This Latina Moment: Sotomayor Spurs Debate

If she is sworn in, Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court. Since her nomination, a cultural debate has opened among many Latinos. Author Gustavo Arellano and Latina Magazine editor-in-chief Mimi Valdes Ryan talk about what Sotomayor's nomination means for Hispanic identity in the U.S. and what this moment in American history means to them.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. After President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, many Latinos across the United States shared pride and excitement. Judge Sotomayor's humble beginnings in a Bronx housing project as the daughter of Puerto Rican migrants touched a personal chord for Latinos who live in similar working-class conditions.

This week, as she sparred with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, many Latinos saw a reflection of their own struggles and success stories, but some think she may be the wrong Latino. Why not a Mexican-American candidate? Why not a male nominee? Others wonder whether feelings may change if, for example, she proves to be a vote in favor of abortion rights.

Later in the hour, Paul Newman is the focus as our summer movie festival continues. Murray Horwitz will join us. If you'd like to nominate your favorite Paul Newman movie, email us, talk@npr.org.

But first, this Latina moment: We want to hear from our Hispanic listeners today - for and against Sonia Sotomayor. What does this moment mean for you? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We begin with Gustavo Arellano, who writes the syndicated column, "Ask a Mexican." He joins us from member station KUCI in Irvine, California. Nice to have you back on the program today.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Syndicated Columnist): Hola, Neal.

CONAN: And the confirmation of the first Hispanic justice is all but certain now. So what does this moment mean for you?

Mr. ARELLANO: It does seem that Sotomayor is going to be the first person of Latino ethnicity on the Supreme Court. It's a huge celebration, and it really shows that despite all the struggles that all the various Latinos in this country of various nationalities or ethnic groups have struggled, that now we have one of our own on the highest judicial level in the country, and that's just one step.

We already have senators, representatives. Of course, the next step will be president or vice president, and that will probably happen in about 20 years or so. This is a step, and it's a monumental step.

CONAN: And there's - are you hearing any quibbles about the wrong ethnic group, the wrong nationality?

Mr. ARELLANO: There is. Some of it I understand. Of course, anybody from their own particular ethnic group would want somebody of their own representatives. I'm sure when Judges Scalia and also Alito were nominated, Italian-Americans, of course, rejoiced and I'm sure some, I don't know, Czech-Americans or other ethnic group, European ethnic groups, might have grumbled a little bit, but still they were happy.

So in our case, yeah, it would've been cool if a Mexican-American made it to the, you know, justice of the Supreme Court, but I'm not going to begrudge it.

However, there are some chauvinists, that's the only way you could call them, Mexican chauvinists, who say that it should have been a Mexican-American because Mexican-Americans, we're much larger in number than Puerto Ricans, and we've struggled much more than Puerto Ricans. I think such statements - there's a tiny, tiny minority - but they're ahistorical, and frankly, they're foolish and chauvinistic against, you know, our Latino brothers and sisters in this case.

CONAN: And joining us also is Mimi Valdes Ryan, editor-in-chief of Latina magazine. She joins us from NPR's bureau in New York. Nice to have you with us today, too.

Ms. MIMI VALDES RYAN (Editor-in-chief, Latina Magazine): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And what does this moment mean for U.S. Latinas in particular?

Ms. RYAN: Oh, it's just an amazing moment. I think for all Latinas and just Latinos in general, it's such a great sort of inspiring thing to see her up there during these confirmation hearings, and of course, you know, we all think that she is going to get confirmed, but just to know that someone who came from such humble backgrounds, from Bronx housing projects no less, not a pretty community back when she was there…

CONAN: And not today, either.

Ms. RYAN: And not today, either. It's better. It's definitely better, but definitely when she was there growing up, and to think that she came from that and is now just even being considered for this, you know, to be a justice of the Supreme Court is just beyond amazing.

CONAN: And do you think that this is going to change political involvement for Latinos, a greater participation in politics, do you think?

