The wisest Latina in L.A. County according to my unscientific poll is... Mamá. Aww, isn't that sweet. A couple of others got about as many votes: Latino civil rights advocate Antonia Hernandez, now head of the California Community Foundation, and L.A. County labor chief Maria Elena Durazo, and L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina trailed behind Mama.There's a lot of talk about "wise Latinas" in the middle age crowd, Pasadena activist Roberta Martinez tells me, after Judge Sonia Sotomayor defended her comments and apologized that sticking up for wise people like her may have offended some people. Sotomayor looks headed to the marble halls of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Senate confirmation hearings may be remembered for inserting the "Wise Latina" phrase into the lexicon, alongside "Yo Quiero Taco Bell." The words are there, maybe devoid of context.
Southland Latinos I've interviewed over the years mostly complained about the confirmation hearings. The whole thing was off-key to East L.A.-based composer Geoff Gallegos. "A Supreme Court Justice needs to have the freedom to state their interpretation of the law without feeling shell shocked about expressing a semantical word. I thought she was just trying to bring some levity to the process. Has she put any pubic hairs on any soda cans? That didn't prevent another justice from getting confirmed."
He snickers that he knows a lot of wise-ass Latinas, and I'm sure they all know one big wise ass Latino (sorry Geoff, I couldn't resist). He nominates two wise Latinas, one in art and one in public transportation: Angelica Loa Perez in L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs and Monica Rodriguez at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "...who was one of the architects at the beginning of the eastside MTA Gold Line extension. Once again, someone who is behind the scenes, and doesn't get much press, but nonetheless, has earned my respect with her brain."
If this were a real contest, with beer company sponsorship for example, I'd have some Wise Latina girlie tees to give out. Too late, Roberta tells me.
UCLA Chicano Studies professor Marissa Lopez believes ex-L.A. first lady Corina Villaraigosa is the wisest Latina, "por que cheaters never change; they just get more crafty."
In the Kabuki theater that was the confirmation process, Sonia Sotomayor had to say "sorry," professor Lopez says. "I think that need to apologize stems from a philosophical difference regarding language and truth. She understands that social positions inform subjectivity which in turn inform notions of truth, and right or wrong. Clearly she wasn't saying that Chicanas (or Boricuas) were smarter than white guys; just that their social locations allow for differently nuanced, perhaps more empathetic and encompassing, reads of situations that might appear black and white to a non-marginalized person."
Playwright and Boyle Heights theater entrepreneur Josefina Lopez is sure the wisest Latina is a little old lady running a botanica at El Mercadito in East L.A. I'd say Josefina's doing well finishing her Wise Latina apprenticeship. She says she's made a lot of mistakes and tries to learn from them. Of Course Sotomayor's wiser than a white male judge, says Josefina, "I wish there was an SNL sketch about the hearings in which she could actually say, 'I'm not just wiser than you but I'm smarter since I had to work three times as hard as you to get into Princeton and Yale!'"
Self described "wise (cracking) Latina" author Michele Serros nominates, "the vendor who came up with idea of wrapping bacon around soy dogs. I now have only half the guilt." She's the second wisest Latina, after her aunt Isabel.
Cal State Northridge Professor Maria Elena Fernandez tells me she hopes Sotomayor's entry to the Supreme Court will help start a process among national political leaders to recognize, "...the vast disparity in class experience in the U.S. and the meaningful differences in experiences according to race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality that give us each particular insight."
That's sure to happen when the jokes start pouring in, "A wise Latina walks into the Supreme Court..."