Latina Sonia Sotomayor may figure that ethnicity should determine judicial outcomes, but Ben Vargas, a plaintiff in the New Haven firefighters’ case, thinks differently. He is a Latino who believes that promotions should be based on merit, not race. Shock!
Not surprisingly, his views have not gone over well with those who have created and benefited from today’s racial spoils system. But his career–and desire to be rewarded for his hard work and achievements–act as a powerful rebuke to Judge Sotomayor.
Amazingly, the New York Times includes a positive profile of Vargas today. Reports the Times:
When the United States Supreme Court ruled this week in the firefighters’ favor, Lieutenant Vargas, 40, the son of Puerto Rican parents, found himself celebrating amid an awkward racial dynamic: As the lone Hispanic among the 18 plaintiffs who had challenged an affirmative action policy, he had also challenged an appeals court decision joined by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court.
“She’s from Puerto Rico, and I’m from Puerto Rico,” he said. “She obviously feels differently than I do.”
The Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision is expected to have repercussions on employment discrimination law that go well beyond fire departments, where minority groups have been woefully underrepresented, particularly in leadership positions. On the steps of the federal courthouse in New Haven on Monday, a lawyer for the firefighters, Karen Lee Torre, said they had “become a symbol for millions of Americans who have grown tired of seeing individual achievement and merit take a back seat to race and ethnicity.”
For Lieutenant Vargas, the ruling will probably mean a long-awaited promotion to captain in a 350-member department that he has admired since childhood but that has been plagued for decades by racial tension and recriminations.
“I consider myself an American – I was born and raised here,” he said in an interview on the porch of his home in the wooded suburb of Wallingford. “I love my people. I love my culture. I love our rice and beans, our salsa music, our language – everything my parents raised us with. But I am so grateful for the opportunity only the United States can give.”
When Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor–assuming nothing happens to derail her approval by the Senate–dives into the cases before her, will her empathy reach someone like Vargas? Someone who understands why opportunity, not race, should be what America is about?
The Times profile concludes:
Gesturing toward his three young sons, Lieutenant Vargas explained why he had no regrets. “I want them to have a fair shake, to get a job on their merits and not because they’re Hispanic or they fill a quota,” he said. “What a lousy way to live.”
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