Posts Tagged ‘Herman Badillo’

For Puerto Ricans, Sotomayor’s Success Stirs Pride

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

By DAVID GONZALEZ
New York Times (August 6, 2009)

In the summer of 1959, Edwin Torres landed a $60-a-week job and wound up on the front page of El Diario. He had just been hired as the first Puerto Rican assistant district attorney in New York – and probably, he thinks, the entire United States.

He still recalls the headline: “Exemplary Son of El Barrio Becomes Prosecutor.”

“You would’ve thought I had been named attorney general,” he said. “That’s how big it was.”

Half a century later, the long and sometimes bittersweet history of Puerto Ricans in New York is expected to add a celebratory chapter today as the Senate confirms Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Her personal journey – from a single-parent home in the South Bronx projects to the Ivy League and an impressive legal career – has provoked a fierce pride in many other Puerto Ricans who glimpse reflections of their own struggles.

“This is about the acceptance that eluded us,” said Mr. Torres, 78, who himself earned distinction as a jurist, novelist and raconteur. “It is beyond anybody’s imagination when I started that a Puerto Rican could ascend to that position, to the Supreme Court.”

Arguably the highest rung that any Puerto Rican has yet reached in this country, the nomination of Judge Sotomayor is a watershed event for Puerto Rican New York. It builds on the achievements that others of her generation have made in business, politics, the arts and pop culture. It extends the legacy of an earlier, lesser-known generation who created social service and educational institutions that persist today, helping newcomers from Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

Yet the city has also been a place of heartbreak. Though Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in 1917 and large numbers of them arrived in New York in the 1950s, poverty and lack of opportunity still pockmark some of their neighborhoods. A 2004 report by a Hispanic advocacy group showed that compared with other Latino groups nationwide, Puerto Ricans had the highest poverty rate, the lowest average family income and the highest unemployment rate for men.

In politics, the trailblazer Herman Badillo saw his career go from a series of heady firsts in the 1960s to frustration in the 1980s when his dreams of becoming the city’s first Puerto Rican mayor were foiled by Harlem’s political bosses. Just four years ago, Fernando Ferrer was trounced in his bid against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

All those setbacks lose their sting, if only for a moment, in the glow of Judge Sotomayor’s achievement, which many of her fellow Puerto Ricans say is as monumental for them as President Obama’s victory was for African-Americans. It has affirmed a sense of Puerto Rican identity at a moment when that distinction is often obscured by catch-all labels like Latino and Hispanic – and even as it is subjected to negative comparisons.

“Many elite Latin Americans have implied that Puerto Ricans blew it, because we had citizenship and did nothing,” said Lillian Jimenez, a documentary filmmaker who co-produced a series of television ads in support of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. “But we were the biggest Spanish-speaking group in New York for decades, and bore the brunt of discrimination, especially in the 1950s. We struggled for our rights. We have people everywhere doing all kinds of things. But that history has not been known.”

That history is in danger of disappearing in East Harlem, long the cradle of Puerto Rican New York. After waves of gentrification and development, parts of the area are now being advertised as Upper Yorkville, a new annex to the predominantly white Upper East Side. While the poor have stayed behind, many of East Harlem’s successful sons and daughters have scattered to the suburbs.

“We have a whole intellectual and professional class that is invisible – people who came up though the neighborhood, with a working-class background, who really excelled,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy.

“But it’s so dispersed, people don’t see it. They do not make up a real, physical community, but they have the identity.”

For those who paved the way for Judge Sotomayor, embracing that identity was the first step in charting their personal and professional paths out of hardship. Manuel del Valle, 60, an overachiever from the housing projects on Amsterdam Avenue, made the same leaps as the judge – to Princeton University and Yale Law School – but preceded her by five years.

Taking a cue from the black students at Princeton, he and the handful of working-class Puerto Ricans from New York pressured university officials to offer a course on Puerto Rican history and to admit more minority students. They saw their goal as creating a class of lawyers, doctors, writers and activists who would use their expertise to lift up their old neighborhoods.

“Talk about arrogance,” said Mr. del Valle, who now teaches law in Puerto Rico. “We actually believed we would have a dynamic impact on all the institutions American society had to offer.”

Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, he said, is a vindication of those efforts.

“We were invisible,” he said. “She made us visible.”

In New York, many have welcomed the judge’s visibility during a summer when the most celebrated – and reviled – local politicians were two Puerto Rican state senators who brought the state government to a standstill by mounting an abortive coup against their fellow Democrats.

“She really came at a moment when there is a public reassessment of the value of identity politics through this brouhaha in the Senate,” said Ms. Davila, a professor of anthropology at New York University who has written extensively on Puerto Rican and Latino identity. “Here came this woman who reinvigorated us with the idea that a Latina can have a lot to contribute, not just to their own group, but to the entire American society.”

But it is among her own – in the South Bronx, East Harlem or the Los Sures neighborhood of Brooklyn – where Judge Sotomayor’s success resonates loudest, for the simple reason that many people understand the level of perseverance she needed to achieve it.

Orlando Plaza, 41, who took time off from his doctoral studies in history about five years ago to open Camaradas, a popular bar in East Harlem, sees her appeal as a sort of ethnic Rorschach test.

“Whether it’s growing up in the Bronx, going to Catholic school or being from a single-parent household, there are so many tropes in her own story that we feel pride that someone from a background like ours achieved something so enormous,” he said. “This is the real Jenny from the block.”

And it is on the block, among the men and women who left Puerto Rico decades ago so their children might one day become professionals, where her story is most sweetly savored. The faces of the men and women playing dominoes or shooting pool at the Betances Senior Center in the Bronx attest to decades of hard work.

