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

Chicago

"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.

"If she can be on the Supreme Court, then the sky's the limit for me and everyone else," said Lydia Colunga-Merchant, 23.

Francisco Gonzalez, 32, said, "She's going to bring a common-man perspective to the court."

Sotomayor "has been able to excel while staying true to who she is," added Adriana Barboza, 25. "That matters a lot to me, because that's what I want."

• By Judy Keen

Oxnard, Calif.

"Hang in there and work hard"

In this city where United Farm Workers organizer Cesar Chavez once lived, migrant workers from Mexico have toiled for decades, and Hispanics make up 66% of the nearly 200,000 population. Here, Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court is more than just a call to celebrate Hispanic pride. It's a call to action.

Oxnard, the largest city in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles, is an agricultural center also known within the relatively affluent county as a place struggling with poverty, gangs and school dropouts.

"If there was ever a time to tell our kids to hang in there and work hard, this is it," said Carmen Ramirez, 60, a longtime community activist and attorney in Oxnard of Mexican descent. "Any person of color could look at her and say, 'I do have a future.' "

Oxnard attorney Barbara Macri-Ortiz, who is of Italian descent, married a man of Mexican descent and has two partly Mexican-American children. An education lawyer, she represents families whose children face expulsion. Now, she said, "we have an African-American president. We have a Latina on the Supreme Court. We can say to our kids, 'No excuses. You can do great things, too.' "

• By David Leon Moore

Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

"It's like a national sport"

On the streets of this western port city, Sotomayor's relatives have become minor celebrities.

At Tito's Bakery, a mom-and-pop store that her cousin, Jose "Tito" Baez Gonzalez, has owned for 30 years, the traffic of well-wishers has been steady. On Thursday, a New York family stopped by to take photos of themselves with Baez.

"Definitely it's an historic event for our family, for Latinos and for Puerto Rico," Baez, 54, says in Spanish.

Across this island of 4 million people, news outlets have tracked the ins and outs of the nomination. Local radio stations carried the Senate vote live.

"It's like a national sport out here," says William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU Puerto Rico. "Everybody is pretty much rooting for her."

Baez and his family celebrated Thursday night at a dinner gathering at his home with a champagne toast.

His nephew, Jose Garcia Baez, 37, an attorney in Mayaguez, says Sotomayor's rise from poverty, the loss of her father at a young age and childhood with a single mother to the Ivy League and ultimately the Supreme Court can inspire anyone who works hard.

"It's an incredible story," he says.

Sergio Zeligman, owner of Las Gangas clothing store in downtown Mayaguez, says Sotomayor's achievement makes Latinos feel they are part of the fabric of the United States. "We have representation that we've never had before."

• By Marisol Bello

Contributing: Kathy Kiely in Washington

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