I haven’t seen this discussed much in the blogosphere so I thought I would provide it here:
ACTING CHAIRMAN: Mr. Ricci, thank you very much for your testimony. We’ll now hear from Lieutenant Ben Vargas. Ben — Benjamin Vargas is a lieutenant in the New Haven Fire Department and was a plaintiff in the case of Ricci vs. DeStefano. He also worked part-time as a consultant for a company that sells equipment to firefighters. Mr. Vargas?
VARGAS: Thank you. Members of this committee, it is truly an honor to be invited here today. Notably, since our case was summarily dismissed by both the District Court and the Court of Appeals panel, this is the first time I am being given the opportunity to sit and testify before a body and tell my story. I thank for this — thank you to this committee for the opportunity.
Senators of both parties have noted the importance of this proceeding, because decisions of the United States Supreme Court greatly impact the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. I suppose that I and my fellow plaintiffs have shown how true that is. I never envisioned being a plaintiff in a Supreme Court case, much less one that generated so much media and public interest.
I am Hispanic and proud of their heritage and background that Judge Sotomayor and I share. And I congratulate Judge Sotomayor on her nomination.
But the focus should not have been on me being Hispanic. The focus should have been on what I did to earn a promotion to captain and how my own government and some courts responded to that. In short, they didn’t care. I think it important for you to know what I did, that I played by the rules and then endured a long process of asking the courts to enforce those rules.
I am the proud father of three young sons. For them I sought to better my life, and so I spent three months in daily study, preparing for an exam that was unquestionably job-related. My wife, a special education teacher, took time off from work to see me and our children through this process.
I knew we would see little of my sons during these months, when I studied every day at a desk in our basement, so I placed photographs of my boys in front of me. When I would get tired and wanted to stop — wanted to stop, I would look at the pictures, realize that their own future depended on mine, and I would keep going. At one point I packed up and went to a hotel for a day to avoid any distractions, and those pictures came with me.
I was shocked when I was not rewarded for this hard work and sacrifice, but I actually was penalized for it. I became not Ben Vargas, the fire lieutenant who proved themselves qualified to be captain, but a racist statistic. I had to make decisions whether to join those who wanted promotions to be based on race and ethnicity or join those who would insist on being judged solely on their qualifications and the content of their character.