Ms. RYAN: Absolutely. I think ever since the presidential campaign with Clinton and Obama and just all of that going on, I think for Latinos in general, it was just very inspiring to see, like, okay look, there's a female running for president, there's an African-American running for president. I think a lot of young Latinos saw that, and there's much more of an interest now in, just, politics and social issues and just getting more involved.

CONAN: And have you heard, I wonder, anyone say well, our perception of Latino culture in general is that it's a fairly macho culture, why isn't this an Hispanic male who's being appointed to the Supreme Court?

Ms. RYAN: I haven't heard that, and I think anyone who actually says that is just silly. I mean, at the end of the day, Latinos, female, male - if it would have been a male, I would have been just as happy. Obviously, being a female, being a Latina, I'm, you know, I'm very happy to see someone that is very similar to kind of, you know, not only a female but just kind of how grew up. I also grew up in housing projects in Manhattan, but I think at the end of the day, it's a Latino regardless.

You know, female, male, whatever ethnicity, Mexican, Puerto Rican, I'm super happy, and most of the people I know are, too.

CONAN: And I'm sure you hear what Gustavo had to say about Mexican chauvinists. Have you heard that, too, from, well, either people of Mexican origin or any other part of the Latin American world, for that matter?

Ms. RYAN: No, I haven't, but I'm not surprised. I mean, Gustavo actually has contributed to Latina, so I know him, as well, and you know…

Mr. ARELLANO: (Unintelligible) Mimi.

Ms. RYAN: Hi. So it's funny because obviously I know that that probably does exist, but that's with anything. I think, you know, there's always going to be the, like, hey, it would've been cool if it would have been a Mexican. It would have been cool if it would have been an Ecuadorian, if that's your background. But at the end of the day, who cares really?

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. We want to hear from Hispanic listeners today about the world and how it's changed now that Sonia Sotomayor appears all but certain to be the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

What does this moment mean to you? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And Miriam's(ph) on the line with us calling from Fort Lauderdale.

MIRIAM (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hello.

MIRIAM: I never thought I'd get on.

CONAN: Congratulations.

MIRIAM: I am so excited because this is the first appointment of national importance for a Puerto Rican.

CONAN: And specifically because for Puerto Rico.

MIRIAM: I'm Puerto Rican. I've seen other Latino groups get appointments, and we haven't gotten any. So I'm very excited. I'm also excited that she's a woman. I'm also excited that she went to Princeton because my husband went to Princeton, and he's Puerto Rican.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So that's three pitches in her favor, as far as you're concerned.

MIRIAM: And I'm going to send my daughters papers so that perhaps she can clerk for her because she's Puerto Rican, and she just graduated from Cornell Law School.

CONAN: Well - so you are - this is unalloyed joy for you.

MIRIAM: I'm having a party.

CONAN: Congratulations, and we'll expect the invitations in the mail.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MIRIAM: I'll send you one.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Miriam, for the phone call, appreciate it.

MIRIAM: Thank you, God bless you. Bye.

CONAN: And Gustavo Arellano, just for those of us, we say Latino, obviously Mexican-American is the largest group, Puerto Rican is a large group, too, but this is a diverse group of people.

Mr. ARELLANO: Of course. It needs to be said, unfortunately for some people, but Latino really means anybody with experience in Latin America. They're descendents of Latin America. It could be anyone from a Jew living in Argentina to an Afro-Cuban to a Ecuadorian to Russian, people of Russian descent who came from Mexico. It's everything in Latin America, and so the shared commonality really is just that background from Latin America.

The differences are not only from nationality but even, like, I always tell people from my example of Mexico. There's 30-some states in Mexico, and even in Mexico, there's all these different regions. You can't say there's a Latino experience. The only shared experience we have is of that same background from Latin America. But nevertheless, I think the nomination, hopeful - the appointment of Sotomayor, that it is going to be a cause of celebration, one of the rare, unifying moments that all of us as Latinos do have here in the United States.

