In Bronx, Focus On Sotomayor Hearings

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Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, is a native of Bronx, N.Y. Her confirmation hearings in the Senate are getting special attention from the Puerto Rican community there.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Sonia Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx. From New York, Diantha Parker reports on how closely her confirmation hearing is being followed there.

DIANTHA PARKER: The stretch of Westchester Avenue near the end of the six train is lined with restaurants. But Joe's Place is one of the few open before noon when Ray(ph) and Montserrat Sanchez(ph) stop in for carry out. They're Puerto Rican, like the restaurant, and here for a specialty that's being wrapped up in tin foil: Cuban sandwiches.

Sanchez is a pastor who's lived in this neighborhood for 50 years. He and his wife have been watching the hearings for the past few days. He thinks Sotomayor is performing well. She's a solid talker, he says, and smart. But he thinks she's being very cautious and maybe a little retiring.

Mr. MONTSERRAT SANCHEZ (Pastor): I think that she's trying to play, you know, politics very diplomatically, you know? But she could push more. She has, you know, resources to do that.

PARKER: The hearings were unfortunately timed for the first stretch of full sun New Yorkers have seen in a while. So not everyone has been watching TV. And Mary Wass(ph) has been too busy running her new salon, down the street from Joe's. She's heard a bit about Sotomayor from clients, though.

Ms. MARY WASS: This is great because she called Latina wise, and the name of the place is Mujeres Latina.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PARKER: That's Latin women, and she's talking about the comment Sotomayor made in a speech in 2001 - and spent a while explaining yesterday - that in some cases a wise Latina can reach a better conclusion than a white male. But seriously…

Ms. WASS: As a Latina, we are wise, not meaning that African-American are not - any other race, you know, that they are not. But if I'm Latina, I have to feel proud about myself.

PARKER: Wass is Dominican and says she's glad Sotomayor included herself with all Latinas. She's considering adding wise to the name of her shop. Other people think Sotomayor needs to watch her words a bit. Down the street at San Juan Party, Edward Contreras(ph) mans a counter filled with Sweet 16 tiaras, tinsel and pastel china figurines. He understands why she said the wise Latina thing, but it makes him cringe visibly.

Mr. EDWARD CONTRERAS: For me, that is unnecessary to say that. You demonstrate who you are and people - we got to know who you are.

PARKER: Contreras hasn't been watching the hearings much, but says he's looking forward to seeing some of Sotomayor's wisdom in action if she's confirmed.

For NPR News, I'm Diantha Parker in New York.

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