In New York, everybody's ethnic. The city may be the mother of all melting pots, but it's so big, so varied, that people naturally tend to cluster in subgroups. Like the old sitcom song said, sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Or at least the town in Russia/Puerto Rico/Ireland where your people hail from.
In politics, it's easy to move from ethnic pride to something less charming. We've been seeing that lately in Albany, where the fabled debacle in the state senate was, at bottom, a wrestling match between black, Hispanic and white groups of Democratic lawmakers all struggling for ascendancy.
It hit rock bottom when Pedro Espada, a freshman senator who represents a district in the Bronx where he doesn't live and doesn't seem to even have an office, condescended to return to his party in return for the title of majority leader. His ally, Ruben Diaz crowed that it was a great day for Puerto Rican New Yorkers "the greatest achievement our community has ever gotten."
Well, not really.
Today, when the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, we're reminded of the other side of New York ethnicity. Even the most clannish New Yorker rubs up against so many different people of so many levels of accomplishment, it's almost impossible to miss the fact that every group and clan is a mixture of overachievers and stupendous embarrassments, of mind-boggling hard work and astonishing laziness.
Sotomayor, who struggled with diabetes from childhood, grew up in the projects of the South Bronx. Her father, a factory worker who spoke only Spanish, died when she was nine. Her mother worked six days a week as a nurse at a methadone clinic to send her son and daughter to the best possible schools. Sonia graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, from Yale Law. Her legal career was meteoric. She could have made a fortune in corporate litigation, but she took a big pay cut to become a federal judge. Her diligence at work was matched by her determination to give back to the community.
Everyone expects that once the hearings are over, she'll be sworn in as the first Latina justice of the Supreme Court. Maybe the greatest achievement her community has ever gotten. Or perhaps second to all the mothers who get up six days a week to go to work and create the Sonias of tomorrow.
On the blog front, Virginia Sanchez-Korrol has an idea of who Sotomayor was talking about when she referred to "wise Latinas." And organized crime expert Jerry Capeci has another tale of mob mayhem that involves a plot to kill a top federal prosecutor.