CONAN: That experience and the language you'd have to say…

Mr. ARELLANO: Well you see, that's not necessarily true. Brazilians, they speak Portuguese. There's natives in Mexico who don't even speak Spanish. There's, even here in the United States, there's Mexican-Americans or third- or fourth-generation Tejanos who are still considered Latino, but they haven't spoken a lick of Spanish in about three or four generations.

CONAN: And Mimi Valdes Ryan, New York City, of course, where you're from, yes, Puerto Ricans are a very large group there, but there are plenty of other Hispanic groups in New York City.

Ms. RYAN: Oh definitely. I mean, we have everything from Cubans to Dominicans, Mexicans. I mean, you name it, they're here. So obviously, it's a big moment for Latinos in New York just because there are so many ethnicities right here in the city.

CONAN: Let's get Damien(ph) on the line, Damien calling us from Chicago.

DAMIEN (Caller): Hello, long-time listener, first-time caller. How are you, sir?

CONAN: Very well, thank you, and thanks for calling.

DAMIEN: Thank you. I think what's most exciting about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination - I'm half-Spanish and half-Polish. I grew up in Spanish housing projects in Chicago, so the part - and I don't speak Spanish. The part that I think is most exciting is her background, coming from a poor community, coming from housing projects.

What bound us together, the common experience of my childhood, was not ethnicity. In the housing projects, there was black, white, Hispanic, purple, green. What bound us together was our common experience through poverty, the plight of poverty.

We all knew that same junkie on the corner together. Those experiences and those visions that she can bring to the Supreme Court are going to be visions that we've never seen before. So I think that the most exciting part is watching where her background is from. I think the Latin part also adds a unique mix, but it is really the background of poverty and that experience that is truly unique to those experiences in the Bronx, in housing projects - in any housing projects of America.

CONAN: And we'll get a response to that. I do have to ask, though, Damien, what happens when you cook sausage in your house? Which side comes out?

DAMIEN: I'm sorry, say that…

CONAN: What happens when you cook sausage in your house? Which side comes out? It is chorizo, or is it bratwurst?

DAMIEN: Yes, I understand. I like a galumpke filled with very, very spicy chorizo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay. Mimi Valdes Ryan, as you mentioned, you grew up in a housing project, as well, and that - we hear about Princeton, we hear about Yale Law School - indelible part of the background of Sonia Sotomayor is that housing project.

Ms. RYAN: Yeah, I mean, what Damien says is so true. I mean, when you grow in a housing project, to even imagine the American dream is so hard because everyone around you is poor. No one around you has made it out. All you see, lots of times, you know, you don't even leave the projects. You know, your supermarket is on the corner, your school is a couple of blocks away. This is your world.

So it's super-hard to even just imagine that you can leave here and become successful. So the fact that someone like her has done that is such a great example to so many people across the world who come from humble beginnings.

CONAN: And Gustavo Arellano, I think a lot of people were especially moved by her description of her mother working at the table in their apartment in that housing project, not only helping them with her homework - with her children with their homework, but studying herself so she could get a better job, too, that education is the way ahead in America.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yes. Some people are arguing that Sotomayor, and Puerto Ricans for that matter, are not really immigrants and, in fact, they are American citizens, which is true. But the Puerto Rican experience, and I'm sure Mimi can talk much more about this, it is very much part of the immigrant experience in the United States.

Ms. RYAN: Very.

Mr. ARELLANO: So Judge Sotomayor's mom had to leave her island of Puerto Rican. She became a single mom, unfortunately, and through that, she taught her daughter what it really meant to be an American, what it really meant to advance in life and also taught her, frankly, pride in her Puerto Rican heritage. And that's one hallmark of Sotomayor, to be prideful not only of this country but also of her particular ethnicity and what they've contributed to this country.

