I had the opportunity to meet HER.
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the original "Wise Latina," as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar noted, not at "our" Trader Joe's (despite hours spent "studying" the sugar content of juice labels), but at this week's White House Forum for American Latino Heritage.
I covered her nomination and confirmation as a correspondent for ABC News. I was horrified and outraged, not at the intense scrutiny of Sotomayor's record which is the duty and obligation of Senators, but at the ugly and personal tenor of the debate that at once mocked and ridiculed Sotomayor and by extension, all Americans of Latino heritage.
Then there was the role of the mainstream media, that didn't hold conservative pundits and Republican politicians accountable for crossing the line of decency in public debate. Remember when Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) pressed Sotomayor on her gun rights views by channeling his inner I-Love-Lucy-Ricky-Ricardo accent, "You'll have lots of 'splainin' to do"?
Imagine if a Senator had randomly said to an African-American nominee: "Yo, baby. You have a lot of explainin' to do. Word!"
Or to a Jewish-American nominee: "Oy vey! A shiksa like you has a lot of explaining to do."
I didn't get mad.
I started this blog.
I don't want little Latinas growing up to believe their professional and personal options are straitjacketed by blunt stereotypes.
I don't want them to feel invisible.
On the contrary, as part of the ethnic group demographically booming that will soon constitute a large part of the nation's workforce and determine out economic competitiveness, they have serious skin in this game called America.
I told her this (I have my elevator pitch timed to New York City high rise speed) when I high-heeled my way past the throngs of admirers waiting to take a picture, thank her for "saving baseball" with her 1995 ruling, or autograph a picture.
No, "¡Sí of course, Viviana! I love and read your blog, its Manifesto, Facebook posts, Twitter feed, gripes about the blight next door, and your losing cat and mouse game with DC parking enforcement every day. I just love what you're doing!"
No, "Viviana, wanna be my new B-F-F and come over? I make a killer pot of arroz con gandules."
Instead, I got: "Oh. That's great."
No exclamation point.
A few flashbulbs went off.
She had too many people she wanted to make sure she got face time with, if only for 15 seconds.
Heck ya, if you consider how much I lionized this lady.
Although to be clear, I'm mixed about a month or day devoted to celebrate a person, culture, or event such as Hispanic Heritage Month. Truth is, the best way to honor your past is to reach for excellence every day, in this way shaping our nation's present and future.
That's what Sonia Sotomayor does and reminded me to practice when she closed the day-long event with: "I am an American with a Latina soul who loves my country fiercely, prizes its history deeply, and proudly proclaims the importance of its interwoven history of Latinos since the founding of this nation."
Watch Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, beginning at 1:33, courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior:
If you have met a role model, was that person who you expected her to be?