The Wise Latina depicted by The Lazy Americans

I’ve been meaning to write a post for the longest time but gosh darn it, life just gets busier and never seems to give you a break. Well, the academic year has just ended so I’m given a few days to breathe before diving straight into my summer plans. While reading through Google Reader, I came across a post on the Angry Asian Man website that just left me…well speechless:


Though I haven’t actually read the article, the term “Wise Latina” probably refers to a controverisal statement Judge Sonia Sotomayor made in 2001: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” And in depicting the image of “The Wise Latina”, National Review has decided to use the image of the Buddha. So my question is, why the Buddha?

Somehow, I just can’t get away from thinking about this in racial terms. Maybe it’s because I found this on the Angry Asian Man website or she was deliberately referring to her ethnic background in using the word “Latina” in her speech. But I do think its important. So why did they portray her as Asian? Why couldn’t they find a Hispanic/Latino icon that also resembled wisdom? I get that they are trying to show her as wise, but there are plenty of historical / religous / national Hispanic leaders that also convey a wise demeanor that is probably more fitting to the character of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. One that immediately comes to mind is _(insert answer here)._

Can you fill in that blank? I tried and I can’t. Is it because there aren’t any wise Hispanic figures out there? I highly doubt it. I am probably like the average American who doesn’t have any particular knowledge of Hispanic American culture and is only exposed to it if it appears on television on MTV or Tony Mencia. I’m in no way looking down upon Hispanic American culture but rather, I’m trying to make the point that as part of American mainstream media, the magazine editors chose to compare Judge Sotomayor to a religious leader from India rather than an actual Hispanic leader resembling wisdom, because not many people are familiar with prominent Hispanic figures (which in a full circle, is a result of underrepresentation of minorities in American mainstream media). Rather than risk a comparison few would understand, they use the Buddha, an icon many people are familiar with even if it appears as a rather odd comparison.

After all, what do Judge Sotomayor and the Buddha have in common? The Buddha is by no means a “judge” and Sotomayor by no means a “buddha”. So when it comes down to what the comparison is based on, it seems to be based on the characteristic described by the word “wise”. And that’s it. So if that’s all they have in common, than using the Buddha, which in this case is more of a product of mass culture than any reference to Buddhism, instead of finding a closer comparison is convenient and lazy.

10 Replies to “The Wise Latina depicted by The Lazy Americans”

  1. And not just lazy and sloppy thinking…they think, Asian, Hispanic, who cares?- these people just see her as another “foreigner” intruding into their good ol’ boy club, and then they wonder why they got voted out of office!

  2. This magazine color is highly offensive, disgusting and in incredibly poor taste to all–including many whites. As a Caucasian-American I am continually embarrassed at how racial groups are viewed and portrayed in America. We have come a ways but still have a long ways to go. I don’t agree with those who say “racism is dead” or that we are now living in a “post-racial” society.

    As for wise Latinos I came up with the following: Roberto González Nieves the Archbishop of Puerto Rico, Luis Walter Alvarez Nobel Prize winner in the area of Physics, Father Junipero Serra who was the founder of the California missions which marked the beginning of Latino culture and influence in that region and a whole pantheon of other Latin American Catholic priests who were leading intellectuals.

  3. I do not think she is Buddhist. The New York Times states she is a practicing Catholic (making her potentially the 6th Catholic Supreme Court Justice).

    Even so, that would hardly justify a cover of her as a garishly colored Buddha complete with slanted eyes and rather prominent front-teeth.

  4. I was gonna do this, but the lefty blogs kind of beat it a lot.

    Look, National Review is not what it used to be.

    They have a long history of racism.

  5. Thank you for all your comments! I’m looking to read the actual article soon so I’ll see if my opinion changes after I read it.

  6. I agree that the cover is offensive on many levels. You and others have made great points on this issue, so I won’t reiterate. After you brought this to my attention I did a quick search of it. Many other blogs noted this strange cover by the National Review. While I agree that this was offensive, some people on other blogs pointed out that any caricature of Sotomayor would have been seen as offensive and racist, which is probably true. This doesn’t justify it in any way, but I thought it was an interesting (albeit small) point.

    The other thing I wanted to note was that the author of the cover story was Ramesh Ponnuru

    Ponnuru is an Indian-American conservative pundit. Now, I’m not suggesting that makes the cover any less offensive…but does it shift the discussion in any way knowing that the author is also Indian?

    (Interestingly enough, both Ponnuru and Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton- both majored in history.)

  7. ” While I agree that this was offensive, some people on other blogs pointed out that any caricature of Sotomayor would have been seen as offensive and racist, which is probably true. ”

    That reminds me of a recent NY Times article I read about the new Disney movie coming out. It features African American characters and for the first time, an African American princess. There have been criticisms as well as praise. It seems like any portrayal of social minorities tends to receive criticisms no matter how carefully it’s presented simply because of how sensitive the topic is.

    I would still need to read the article (planning on swinging by a Borders sometime this week) to make any judgments. I would hope that just because the author is Indian-American doesn’t change the way people perceive the article and caricature. People from minority backgrounds can also be just as narrow-minded and culturally insensitive as people from the dominant group.

    Thanks for providing us with that extra info!

  8. You know, that’s a good point. If you exaggerate a supposedly racial physical characteristic in a caricature, it is going to appear racist. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of cartoons in the 1930s and ’40s that exaggerated the lips, teeth and eyes of black and Asian people. They’re not funny or fun to see.

    With ears, you’re safe — both George W. Bush and Barack Obama can be drawn with huge ears, and we can smile about it.

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