CONAN: Damien, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

DAMIEN: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: We're talking about the cultural significance of the nomination and apparent, virtual confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. We want to hear from Latino listeners today for and against Sotomayor. What does this moment mean for you? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation is all but a done deal at this point. She wrapped up her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier today.

For many Latinos, a moment long overdue, the first Hispanic named to the Supreme Court. Still, some have questions and wonder if she is the best first choice. We want to hear from our Hispanic listeners today, for and against Sonia Sotomayor. What does this moment mean for you? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Gustavo Arellano is with us. He writes the syndicated "Ask a Mexican" column and is the author of "Orange County," a personal history. Also with us, Mimi Valdes Ryan, she's editor-in-chief of Latina magazine. And Gustavo Arellano, let me ask you. Is there going to be, do you think, a moment of buyers' remorse for some Latinos if, as expected, Judge Sonia Sotomayor turns out to be a vote in favor of abortion rights?

Mr. ARELLANO: I don't really think so. It's just one issue among many issues, and it seems so far that Sotomayor is really moderate, a little bit more liberal than conservative, but it's going to depend on the totality of her votes in court decisions. I think people will be able to see, well, maybe we shouldn't have been so supportive of her. But nevertheless, it still doesn't take away from the significance of what we are celebrating today. In the future, we'll - only history will be able to judge who - what type of justice Sotomayor is going to become, and nothing, really, honestly can be said until that happens.

CONAN: Mimi Valdes Ryan, the majority of Latinos are Catholic, and the majority of Latinos, you'd say, are pro-life.

Ms. RYAN: Well, I think it depends which generation you're talking to. A lot of older Latinos, I think, are pro-life, but then when you speak to younger Latinos, they're definitely - you know, I won't say, you know, pro-abortion but just definitely pro-choice. So I think there is definitely a split the generations. So at the end of the day, her decisions or sort of how she votes on all these different things, I honestly don't think it really matters. It doesn't - like Gustavo said, it doesn't take away from the moment and just the fact that we have someone that looks like us on this bench.

CONAN: Let's go to Alex(ph), Alex with us from Raleigh in North Carolina.

ALEX (Caller): Oh yes, hi. I mean, I feel happy that they chose, in this case it's a Latina, and I'm Hispanic. You know, the difference is that Hispanics speak Spanish, Latin doesn't - well, I mean, the Latin does, but not everybody…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay. Now you understand some of our problems in life, but go ahead, Alex.

ALEX: I think that I'm super-happy about this, but I think it was a political strategy for Obama. You know, it was a win-win. You know, if they don't choose Sotomayor, the Hispanic community will be against the Republicans. And if they choose her, Obama will have support from the Latin community. Do you see that? I mean, I don't know if a lot of people see that, but I think that is a win-win situation for Obama.

CONAN: Well, Gustavo Arellano, let me ask you about that. George W. Bush won considerable support among Latinos in his two elections, support that went very heavily towards Barack Obama and the Democrats in this last election. What do you think is going to be the lasting political effect of the nomination of Sotomayor?

Mr. ARELLANO: Obviously, Obama wanted to choose somebody who would bolster him politically, but this wasn't definitely a token choice. Sotomayor, of course, has a long, long judicial history, but it does nothing but help Obama.

At the same time, the Republican Party, it could be construed that any criticism of Sotomayor is criticism against Latinos in general, but the Republican Party, as it stands right now, they've shot themselves in the foot way, way, way before Sotomayor, just with their whole know-nothing stance on immigration and their vitriol. Even in the hearings, you have Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma telling Sotomayor in his best Ricky Ricardo voice, you have some 'splaining to do, but the funniest thing is, he can't even get the jokes right. Ricky Ricardo is Cuban, not Puerto Rican. So it just shows the ignorance of a lot of these Republicans, especially the senators who are grilling Sotomayor. In that sense, Latinos, we just - at least in my experience, I just laugh at Republicans and really how clueless they are about Latinos.

