The Straight Story On Sotomayor It is well known that Sonia Sotomayor is Puerto Rican and that she grew up in a Bronx housing project. But much has been lost in translation. Weekend Edition's Tony Marcano had a very similar upbringing — in fact, he grew up down the block from the Sotomayor family. He has a few misconceptions he'd like to clear up.
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The Straight Story On Sotomayor

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The Straight Story On Sotomayor

The Straight Story On Sotomayor

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

WEEKEND EDITION's senior editor Tony Marcano now offers his own essay about Judge Sotomayor and the media.

TONY MARCANO: My old neighborhood in the Bronx wasn't the kind of place where you were expected to find a future national bigwig - maybe an itinerant journalist or two, but definitely not a Supreme Court nominee. So imagine my surprise when I read that Sonia Sotomayor grew up down the block from me in the Soundview neighborhood.

I didn't know her. She's six years older than me, and I didn't hang out in the Bronxdale Houses where she grew up. I was a few hundred yards down Rosedale Avenue in the James Monroe Houses.

We probably share a lot of the same memories: the White Castle on Bruckner Boulevard, the piragua vendors on Story Avenue, the 27 bus and we share a heritage. We're Nuyoricans. And if she's like me, we probably share the same frustrations, not the least of which are the common misconceptions about Puerto Ricans and about the Bronx.

I hate to say it, but my news media colleagues rarely get it right when they report on neighborhoods like mine. Take something as basic as geography. The Bronxdale and the Monroe Houses are in Soundview, but lots of editors and reporters raised in middle-class or affluent homes have a formula drilled into their heads: low-income plus housing project plus northernmost New York borough equals South Bronx. So, according to them, that's where Bronxdale is - except that it isn't. It's really in the East Bronx.

And if you read the reports that said Judge Sotomayor grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, well, I'd hate to see what's casting that shadow, because Yankee Stadium is about four miles away in the West Bronx, which I suppose is now in the South Bronx, which is really the East Bronx.

What really burns me up is the level of cultural ignorance out there. I'll give you an example: About 14 or 15 years ago, when I was an editor at The New York Times, I sent a young reporter who grew up in Texas to a Dominican neighborhood to cover a racially touchy incident. I don't think he'd ever laid eyes on an Afro-Latino before because here's roughly how our conversation went when he got back to the newsroom.

Me: Who'd you talk to? Him: I talked to some people who were speaking Spanish, but I don't think they were Dominicans. Me: Why not? Him: Well, they were black. So they're Dominicans. I'm not sure. They were speaking Spanish, but they were black. You mean, like me? I'm not sure that he ever got a grip on that concept.

Nothing much has changed since that conversation, so I hope with Judge Sotomayor in the spotlight, someone will paint at least a fairly accurate portrait of her life, and by extension, mine and many others. And I hope that if she's confirmed by the Senate, some entrepreneur from the Bronx will follow her and open at least one decent Puerto Rican restaurant in Washington, because, Judge Sotomayor, I got to tell you, they don't know from pastelas down here. HANSEN: WEEKEND EDITION's senior editor Tony Marcano.

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