Being Brown: Sonia Sotomayor and the Latino Question

Regular price $ 18.95

by Lizaro Lima

University of California

11/12/2019, paperback

SKU: 9780520300897


Being Brown: Sonia Sotomayor and the Latino Question tells the story of the country's first Latina Supreme Court Associate Justice's rise to the pinnacle of American public life at a moment of profound demographic and political transformation. While Sotomayor's confirmation appeared to signal the greater acceptance and inclusion of Latinos--the nation's largest "minority majority"--the uncritical embrace of her status as a "possibility model" and icon paradoxically erased the fact that her success was due to civil rights policies and safeguards that no longer existed.

Being Brown analyzes Sotomayor's story of success and accomplishment, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, in order to ask: What do we lose in democratic practice when we allow symbolic inclusion to supplant the work of meaningful political enfranchisement? In a historical moment of resurgent racism, unrelenting Latino bashing, and previously unimaginable "blood and soil" Nazism, Being Brown explains what we stand to lose when we allow democratic values to be trampled for the sake of political expediency, and demonstrates how understanding "the Latino question" can fortify democratic practice.

Being Brown provides the historical vocabulary for understanding why the Latino body politic is central to the country's future and why Sonia Sotomayor's biography provides an important window into understanding America, and the country's largest minority majority, at this historical juncture. In the process, Being Brown counters "alternative facts" with historical precision and ethical clarity to invigorate the best of democratic practice at a historical moment when we need it most.

Number 9 in the University of California Press series American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present.


"We love heroes, but seldom do we extricate the lessons we could from their biographies, especially when examined against the historical and political contexts that led to their rise. This important book does just that. Lázaro Lima's tribute to Sonia Sotomayor is also a timely warning against the pull of narratives of uplift and social mobility that have been generated around the judge and the political work that they do. This book shows we have much to learn from examining Sotomayor's story about the political enfranchisement of Latinxs, the state of democracy, and what meaningful political enfranchisement should look like. Lima's astute analysis has lessons for everyone."--Arlene Dávila, author of El Mall: The Spatial and Class Politics of Shopping Malls in Latin America

"In Being Brown, Lázaro Lima offers an indispensable cultural analysis of the first Latina elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Exploring Sonia Sotomayor's status as a 'Latina for the nation, ' Lima situates her within the historical and ongoing dynamics of Latinx civic inequality and exclusion. Brimming with theoretical insights and unexpected points of departure, Being Brown is necessary reading for anyone interested in questions of race, representation, and the future of Latinx democratic practice."--Cristina Beltrán, author of The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity

"A critical meditation on the significance of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Being Brown is a nuanced interrogation of the limits of inclusion as framed by a sobering account of the historical and ongoing disenfranchisement of brown life from U.S. civil society. A must-read for a time of crisis."--Joshua Chambers-Letson, author of After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life

"A scholar of heft, Lima makes writing and argumentation seem easy in the same way that a finished painting or sculpture seem obvious and effortless. Being Brown is inspired, and inspirational, in its rigor and sophistication."--John 'Rio' Riofrio, author of Continental Shifts: Migration, Representation, and the Struggle for Justice in Latin(o) America

"With sophistication and grace, this critical biography unpacks the trouble with liberal-humanist narratives of 'uplift' while nevertheless celebrating Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the moment of her confirmation. A scholarly tour de force and a readerly treasure."--Patrick Anderson, author of Autobiography of a Disease


Lázaro Lima is Professor of Latino Studies in the Department of Africana, Puerto Rican, and Latino Studies at Hunter College, CUNY. He is the author of The Latino Body: Crisis Identities in American Literary and Cultural Memory and the coeditor, with Felice Picano, of Ambientes: New Queer Latino Writing.