Last week a friend of mine on the Senate Judiciary Committee dropped her head in her hands and moaned, "this is going to be another Clarence Thomas."
She was referring, of course, to Miguel Estrada, President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Mr. Estrada is the first Latino nominee to the Federal bench. Word is he's being fast tracked to the Supreme Court. That is, if he can get past the highly partisan nomination process. Presently, the Democratic leadership has dug in its heels in opposition to Estrada, threatening to filibuster his nomination.
The Democrats' extreme reaction to Estrada can largely be explained in terms of panic. Their leadership knows that if Estrada is confirmed, he could help normalize relations between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters. Estrada's confirmation would proclaim to Hispanics that they are part of the Republican Party. This, along with other broad efforts at diversity, could help stimulate a more genuine give and take between the Republican Party and minority voters.
The Democratic response has been to launch a shrill grassroots campaign to convince the public that Mr. Estrada isn't in touch with the Hispanic community. That he's not Hispanic enough. That he is "a sell out." Never mind that he emigrated from Honduras as a teenager, taught himself English and then proceeded to put himself through Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Never mind that he has served as a deputy solicitor general of the United States, argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court and received the highest rating from the American Bar Association. Never mind that he is a role model not just for Hispanic-Americans, but for all Americans. Never mind all of that because the Democratic leadership has resolved to torpedo his nomination on the vague grounds that he ain't "keeping it real."
In reality, Estrada is a conservative and, therefore, not the sort of Latino that can be of help to the Democrats. So they paint him as "a sell out." It's the same strategy they used to bloody Justice Thomas. This is the most insidious form of racism because it is actually cloaked in moral authority. By dictating what constitutes a real Hispanic, the Democratic leadership implies that all Hispanics have to think and act the same way. This is worst than stupid. It is inherently self-limiting because it marks out definitive boundaries to Hispanic abilities. We need to move away from this ethnic groupthink. Until an individual defines himself by his own ability to move forward in this phenomenal world, he is but half free.
Being Hispanic - like being human - means at the end of the day you must seek your own language instead of going about things as you think a Hispanic should.
After all, how can someone ever hope to achieve a uniquely Hispanic (or black or feminine, etc.) experience as long as they define themselves by what society says they should be? How is that authentic? How is that keeping it real?
What a farce and what a shame that the Democratic leadership is sandbagging Estrada's career because he doesn't mesh with its idea of what a good Hispanic should be.
Someone really ought to explain to the Democrats that a "real" Hispanic is the one that places some value on his own unique experiences, rather than letting a political party define his ability and potential.