By Maibe Gonzalez Fuentes, FI2W Contributor
The Latino community of Chelsea, Mass. had twice the reason to celebrate when Judge Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the Supreme Court. They had recently pushed for and gained the appointment of their own “wise Latina” for the local criminal and civil court.
Last month, Gov. Deval Patrick named Bronx-born judge Diana Maldonado First Justice of the Chelsea District Court.
The judge and Justice Sotomayor share a similar history. Maldonado, who is 50, was born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in the Bronx. The youngest of ten siblings, she attended Bronx public schools, and Stony Brook University (a New York State college), before attending Northeastern University law school. After graduating, she worked for Neighborhood Defender Services in Harlem, New York, leaving in 1993 to become the first Latina appointed to the Massachusetts Federal Defenders Office.
Comparison between Maldonado and Sotomayor seem inevitable these days. “I received a congratulations card with the acronym TOWL. I had to ask the sender what it meant, and the person said: The Other Wise Latina,” Maldonado said in a phone interview with Feet in 2 Worlds.
Asked how she feels when called the Sotomayor of Chelsea, Maldonado affably said: “I wear it proudly. It’s really wonderful. I’m certainly proud of her. Her appointment has brought very positive attention to our community. Some people think that kids from the Bronx can’t make it, but if you work hard, it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can succeed.”
It makes sense that the city of Chelsea, with a 48 percent Hispanic population, many of them new immigrants from Central and South America, now boasts a Spanish-speaking judge. Chelsea community advocates lobbied for her appointment for a year before she was appointed. Her upbringing, community advocates believe, endows her with an invaluable understanding of issues affecting the poor and minorities.
Maldonado seems to agree. “We view the world through the lenses of who we are. In applying the rule of law there is no question in my mind that we inevitably reflect some of that,” she said during an interview conducted in plain Spanglish.
The issue of race in the judiciary system is a complicated one, however. Judge Maldonado cautiously adds: “I think our judiciary should reflect the nation and we are a nation of diverse people. But while diversity is important, this job is for a person who can follow the letter of the law and has the knowledge to do the job.”
Her statement elicited the inevitable question about Judge Sotomayor’s remarks regarding her Latino wisdom. “Sometimes we say things that make sense at the time they are said, and at another time can be taken out of context,” she said.
Currently, six of the 367 judges in the state of Massachusetts are of Hispanic origin.