Many of them came to New York as teenagers more out of despair than dreams. Lucy Medina, who arrived in the 1950s, worked as a keypunch operator and in other jobs as she singlehandedly raised two children. Today, her son is a captain in the city’s Department of Correction and her daughter is a real estate executive.

Impressive as the judge’s accomplishments are, Ms. Medina is more impressed with the judge’s mother, Celina Sotomayor, who did what she had to do in order to raise two successful children in the projects.

“Her mother and I are very similar,” said Ms. Medina, 77. “I know what she went through. We sacrificed ourselves so our children would get an education and get ahead. A lot of women here have done that. We stayed on top of our children and made sure they didn’t get sidetracked.”

BADILLO LASHES LATINOS, RIPS HISPANIC VALUES

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Herman Badillo

By Carl Campanile
New York Post (Tuesday, December 19, 2006), page 8

Herman Badillo has dropped a bombshell on his fellow Hispanics – charging that too many are mired in poverty because they don’t value education.

“Education is not a high priority in the Hispanic community . . . Hispanics have simply failed to recognize the overriding importance of education,” the first native-born Puerto Rican elected to Congress writes in his new book, “One Nation, One Standard.”

“Hispanics have failed to assume responsibility for their children’s welfare . . . Hispanic parents rarely get involved with their children’s schools. They seldom attend parent-teacher conferences, ensure that children do their homework or inspire their children to dream of attending college,” he adds.

Badillo writes that many Spanish-speaking immigrants are hard workers, but that to get their children to move up the economic ladder would require a cultural shakeup of sacrifice and “self-improvement” by putting education first – as Asian and other U.S. immigrant groups have.

Hispanics can no longer rely on schools and the government to do it for them, he writes. He further blames “self-segregation” – not discrimination – as a major impediment to progress for many Hispanics. Instead of focusing on assimilating into the American fabric, he writes, too many view themselves as aggrieved minorities.

“Many Hispanic parents seem to accept the characterization of their community as a minority group, something they would find incomprehensible in the Latin and Caribbean countries from which they come,” he writes. “They accept labels such as ‘brown people’ or ‘people of color.’

“Having gone along with such characterizations, some Hispanics behave as if they actually were a persecuted ethnic group, with a permanently diminished capacity for success,” the controversial autobiography says.

Hispanic immigrants would be better served by embracing the American ideal of “one nation, one standard,” Badillo adds.

Badillo, 77, says his own rags-to-riches story proves that the poor – including Hispanics – can become successful. Orphaned in Puerto Rico, he came to the mainland as a boy knowing no English and went on to become the city’s first Puerto Rican borough president, in The Bronx, as well as a congressman, top adviser to three mayors, and CUNY chancellor.

Bronx Democratic leader José Rivera blasted Badillo’s comments as a “total insult” to Latino parent- advocates who fought for decades to get the city to better educate their kids.

“This is unfair. You cannot write a book blaming the victim,” said Rivera.

Instead, Rivera blamed Badillo for educational shortcomings of Latinos – because Badillo held city leadership positions overseeing education under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch.

“He was part of the system that miseducated our children for many years. We are constantly being shortchanged,” Rivera said.

From Amazon.com:

Review

Linda Chavez, author of Out of the Barrio
Herman Badillo is a true leader who doesn’t flinch from expressing difficult truths. His own amazing story provides inspiration and the moral authority that allows him to advocate hard choices for American Hispanics.

Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York
He provides nourishment for intelligent people who call themselves liberals and equally intelligent people who call themselves conservatives. I call him brilliant.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York City
The greatest lesson of Herman Badillo’s story is that the genius of American life—the upward ladder of opportunity that American freedom at its best provides—is better at solving most any problem than any government program.

Edward I. Koch, former mayor of New York City
Herman’s recollections on a host of important national issues, described and discussed in One Nation, One Standard, are fascinating. It is a wonderful read.

Book Description

Why aren’t Hispanics succeeding like Asians, Jews, and other immigrant groups in America? Herman Badillo’s answer is as politically incorrect as the question: Hispanics simply don’t put the same emphasis on education as other immigrant groups.

As the nation’s first Puerto Rican–born U.S. congressman, the trailblazing Badillo once supported bilingual education and other government programs he thought would help the Hispanic community. But he came to see that the real path to prosperity, political unity, and the American mainstream is self- reliance, not big government. Now Badillo is a champion of one standard of achievement for all races and ethnicities.

In this surprising and controversial manifesto, you will learn:

* Why Hispanic culture’s trouble with education, democracy, and economics stems from Mother Spain and the “five-hundred year siesta” she induced in Latin America.

* Why the Congressman who drafted the first Spanish-English bilingual education legislation now believes that bilingual education hurts students more than it helps.

* Why “social promotion” — putting minority students’ self-esteem ahead of their academic performance and then admitting them to college unprepared — continues to this day, despite the system’s documented failures and injustices.

* How self-identifying as “Hispanic” or “white” or “black” undermines achievement, and what lessons we can learn from Latin American countries, where one’s race is irrelevant.

With Central and Latin America exporting a large portion of their poor, Hispanics are on the way to becoming a majority in the United States… but one with all the problems of a minority culture.

Badillo’s solution to this problem relies on traditional values: hard work, education, and achievement. His lessons are important not only for Hispanics but for every American.

About the Author

Herman Badillo was the nation’s first Puerto Rican– born congressman. He also served as the borough president of the Bronx, deputy mayor of New York City, and chairman of the board of the City University of New York. Currently he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.