Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From the fields to the bench

Judge Sergio A. Gutierrez serves on the Idaho Court of Appeals. This is excerpted from remarks at the College of Southern Idaho’s third annual Sun Valley Summer Spanish Institute.


Take a look at a condensed view of the earth's population reduced to a representative sample of 100 people: 57 would be Asians, 21 would be European, 14 would be from North, South and Central America and 8 would be Africans. Of those 100, 70 would be non-white, 70 would be non-Christian, 70 would be unable to read and only 1 would have a college education.

This picture of the world underscores the importance of understanding and mutual respect. We have many differences among us, but we share a culture of humanity.

Consider that point in nature where the earth meets the sky—the horizon. What is that line? I submit to you that the horizon is nothing but a healthy coexistence: Neither sky nor earth loses its essential character when they meet.

This is not such a far-fetched notion, that two distinct things can occupy the same space and inform the other's existence. It can happen here in Idaho. Certainly, it has happened elsewhere, and with great success.

I humbly offer you my own story as an example. I was born in Mexico and brought to this country by my parents. They came in search of a new start, and the seeds they planted with that decision proved to bear, for me, the sweetest of fruits: the fruit of opportunity, the fruit of democracy, fruit whose juice now runs in my veins as surely as the blood of my ancestors.

My life was very different from the one we often associate with life in this country. The middle class was seemingly out of my reach. My father worked as a farm laborer in California's San Joaquin Valley, toiling long hours but still unable to afford even basic necessities. My mother's emotional health deteriorated. I was sent to live with my grandmother in New Mexico.

As I woke up day after day only to find myself, once again, sitting barefoot upon the dirt floor of my grandmother's shack-like home, I felt like life had dealt me some bad cards. I thought that I didn't have much going for me. But my unsophisticated and abjectly poor grandmother left me a most valuable gift: a love of learning. Grandmother taught herself to read, and then she taught me.

When grandmother passed away, I returned to California at age 12 to live again with my parents, whose hardships had only worsened. I dropped out of school to find work in the fields to help my family survive.

My immaturity found its only outlet in my free time. I began to run around with an older crowd, hoodlums involved with criminal activity and drug abuse.

But an Anglo woman working at the job service office took an interest in me and introduced me to the Job Corps program. I began to feel a sense of self-confidence. I discovered that I had potential. I passed all my exams and became the first in my family to earn a GED.

I am proud to tell you that many of my dreams have since been realized—not because I am some sort of extraordinary person, but because I have enjoyed the support of so many people. I began to understand that although I was of Mexican ancestry, I was also American. That although I was poor in material possessions, I was rich with love and support.

Now I believe that the most important thing I can do, that we can do, is to provide this same kind of nourishment to the younger generation.

Over 100,000 Latinos have made Idaho their home, and that number grows every year. Indeed, therefore, it can be said that the face of Idaho is changing, but I assure you that its heart remains the same. This heart, this great hope for the future, binds us together—no matter our color, our religion, our culture or our language.

The horizon is ours to grasp.

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