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Vanguard America

11:43 AM, May 26, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Sotomayor was a tireless crusader for Latino affirmative action while at Princeton University. She was at war with the administration over what she told the student newspaper was a "lack of commitment" in hiring "Puerto Rican and Chicano administrators."

In 1974 Sotomayor wrote an ope-ed in the Daily Princetonian explaining why the Puerto Rican and Chicano students had filed a complaint with the University:

The lack of commitment on the part of the university to the Puerto Rican or Chicano heritage seems self-evident from these facts. Yet statistical evidence is not the total concern or complaint of the Puerto Rican or Chicano students--what is terrifying to us are the implications. The facts imply and reflect the total absence of regard, concern and respect for an entire people and their culture. In effect, they reflect an attempt--a successful attempt so far--to relegate an important cultural sector of the population to oblivion.

Chicanos were the first natives of the Southwest. They were the largest population sector to become citizens when the Southwest was incorporated into the United States. Puerto Ricans constitute 12 percent of the population in New Jersey. Immediately surrounding Princeton--New Brunswick, Trenton, and Newark--they constitute 15 percent of the population. Yet we estimate that over 90 percent of the Princeton community knows nothing about either culture other than that we speak Spanish and that we are presently complaining about something. The members of the student body, for the same reason they study the French, Russians, English or Chinese, are the ones to benefit from the inclusion of our culture into the Princeton community and curriculum. Puerto Rican or Chicano students have no great need to study about their own culture--we live it. What good is it to know about what happens west of the Urals if you do not know what is happening a few miles around you.

It has been said that the universities of America are the vanguard of societal ideas and changes. Princeton University claims to foster the intellectual diversity, spirit and thoughts that are necessary components in order to achieve this ideal. Yet words are transitory, it is the practice of the ideas you espouse that affect society and are permanent. Thus it is only when Princeton fulfills the goal of being a truly representative community that it can attempt to instill in society a respect for all people--regardless of race, color, sex or national origin.

This is strikingly similar to the case President Obama made this morning in favor of Sotomayor's appointment to the Court. It was her experience, her background, her "extraordinary journey" that argued in her favor, and her appointment would be "another important step toward realizing the ideal that is etched about its entrance: Equal justice under the law." Sotomayor may have changed her views since her college days, though her record obviously indicates consistency, but perhaps what's most striking is that on the issue of diversity, Obama seems to have the views of a 21-year-old Hispanic girl -- that is, only by having a black president, an Hispanic justice, a female secretary of State, and Bozo the Clown as vice president will the United States become a true "vanguard of societal ideas and changes."

Update: Links to original documents removed at the request of the Princeton University Library.