Tag Archives: Latina History

Women’s History Month 2013: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

20 Mar

JusticeSotomayorToday we honor and celebrate a woman dedicated to justice who is working hard to restore integrity to our nation’s highest court — quite the ambitious task while Scalia is on the bench. Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx in 1954 to parents who had recently moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Her mother and grandmother stressed the importance of education, and she worked hard in school, initially hoping to be a detective (inspired by Nancy Drew). A Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis at age seven led her family and doctors to recommend a less strenuous career choice, so she decided she wanted to be a judge–I wonder if her parents detected the irony here?

She attended Princeton, where she was a distinct minority both as a woman and a Latina. She received her undergraduate degree in History, winning numerous scholastic prizes in her final year and graduating summa cum laude. She immediately started law school at Yale, where she was once again in the distinct minority. Attending on a scholarship, she was stunned when a major law firm suggested during a recruitment dinner that she was at Yale solely because she was Latina. She terminated the interview and filed a formal complaint, resulting in a favorable ruling from a campus tribunal and a formal apology from the firm.  Brava, Justice Sotomayor!

After receiving her J.D. and passing the New York Bar, she began work as an assistant district attorney, focusing on crimes against persons and police brutality. She developed a reputation for going wherever she needed to go to get evidence, regardless of the neighborhood. After a few years she went into private practice and was appointed to a number of Boards and task forces by New York governors and New York City mayors. She expanded her reputation as a strong advocate for the marginalized–a voice for social justice!

In 1991 she realized her childhood dream and became a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the first Hispanic federal judge in the state. Six years later she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District. She faced a brutal confirmation hearing, with Senate Republicans stalling for months and grilling her on her decisions favoring gay rights and due process. Once seated, she expanded her reputation as a strong, fair judge interested in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable; imagine that, a judge working for civil rights for all?

Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court Justice in 2009. She settled in quickly and works hard to ensure that the loud, conservative voices on the Court don’t dominate when cases come forward. She made news recently for harshly criticizing  a Texas prosecutor whose argument relied on racist stereotyping. During hearings on a case regarding the Voting Rights Act, she refused to allow an Alabama attorney to hide his county’s racist history.

Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?

When Justices Scalia and Alito tried to bail the attorney out with far-fetched hypotheticals, she weighed in again.

The problem with those hypotheticals is obvious […] it’s a real record as to what Alabama has done to earn its place on the list. Discrimination is discrimination, and what Congress said is it continues.

Thank you, Justice Sotomayor, for standing up for those who most need it. May your time on the Court be long and productive!

Women’s History Month 2012: Betita Martínez

14 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate noted author, historian, and life-long social justice worker Betita Martínez. Elizabeth Martínez was born in 1925 in Washington, DC. She graduated from Swarthmore College in 1946 with a degree in English. She has worked for Simon & Schuster as an editor and for The Nation Magazine as Books and Arts Editor. She has written numerous books and articles on different topics relating to social movements in the Americas. Her best-known work is the bilingual 500 years of Chicano History in Pictures, which later formed the basis for the educational video ¡Viva la Causa! 500 Years of Chicano History.

Martínez began her political work in the early 1950s, working for the United Nations Secretariat as a researcher on colonialism and decolonization in Africa. During the 1960s, she worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South and as a coordinator of its New York office. In 1968, she moved to New Mexico to start a newspaper to support the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, co-founding the bilingual movement newspaper El Grito del Norte with with lawyer Beverly Axelrod.

Since moving to the Bay Area in 1976, Martínez has organized around Latino community issues, taught Women’s studies part-time, conducted anti-racist training workshops, and worked with youth groups. She has received many awards from student, community, and academic organizations, including Scholar of the Year 2000 from the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies. In 1997, she and Phil Hutchings co-founded the Institute for MultiRacial Justice,which “aims to strengthen the struggle against white supremacy by serving as a resource center to help build alliances among peoples of color and combat divisions.”She is also an advisor to the Catalyst Project, an anti-racist political education organization that focuses on white communities.

Martínez continues her activism in her 80s, including many events training and encouraging future generations of organizers and activists. It’s quite telling that one of her biggest fans is Angela Davis, who has described this amazing woman as “inimitable … irrepressible … indefatigable.”

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