Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Olga Tribute

The NY Times' David Gonzales penned a wonderful paean to Olga Mendez in today's paper-calling her, rightfully, a political trailblazer: "A standing-room-only crowd from the powerful to the plebian filled the modest sanctuary of an East Harlem church on Monday to pay respects to the memory and legacy of State Senator Olga A. Méndez. Befitting a scrappy, independent political pioneer — in 1978 she was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to a state legislature in the United States — her funeral attracted the governor, the mayor, several members of Congress and countless local officials. She was lauded for many things: her tenacity; her willingness to cross party lines; her embrace of labor, housing and educational rights for the poor. She was eulogized as a loyal friend, a fierce competitor and a proud Puerto Rican."

And Gonzales captured the mood of la gente as well: “I don’t think we’ll ever see another one like her,” said Monin Paez, who said she always voted for Senator Méndez. “When she spoke, you had to listen. The politicians today don’t talk to us. They only come by when they want your vote.”

Nothing, however, can match the eloquence of our friend Gerson Borerro's tribute to the late La Senadora-placing the pending confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an integral part of the Mendez legacy. Here's an excerpt from Gerson's eulogy: "This week, most New Yorkers—and certainly los Puertorriqueños and Latinos in general—anxiously anticipate the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, by the United States Senate, to the Supreme Court. I can assure you that the Olga I wrote about in my columns, interviewed on the radio, spoke with about hard-fought battles to open doors of exclusion to our community, talked to about the “machismo” she experienced along with the sexism that punishes women in the body politic of our nation, is, I’m certain, one of those women on whose shoulders Sonia Sotomayor stands."

Well done Gerson, and hats off to Gonzales who so moving captured the feeling of those regular folks who came yesterday to pay their last respects to Olga in the humble church that embodied the humility of our dear friend. As one local construction worker told the Times, and we'll give him the last word: "Outside, there was a plainspoken pride among the construction workers who sweated for the duration of the Mass. “Olga always did the right thing for El Barrio,” said one worker, Marty Torres. “She was about change. She was no punk.”