CONAN: Mimi Valdes Ryan, were there any moments of sensitivity as you listened to the hearings?

Ms. RYAN: Oh gosh, there's so many. I mean, just - I mean, a lot of these questions and just sort of the condescending tone, and just the, I mean, it's painful to watch, actually. I mean - and I just have to say I'm just so proud of her and how Sotomayor is just handling it. I mean, she's just - they can't rattle her, and I know that makes them mad, and I love it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, seriously.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Alex.

ALEX: No problem.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to line five, Dawn(ph), Dawn calling from Chicago.

DAWN (Caller): Yes, good afternoon. I'm thrilled, and I also agree that I think the way that she handled the grilling was really - it says a lot about the woman herself, and while I am - I'm a Mexican-American Latina. I'm very thrilled with her appointment, but I think that it also says that, you know, we're so diverse as a group that when there are so many opinions that we have - I happen to be a pro-choice Latina. So I'm hoping that her position on the court will further my own philosophies in that area.

CONAN: And would you change your mind if she voted the other way?

DAWN: Would I change my mind? I wouldn't be pleased, let me say that. I mean, obviously, you know, I mean, I was a Latina, and Alberto Gonzales did not make me happy at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAWN: So it could be changed, yes.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much.

DAWN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Gilbert(ph), Gilbert with us from San Antonio.

GILBERT (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, Gilbert, you're on the air.

GILBERT: Hi, Neal, thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure talking to you.

CONAN: Same likewise, go ahead.

GILBERT: Great. Yeah, well, what I'm hoping on this is that we're going to, like, actually kind of change the debate about Latinos and everything like that and just kind of look at everybody, like, as Americans.

I mean, her story is like the typical Irish story. It's the typical Italian story. It's the typical Russian story. It's just a bunch of immigrants who came over here looking for a better life and made something of themselves.

CONAN: So everybody has their story of coming to this country and living in difficult circumstances and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

GILBERT: Right. It's an American story. I hope we can kind of get away from these, you know, stereotypes where it's a Latino, it's an Asian, it's an African. It's just an American story. It's about coming over to a country that has opportunity and making the best out of the situation that you're given.

CONAN: It's interesting. We have an email from Juan(ph) in Los Angeles that seems to be something along the same lines. As a Latino-American male, I find your guests' insistence that Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court is important because she is a Latina and of our ethnicity insulting. It is this type of 1960s thinking that hinders this nation from progressing. Are we to assume that the white senators and House members only work for white Americans? Clearly not. This thinking goes against what America's really about: unity. Just read the Puerto Rican firefighter's comments from the case Sotomayor ruled on. He does not say he thought she should have ruled his way due to race or ethnicity. Your guests' comments, and even talking about this though it's an issue, shows how childish this nation is. Ask them why most Latino voters vote Republican.

Well, they didn't last time around, Juan, and I don't think they did the time before but in substantial numbers voted Republican, but in any case, he does have a point, Gustavo Arellano.

Mr. ARELLANO: Well, it's funny he's writing from Los Angeles. The Republican Party is dead in California because specifically of the policies that they went against Mexican immigrants back in 1994 with Proposition 187.

Also, what the previous caller said, it's absolutely true. This is an American story, but how is America? America is a progression. You have your immigrants. They come here. They're reviled. They live in poverty. Then they build themselves up, and then they become Americans. It's all part of the assimilation process.

What I'm celebrating isn't so much the Balkanization of this country. No, this country isn't Balkanized. What we are seeing, though, is Latinos being accepted in a very high part of American life where they weren't before. That is the American story, celebrating our ethnic groups as they advance, little by little by little, into the full American story because let's not pretend that it's always been fun and games for racial harmony here in this country. Absolutely not. This is a celebration of the truth of this country as opposed to the practice that, unfortunately, has never really been to its potential in the history of this country.

