Editor's Note: Miguel Estrada, a 40-year-old native of Honduras, was nominated last May by President George W. Bush for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If confirmed, he could be positioned to become the first Latino named to the Supreme Court. Democrats in the Senate, however have not set confirmation hearings and are being accused by Republicans and some Latino groups of stalling because of Estrada's conservative views. The following is an open letter to Senator Edward Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
"Dear Senator Kennedy:
Re: Nomination of Miguel Estrada
I am of Mexican extraction, born in Los Angeles, and have been actively involved in the Mexican American and Latino communities for more than forty years. During this tenure I have worked for US Mexican representation while simultaneously focusing on education, working for years as a volunteer in preschool ventures. All the while I pursued my doctorate at night school receiving a Ph.D. in Latin American Studies from the University of Southern California. I give this introduction so you will know that I have been involved and have a stake in that community.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that we made a tremendous error in pushing US Mexicans for appointed positions just based on the color of their skin. Here I am differentiating between elected and appointed positions because at least in the former instance there is a filtering process and people get the opportunity to know a person's record.
With appointed positions, that person reflects the ideology of the person appointing him or her, and the people who the appointee is supposed to represent have no say in the matter. In California, during the Clinton Administration, Samuel Paz was nominated to the federal bench but his name was withdrawn because of opposition from law enforcement groups who opposed him because he had been president of the local American Civil Liberties Union and represented largely poor Latinos in police abuse cases. Paz was a popular choice and was a product of that community.
With Miguel Estrada, we have a person who is not from the Latino community who has not identified in any manner with that community. Estrada comes from a different class of Latinos who do not identify with the aspirations of most Latinos. I make an issue of this because we cannot afford to have people in high office who do not know our community but by virtue of the fact that they have a Spanish-surname will be considered spokespersons for US Latinos. Indeed, President Bush is making the appointment because he is a Latino and for him to say otherwise is hypocritical.
The tactic of the Bush administration is insidious. George Bush I appointed Clarence Thomas, hardly a Justice Marshall. George II is positioning himself to appoint Estrada, an upper class Latino who has no organic roots to Latinos overall.
My life has been spent largely with one sector of the contested identity of those called Latinos, the US Mexican. While I do not believe that being of Mexican extraction is essential for the appointee, expecting him to know the issues of this community and the barriers they face to equality before the law is reasonable. Frankly, if Estrada were of Mexican extraction, had come to this country at the age of 17, and had similar class attitudes, I would not be supporting him.
It is intellectually dishonest to claim that Estrada represents Latinos, considering his privileged class position, and his lack of bonding with those who he is supposed to represent. It is hypocrisy and I urge you to oppose his nomination."
Rodolfo F. Acu?a, Ph.D. is a professor at California State University, Northridge.