On sidelines, Hispanics cheer Sotomayor

At the moment of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation as the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court, Carmen Garcia cried, hard.

She was one of several women at the FB Lounge in New York City's Spanish Harlem who saw in Sotomayor's life story a version of her own, or her parents'.

"All the obstacles she must have seen in the South Bronx, I saw in Spanish Harlem," said Garcia, 58, a hospital food-service worker whose parents brought her to New York in 1957. "Any child that looks outside the window to the fire escape and wants to become a judge, a lawyer, a district attorney, a Supreme Court (justice), and sees what Sotomayor used to see, can say, 'I can do it, too.' "

For many of the nation's Hispanics, Sotomayor's confirmation marked a proud milestone — an affirmation of their struggles and hard work, an inspiration for them and their children.

Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization, swallowed back tears as she waited to thank senators after the vote. "It's overwhelming," she said.

From Chicago to Oxnard, Calif., from Sotomayor's hometown of New York to Puerto Rico, her parents' home, her ascent from a housing project to the high court has galvanized Hispanics' hopes. Said Murguia: "Her story is our story."

New York City

"I have chills down my back"

The FB Lounge in the center of New York's Puerto Rican community is designed for noise — just look at the conga drums next to the big-screen TV in this salsa club — but absolute quiet fell over the small crowd when the U.S. Senate began its roll call vote.

"Aye," whispered Agnes Rivera to Elyshia, her 3-year-old granddaughter, after each affirmative vote. When Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican and one of the Senate's two Hispanic members, voted "Aye," she called out, "You better."

As the vote wrapped up, club owner Roberto Ayala yelled "Viva Puerto Rico! Viva las mujeres! Viva el barrio!" to cheers and applause from the crowd.

"I have chills down my back and my leg," said Maria Alvarez Castro, president of the Manhattan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

To watch the vote, Sandra Rivera put on a religious medal that had belonged to her mother. Her mom, like Sotomayor's parents, moved from Puerto Rico to New York after World War II. She brought home her work as a hatmaker, sent her children to Catholic school and made sure Sandra got to dance class.

Before the vote, Rivera, who danced with Ballet Hispanico, attended a meeting to fight for funding for the dance program she teaches. The image of Sotomayor facing the Senate Judiciary Committee came to her. "If you're prepared and an opportunity comes, then you're able to make that happen."

• By Martha T. Moore


"The sky's the limit for me"

When law student Anna Lozoya looks at Sotomayor, she sees herself: a Latina who overcame the limits her culture sometimes places on women.

Lozoya sees her own stubborn nature in the new U.S. Supreme Court justice. Both are diabetic.

When Sotomayor was nominated, Lozoya had not heard of her. Now the justice is a role model as Lozoya, 28, a nurse, studies to be a lawyer.

She said she believes they share an ethos that's particularly strong in immigrants' children: "You follow the dream and you live it."

Mexican-American students from the DePaul University College of Law reflected on Sotomayor's confirmation Thursday, saying it proves they can achieve anything.

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