Ms. RYAN: Exactly. I feel the same way. What we're celebrating here is diversity, is the fact that we can look at that bench, and there's more than just one ethnicity on there. You know, obviously we already have African-American, but now that there is a Latina on the bench, that's what we're celebrating. I would love that this country was completely colorless, and things like this didn't matter, but until we get to that point, we have to celebrate any time we have such - when diversity becomes such an important part of the national debate. That's a great thing.

CONAN: It's interesting. That neighborhood, and Mimi Valdes Ryan, you know this very well from New York City, there's an awful lot of neighborhoods that may be Hispanic now but were Jewish before that or Irish or Italian.

Ms. RYAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, New York, I mean, growing up here, I was born and raised in New York City. I, you know, love it here just because it has always been such a diverse place. It's always been a melting pot. I love that, but unfortunately, the rest of the country is not like New York City, you know? I'm very comfortable with all different types of ethnicities, but that's not the case when you go to the middle of the country or wherever else. And I just would love that the rest of the country would celebrate diversity and embrace it and not think that it's such a weird and foreign thing and strange and not American.

I mean, these ethnicities have been here for generations, or when they come here, they're very much about sort of being, you know, integrated in American culture and participating, and this is not about - like I said before, this is about celebrating diversity. That's all this is about.

CONAN: Email on this point, too, from Tatha(ph) in West Bengal, India, and I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly. I feel the feel of triumph in the Latina community will cause a backlash among others. It feels as if they are putting her Latina heritage above being American. And I guess that's to you, Mimi.

Ms. RYAN: No. That's not a - no, that's not sure at all. I mean, I'm very much a Latina, but I'm very much an American, obviously being born and raised here. And again, it just goes to the point of celebrating diversity and seeing different points of view. I just think that this country would be a much better place when it's not like, you know - we just see more representations and different ethnicities that can bring different life experiences and different viewpoints to whether it's the bench, the judicial system politics, whatever it is, that is a really, really great thing.

CONAN: Let's go next to Ricardo(ph). Ricardo with us from Durham in North Carolina.

RICARDO (Caller): Yes. Hello. I think I am ecstatic over the fact that she's being nominated to the - and going to be in the Supreme Court, I think it's about time. I think it's way overdue. I agree with everyone in what they've been saying. More representation of Latinos in higher positions in society is necessary, and just for Latinos, for all ethnicities. Because people need to get over the image of America as primarily of one or another, or this or that ethnic group. America is what it is. It is a land of opportunity. And we're all here to make America better.

And the fact that she's being, you know, lambasted for having said that, you know, a wise Latino whatever dah, dah, dah, that comment, I mean, it just - it goes to show that people are fearful still of the difference of the other and they need to get over it. This is, like, the 21st century. We are a nation of immigrants. We - that's our strength. That's what makes us competitive in the world. We are better for it and people need to realize that.

So the more that the other parts of the country besides New York and Los Angeles and the multicultural centers that already exist, the more that other people in the country see that, hey, there is a different color or different face or different whatever on the bench, and look, she's doing great, the more people will try or, I hope, will get over the fact that, you know, the other has arrived, and they'll be more accepting. And hopefully, we will get to a point where we will be a colorless society.

CONAN: Hmm. Gustavo Arellano, I wanted to follow up on that with you. Obviously, the traditional home of Hispanics and Latinos in this country has been places like Los Angeles, places like New York City. But that has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, as there are now plenty of people of all kinds of origins in places like Durham, North Carolina.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. You had two callers, just in this segment. One from Durham, one from Raleigh. North Carolina, actually percentage-wise, had the largest increase of Latinos in this decade. It's huge. Latinos are all over the United States now. They're in places - I once did a book signing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, right on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. It's a town of 10,000. About 20 percent of the population is Latino, mostly Mexicans from one particular region of Mexico. I was blown away, especially as somebody who grew up here in Southern California, grew up almost my entire life, mostly a super majority Mexicans to realize that it's all over the country. But, of course, the reality of what's going to happen to the United States is kind of like the reality of my life.

