The appointment of new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has encouraged political involvement among minority students who still face social injustices every day, congressional aide Gladys Rodriguez-Parker said.
Rodriguez-Parker discussed her own upbringing as a minority member in Boston as part of Suffolk University’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month on Tuesday.
Rodriguez-Parker, aide to Massachusetts Rep. James McGovern, said the most important issues facing the Hispanic community today are health care, education, immigration and youth violence. For example, three out of four Latinos have no health insurance in the United States.’ She said she hopes Sotomayor will make a difference on minority rights.
‘[Sotomayor’s confirmation] means a great deal to our community. What a historical moment,’ she said. ‘But we will have to see what happens with the decisions she makes.’
Rodriguez-Parker said she was raised in both Puerto Rico and South Boston, where she consistently faced harassment from peers and strangers. She said her childhood experiences, including an attack on her home with a Molotov cocktail as a child, inspired an awareness of issues of civil rights and a desire to get involved in politics.
‘I could not look at any situation where injustice was evident and not do anything about it,’ Rodriguez-Parker said.
In addition to working as a congressional aide, Rodriguez-Parker said she has worked for several political campaigns, including that of President Barack Obama.
Suffolk Director of Diversity Services Jacinda Felix-Haro said she is very happy and proud of judge Sotomayor’s confirmation.
‘To see someone on a path that I followed achieving such a level of success was very inspiring to me,’ she said. ‘We need to keep moving in this direction to get more diversity and new viewpoints on the bench.’
Despite this new minority representation, Rodriguez-Parker said the key to change lives is education and activism.
‘There doesn’t seem to be the same hunger in the belly that we saw during the civil rights movement,’ she said. ‘It’s up to today’s youth to get involved with the issues that are affecting everyone.’
‘Am I mad about the issues of education and immigration? Yes. Are we working on those issues? Yes. Are poor people knocking at our doors for change? No,’ she said. ‘You need to make your voice heard.’
Felix-Haro agreed and said today’s youth should speak out on relevant issues.
‘I would definitely encourage students to get involved, Look into interest groups, learn from other people’s experiences, contribute, become knowledgeable, talk to your professors, make connections and step out of your comfort zone,’ she said. ‘That is how you make a difference.’
Suffolk junior Chardline Faiteau said she is glad she attended the speech.
‘Coming from a minority neighborhood, I see people who complain a lot but never want to act,’ Faiteau said. ‘[Rodriguez-Parker] kept saying that we need to make a lot of noise. And she’s right. We need to get involved with things we care about. We need to make more noise.’
President of the Suffolk University Hispanic Association Laura Pichardo said she thinks the speech was inspirational.
‘Most people think that minorities can’t get very far,’ she said. ‘She’s shown people that as long as you have your head on straight and you try hard, you can succeed, no matter where you come from.’