Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Una Vida Tremenda

Part One: I cried during most of that 60 Minutes interview, because it touched so many sentimental chords in me.

By Guadalupe Gonzalez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: February 5, 2013

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: <i>Una Vida Tremenda</i>


When mi querido arrived home a couple of weeks ago, he said, "Sit down, I have something to show you."

He proceeded to play the 60 Minutes interview with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court. Although she and the television crew had guards, she strolled through the public housing in the Bronx, where she had lived with her mother and brother. Where she had beat up the kids who beat up her brother.

People called out to her from the windows, and she responded, in Spanish. She had no pretense or ego trip going on. She said she was simply "Sonia from the Bronx." It was so refreshing and unusual for me to see a person in that position, being real and true to herself. For I have seen some judges who flounce around, talking smack about attorneys, their clients, courthouse personnel, you name it. At times, I was surprised that their black judicial robes were able to fit around their massive egos.

Justice Sotomayor talked about her childhood. The fact that her alcoholic father died when she was nine. That her Mother took charge and extolled the virtue of education. That she learned when she was ten that she had Type One Diabetes, and the impact that had on her life. She had dreamt of being a "cop", but decided to become an attorney because she could not become a cop with her malady.

Justice Sotomayor used to read "Nancy Drew" books and watched Perry Mason. She received a card from Princeton, notifying her it was "possible" that she would be admitted there. Some in her high school were taken aback, thinking that she was receiving preferential treatment. You see, Justice Sotomayor had been born of Puerto Rican immigrant parents. She did attend Princeton and ultimately went to Yale law school and began the practice of law.

This interview was the first time I had heard her speak. Her speech is precise, thoughtful and sincere. Her Mami was presented, and "Sonia from the Bronx" held her hand, as an hija holds the hand of her Mami. Mrs. Sotomayor seemed shy and was deferential to her daughter, saying that "Sonia did everything."

I cried during most of that interview, because it touched so many sentimental chords in me. I, too, am first generation, my parents having come from Mexico. My parents stressed education for all of us. My Papi worked endless hours to provide a home, food and tuition for the schools we attended. My Mami babysat other people's children, in order to make money to supplement the family income.

I, too, read the Nancy Drew books, where our intrepid protagonist, Nancy, would drive her "roadster" to the rather mundane crime scenes. Her father, an attorney, was there to receive her at home. And her boyfriend, Ned, was around. But it was all very chaste. And I, too, would watch Perry Mason with great interest. (Of course, now when I watch it, I find myself yelling at the TV, "He can't do that! State the reason for the objection, Perry!")

I remember my Papi coming home late, working into the night to make sales. And I remember my Mami, sometimes sitting in the back yard, crying from tiredness and frustration. But I would watch as she would dry her tears, and come back to us. If I awakened her in the night because I felt sick, she would open her eyes immediately, and a smile would be on her face. The words "Si, mijita" were the first words spoken, as if she had been in the middle of a conversation with me. She made dresses for my sisters and for me. And when I married, she sat me down after the rehearsal dinner and had the inevitable "Mami a Hija" talk.

I cried, because my parents sent me to an all-girl college prep high school. They struggled to pay the tuition each month. Sometimes my Papi would drive us to Playa del Rey, his favorite beach. And as we drove along Jefferson Blvd., he would point to a bluff where the letters "LU" appeared in huge white initials. And he would say, "That is where you are going to college." Little did we know that it was not a coed school.

And when I applied to college, I did so on my own, for I had no one to ask for advice on the essays. Not like today, where some kids have tutors to train them on how to have an impeccable interview. Or the fortunate kids have parents with the bucks to hire a writer to write their college essays for them, because "everyone is doing it."

I was so lucky in that I was accepted to the school with a big "LU". Fortune smiled down on me and I was in the second graduating class with women. Marymount had merged with Loyola University. The letters on Jefferson Blvd. now read "LMU". My study habits in high school were so great, that college was a breeze, a beautiful and quiet campus where we were protected. But we were challenged to think big thoughts--and "outside the box" was even better. And the best part was that I had a scholarship for all four years.

On January 25th, my husband arranged for us to go to Justice Sonia Sotomayor's booksigning, at Vroman's, a Pasadena bookstore.


Guadalupe Gonzalez(c)2013

About Guadalupe Gonzalez, Contributing Writer:
Una Latina Orgullosa e Abogada en Los Angeles

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