You just have immigrants who go, you know, go through life here in the United States, pull themselves up by the bootstraps, to use that cliche, and really just become Americans. I always hate to say that that's going to happen because it's such a cliche. But unfortunately, some people do need to be reminded of that again and again.

CONAN: Ricardo, thanks very much.

RICARDO: And that's been my experience. I am a Mexican-American. I did go to Princeton. And I'm from a very, very poor background. I mean, we didn't even have plumbing when I was growing up.

So I appreciate the fact that that can be done. And people need to see that that's not just for us, that's for everybody. Everybody can do that in this country, and it's a great thing. This should be celebrated by everyone. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And thanks again, Ricardo. Appreciate it.

We're talking with Gustavo Arellano and Mimi Valdes Ryan about this Latina moment. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Eduardo's(ph) on the line. Eduardo from Miami.

EDUARDO (Caller): Yeah. I'm hearing your panelists and they're talking about just Hispanic advance, great. I mean, America is diverse. It's great. I mean, people from all over the world come here and accomplish their golden dream. But that being said, then what next? Is it a requirement that an Asian or any other racial background - I'm ecstatic. I'm Hispanic, proud of it. And I'm glad that she's been nominated.

But the thing is - I mean, other than her background, is race all then point on the bench in the sense that - she's going to be there for life. There was caller, you said earlier: What if she doesn't rule in her, you know, to her liking? Will she be very disappointed? Well, that's right. She's going to be there for life. So let's not just look at it as race. I think, you know, let's look at the fact that, you know, if - race shouldn't be just the sole issue.

CONAN: I think a lot of people, Eduardo, said that and looked at her background 17 years on the federal bench and…

EDUARDO: Well, I'm not disputing that. Your two panelists there, they keep on saying, yeah, you know, it's about time. Well, you know, I agree some, to an extent. But at the same time, I start looking at it and hold on. This is a Supreme Court nomination, Hispanic or not, okay. I mean, if she can do the same qualifications with a different race, would we be lauding that candidate right now?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Interesting question. Mimi Valdes Ryan?

Ms. RYAN: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, her - to me, her qualifications are undeniable. I mean, she has more experience than, what do they say, like 100 years of - I forget exactly what it is. But I mean, she's - I mean, please, stop it. She - her qualifications are undeniable. That's - we don't even have to discuss that.

What we are discussing is just the fact that here's someone with these great qualifications, completely qualified skilled for this position, is clearly competent enough to do it. And the icing on the cake is that, for me, is that she is a Latina woman because she will bring diversity to that bench. And that's what I'm celebrating and excited about.

CONAN: And, quickly, Gustavo Arellano, would it made a difference if she was who she was, but her name was Jackson or Chu?

Mr. ARELLANO: If she's qualified, that's all that matters. All this is, is a moment showing that America is really what it is. It's - we're celebrating who the Latina on the Supreme Court.

I was happy when Alberto Gonzales was nominated because he was the first Mexican-American attorney general to the United States. I wasn't happy with the follow-through but, nevertheless, you could still express pride at that particular moment.

CONAN: Well, thank you both very much. We appreciate your time today. Eduardo, thanks very much for the phone call, too.

And our guests were Gustavo Arellano, author of "Orange County: A Personal History," and a staff writer for OC Weekly, the syndicated column is called "Ask a Mexican," joined us today from member station KUCI in Irvine, California. Mimi Valdes Ryan is the editor-in-chief of Latina Magazine, with us from our bureau in New York.

Coming up next, our Summer Movie Festival continues. We celebrate a movie star whose blue eyes stayed bright well into his 70's.

(Soundbite of move, "Nobody's Fool")

Mr. PAUL NEWMAN: (as Sully Sullivan) I do that. I grow on people.

CONAN: The best Paul Newman movies. Murray Horwitz joins us. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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