” If confirmed to the court, Judge Sotomayor would become the highest-ranking Puerto Rican ever in American government. But legal experts said it would probably mean little for the gnawing question of the island’s political status. Since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, it has been what a later law would define as an “unincorporated territory” that “belongs to but is not part of the United States.” The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that definition, and the only legal cases in the courts related to sovereignty are still far from the nation’s highest court. The impact of the nomination, though, might be more subtle. “It changes the view that North Americans are racist and do not want us because of our color,” said Albita Rivera, a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico and president of the Women’s Caucus in the Puerto Rican House of Representatives. “It eliminates that obstacle.” At Santurce Plaza near downtown San Juan, smiles of satisfaction greeted the news at bars and restaurants. At a nearby hardware store with tools stacked to 14-foot ceilings, Gabriel Olavarria, 74, called Judge Sotomayor’s selection “a grand slam for Puerto Rico.” Mr. Olavarria recalled moving to New Jersey in the 1950s and dealing with cold northern prejudice. As a woman with dark skin entered the store, he explained the relationship with a phrase of slang: The Americans, he said, “nos mastican pero no nos tragan” — they chew us but they do not swallow. It will take time to change that, said Ela Betancourt, 59, shopping for vegetables nearby with her daughter and her mother. “We have to remove the stigma of West Side Story.” The women said Judge Sotomayor would help because she had come from the barrio, and held onto her culture even as she rose to prominence. “There was always rice and beans on the stove at her mother’s, for visitors,” Ms. Betancourt said. “That’s our tradition.” Census records from 1930 show that Judge Sotomayor’s mother, born Celina Báez in 1927, came from Lajas, a three-hour drive west of San Juan. It is a tranquil town in a lush valley, defined by a small plaza with a mustard-yellow church, a fountain and a war memorial. The family’s local address remains a mystery; officials at the mayor’s office said they were still researching the family home. Residents at bodegas and coffee stands said three neighborhoods appeared to be in the running. At the cemetery in Lajas where Judge Sotomayor’s father is buried, custodians have not yet found his grave. It is a sign of how quickly the banal and overlooked in Puerto Rico can become historic. For people like Mattias Sela, 33, a gravedigger wearing a red New York City hat, Judge Sotomayor’s selection and her ties to the area came as a surprise. Mr. Sela said he and his friends clinked their bottles of beer and shouted when they saw her selection on the local television news. “It’s a point of pride for all of us because she’s risen up from the bottom,” he said. “Not many of us do.” That trajectory is what captivates, and shocks the island most of all, said Juan Manuel García Passalacqua, a political analyst in Puerto Rico who got to know Judge Sotomayor in the 1980s as a member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund’s board. “This person born not of the ruling class in Puerto Rico ends up being part of the ruling class in the United States?” Mr. Garcia Passalacqua said. “Wow, man. This is the daughter of a nurse.” For her family here, the sudden transformation has been especially intense. Judge Sotomayor has a handful of cousins in Mayagüez, a 15-minute drive from Lajas, whom she visits during her trips to the island. One cousin owns a bakery. Another, José García Báez, is a lawyer with a small practice. In an interview Friday, Mr. García Báez said. Judge Sotomayor’s visits consisted mainly of “checking in” — sharing a meal and catching up on family gossip, spending time with a close relative of her mother’s who recently had a stroke. Since her selection, Mr. García Báez said that strangers regularly approached him on the street to congratulate the family and that his phone will not stop ringing. Several Puerto Rican organizations have been pestering him for a way to connect with Judge Sotomayor. The family’s initial excitement about her selection, Mr. García Báez said, has become fused to a recognition that the spotlight can be hot, not just bright. He said he hoped to keep his family protected, while doing everything possible to make sure his cousin gets confirmed. “We are giving her all the support we can from here,” he said.

blog comments powered by Disqus