SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Ricans tuned in to Sonia Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearings on Monday to cheer on the judge with local roots whose nomination to the Supreme Court has boosted pride across the island.
In the western coastal city of Mayaguez, one of Sotomayor's cousins, bakery owner Jose Baez, said he was recording the hearings to preserve a "historic" moment.
"We know what this represents for minorities, especially for Puerto Ricans," Baez said.
Sotomayor, who was born in New York to parents from this U.S. Caribbean territory, was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the first Hispanic justice on the high court.
Many Puerto Ricans also see the nomination of the self-described "Nuyorican" as symbolic of islanders' achievement on the U.S. mainland, which is home to more than 4 million Puerto Ricans — more than live on the island.
"This nomination is also a testimony to the capacity and contributions of the people of Puerto Rico," wrote the leader of the island's main opposition party, Hector Ferrer, in a letter of support to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
At the University of Puerto Rico Law School, students watched Monday's hearing on laptops in the library and on student lounge televisions.
"You have to support her because she is Puerto Rican and she has overcome not only the barrier of racism, but also that of being a woman," said Alwin Lopez, 21. "That is something to admire and celebrate."
Sotomayor was born in 1954 during a large, post-World War II influx of Puerto Ricans to New York. She has kept close ties with the island, visiting frequently to see relatives and offer lectures.
Her father, who died when she was 9, was from the Santurce area of San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. Her mother, a nurse, hails from Lajas, a mostly rural area on the southwest coast.
Many of Sotomayor's cousins live around Mayaguez, where Baez said the family planned to get together later to watch the tapes of the hearings.
"We are grateful for the support she has," Baez said.