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By Herman Sillas
Last week’s events caused me to recall earlier incidents in my life. The week started out innocently enough. I went to San Francisco for the International Latino Book Awards ceremony presented by Latino Literacy Now in partnership with Las Comadres Para Las Americas and REFORMA, an affiliate of the American Library Association.
My book View From The Pier—Stories from San Clemente was a finalist in four categories, Best Gift Book, Best Illustrative Cover, Best Art Book and Best First Book.
Hundreds of Latino authors gathered with family and friends in anticipation of receiving awards. Seeing them occupying a large room in the Marriot Marquis San Francisco, I recalled visiting the public library in the 1960s looking for books about Latinos; the shelves were bare.
This motivated me to write. I concluded that if you don’t write your story then someone else will and then it will be their story, not yours. So, 46 years later, here I was in a room filled with excited, award-winning Latino authors who were to be honored for writing their story. Hundreds of Latino authors now write stories for all of America to read. I felt humbled but proud to be among those to be honored.
The day before the awards ceremony, the United States Supreme Court in a five-to-four decision recognized same-sex marriages and prohibited states from disallowing such unions.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was appointed by President Reagan.
The decision caused me to remember the last day of my Constitutional Law class at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1958. Professor Arvo Van Alstyne, who has since passed away, stated that in his opinion the United States Constitution was inspired by God. He pointed out that the document had only been amended 22 times (at that time) since 1787 when it was adopted.
Van Alstyne noted that other nations copied our constitution, but their version didn’t survive. Ours remains in spite of all the social changes that have occurred since its adoption.
Noting that Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, I recalled our first and only meeting.
In 1978 President Jimmy Carter appointed me to serve as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California. My appointment was met with some criticism from local bar members in Sacramento.
I was the first Mexican-American to be appointed to that position in the district. Mexican-American attorneys in Sacramento held a press conference criticizing those who opposed my appointment and accused them of being anti-Mexican. This was not the first time that I found myself in the center of a controversy because of my heritage, but I was getting tired of having to deal with this issue every time I did something.
Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Justice Kennedy, who at that time sat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He congratulated me on my appointment and invited me to his office. He was gracious and welcomed me as the United States Attorney. I never forgot his gesture. The controversy over my appointment ceased.
Thinking of Justice Kennedy’s action on my behalf and the rationale of his decision for same-sex marriages confirms his belief that our constitution requires equality for all. Easier said than done, but being the recipient of Justice Kennedy’s sense of justice, his recent opinion was predictable. He’s for inclusion not exclusion. Was the court’s majority opinion God-inspired? I think Van Alstyne would have thought so.
Remembering past incidents that have relevancy to present events can be challenging, because at my age I tend to forget things. But while fishing on the pier, my mind will wander and occasionally hook a past event. What else is there to do when fish aren’t biting?
That’s the view from the pier.
Herman Sillas received two first-place awards for Best Gift Book and Best Illustrative Cover, second place for Best Art Book and an honorable mention for Best First Book. He may be reached at email@example.com.