Saturday, July 25, 2009

In Search of Wise Latinas

by Annette Leal Mattern

Even Anderson Cooper is Tweeting about them, these “wise Latinas,” as though they are a rare discovery. CNN managed to convene a panel of them by gathering noted journalists from Spanish media and other accomplished Latinas . . . evidently an uncommon assemblage the network considered newsworthy.

I’m not sure what Sonia Sotomayor intended when she first spoke those words about a wise Latina making better decisions, but I do know that the naysayers in Congress are desperate to make something out of nothing, mostly because they can’t find anything more offensive to block her appointment to the Supreme Court. Truth be told, I’m amused to see the Capitol Hill Boys Club choking on how to raise their objections, dancing gingerly around their arguments for fear of being branded by a racial hot potato.

But what is fascinating is their fascination with the phrase “wise Latina.”

I’ve thought a lot about that word “wise,” mostly because my mother made me. The dictionary defines it as having the ability to discern properly what is right. And “wisdom” is that knowledge coupled with sound judgment. People who are wise exhibit sense, understanding, and enlightenment. To my mother, it was imperative that I understand that life was full of choices – the challenge was to make the wise one.

So back to the Congressmen’s question: Do wise Latinas make better decisions? Although Sotomayor is trying to defuse her opponents’ obsession with this off-hand statement, I believe the answer is yes. Yes, because a wise Latina has to deal with more obstacles - from perception to prejudice - than did her white male counterparts. Just getting to the starting gate tempers Latinas differently.

Without question, Sotomayor is an Obama-esque success story. But, what seems lost in the chatter is not just what she became, but whom. The tenacity, commitment, conviction and perseverance it takes to rise to the top of any field as a Latina is tremendous. There are no fast-tracks, no network, no club. Sotomayor had to discover her own human potential without insights or experience, for she is living a life her mother could never have imagined, a parallel universe in which an immigrant’s daughter stood before the world court of opinion and emerged triumphant.

Talking about Sonia Sotomayor has raised the conversation about Latinas everywhere. Hopefully, our national scotoma about this vibrant, intelligent sector of our society will be healed and opportunity will embrace these newly discovered wise Latinas.

Regardless, history now knows the face of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who stood before them, being judged by them - not the fiery, hot-tempered Latina they might have hoped to elicit - but the calm, composed, exceptionally competent professional.

And yes, Sonia, in many cases you will make better decisions.


About Annette Leal Mattern

Annette held numerous corporate leadership positions with Fortune 100 companies where she championed development of minorities for upper management. She received the National Women of Color Technology Award for Enlightenment for diversity achievements and was recognized by Latina Style and Vice President Gore as one of the most influential Latinas in American business. In 2000, she left the corporate world to devote herself to women's cancer causes. She published a book, Outside The Lines of love, life, and cancer, to help others cope with the disease. She has also published in Hispanic Engineer and several other media. She serves on the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and founded the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona, for which she serves as president. She also writes for and is a motivational speaker on survivorship.