Proud Latinos Skip Hearings

Hispanic Customers In Fells Point Pleased To See Sotomayor Nominated For High Court, But Favor Tv Soaps Over Senators

July 15, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Granted, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor are not exactly riveting television - even for members of Baltimore's Hispanic community who are proud of her ascendance.

Rather than tune in Tuesday to the ponderous pronouncements of politicians on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the judge's responses on arcane matters of law and precedent, lunchtime patrons in the bars and restaurants of Upper Fells Point - on a stretch of Broadway they call Spanishtown - mostly preferred to indulge in the vicarious pleasures of salacious shows that owe more to Maury Povich than to Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Still, there was great pride in Sotomayor, a child of the Bronx whose parents were born in Puerto Rico, as a standard-bearer and role model for America's Hispanics.

"Everyone feels very proud of the first Latina on the Supreme Court," said Estela Rivera, a waitress at Restaurante El Salvador, anticipating a touch prematurely her preferred outcome for the hearings.

On Monday, she said, the Spanish-language station that was beaming a soap opera onto the restaurant's five plasma screens interrupted the drama to show a live news feed of Sotomayor introducing her mother, brother and other relatives to the committee. Rivera said several of the customers burst into applause.

"She spoke for seven minutes," Rivera said in Spanish. "There were about a dozen people here, and we were all listening carefully."

By Tuesday, though, it was back to Casos de Familia, an offering from Univision that encourages the airing of familial dysfunctions. The show was visible on screens up and down the 200 block of South Broadway, in bars, convenience stores and hair salons.

"I don't hear much conversation about her," said Zonai Ruiz, referring to Sotomayor, "although it's pretty shocking to see a Spanish woman up there. It's a big opportunity for the Hispanic population. Maybe one day we'll see a Spanish president."

But Ruiz, the 20-year-old nephew of the El Salvador's owner, had some reservations. "I'm sure she's a great judge, but I'm not sure I agree with her about abortion, that a woman can do anything she wants with her body. I don't personally feel that abortion is right." (On Tuesday, Sotomayor told the panel she considered the right to privacy, a basis for Roe v. Wade, to be settled law.)

Yolanda Maria Welch, chairwoman of Gov. Martin O'Malley's Commission on Hispanic Affairs - her mother was Costa Rican, her father Colombian - had no qualms about the judge. Speaking outside the El Salvador, Welch said she was impressed that "someone from humble beginnings is going up the ladder to a very powerful position," an example of the "wonderful opportunity that this country affords."

Down the street, at Carolina's Tex-Mex Restaurant, owner Pedro Silva, an immigrant from El Salvador, said that neither he nor his customers were following the hearings: "Here, what they watch on TV are soap operas, soap operas and soap operas. And sports. And more soap operas."

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