Julia Alvarez

A chat with the Dominican-American poet about the Sotomayor nomination.

In the last decade of the 20th century, Vanity Fair—in what no doubt was a well-intended nod to the rising tide of Spanish-language and Latino literature—fabricated “Las Girlfriends,” a group portrait of authors Julia Alvarez, Ana Castillo, Denise Chavez, and Sandra Cisneros. (I have since forgotten—probably with good reason—what the accompanying text was about.) However, President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and the attendant bleating and bellowing from apparently drug-crazed white men reminded me what a great thing it will be to have a Latina woman (sic) on the Supreme Court. My acquaintance with Latin culture and women gives me no small admiration for women who run the gauntlet of both a matriarchal and macho social nexus. At the risk of overstating/generalizing, a smart Latina is a powerful person to behold.

I was curious to know what Vermont dairy farmer, Middlebury mentor emeritus, Bread Loaf éminence blithe Alvarez (Saving the World, In the Time of the Butterflies) thought about the Sotomayor nomination. Her response:
…Tour√©, reviewing Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, talked about Obama being “a post-black president.” The nation was ready to move beyond the Civil Rights paradigm, he suggested, and become a post black nation…

But are we ready yet for a post-Latino nation? Immigration reform is still in the offing, the new civil rights agenda, as of yet not going anywhere. Interesting that this Supreme Court nomination is bringing this fact to the fore. A post-black president is one thing, but a post-Latina Supreme Court justice? Female and Latina could be the double whammy!

That said, it’s through these processes (as with Obama’s campaign and election) that we find out where we really are as a nation, and in this ongoing experiment we call the United States, we have the possibility of making adjustments. So, I’m hoping Sotomayor proves as capable as Obama in navigating the tricky waters of a whole lingering infrastructure of racism and sexism as she goes through her confirmation hearings.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to listen to different pundits and politicos round their mouths around all her vowels! It’s a good thing she doesn’t have double r’s in her name that have to be rolled. That could do her in!
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