Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography

By Mendoza, Sylvia | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, December/January 2017 | Go to article overview

Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography


Mendoza, Sylvia, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


When United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor walked into Shiley Auditorium at the University of San Diego back in 2013, the place was packed. In fact, the sell-out crowd was indicative of what the rest of her book tour would look like. Her memoir, "My Beloved World," had just hit the stands. It would go on to climb the New York Times bestseller list where it would reach the coveted #1 spot in non-fiction.

I was in the auditorium, like a groupie, clutching her book against my chest like a treasure, waiting for a glance of this rock star. A lover of books since the days I'd grown up traveling from base to base as a Navy kid, Sotomayor's book meant more.

She told her life story with truth and transparency, in all its grit and little glory. She spoke for many of us about everyday obstacles and discrimination- of being Latina, a woman, poor. She also dealt with childhood diabetes and an alcoholic father who died when she was nine. Raised by a single mom who worked two jobs to put her and her brother through school, Sotomayor knew two things from a very young age: she was smart and liked to learn and solve problems- and she wanted to be a judge.

Those of us in the audience that afternoon were her cheerleaders. And she was our inspiration. If she could do it, we could do it, too-whatever "it" meant to each individual present- young and old, men and women, boys and girls.

Touted as one of the most powerful Latinas in the country, Justice Sotomayor was already America's new sweetheart, a celeb on the one hand, a rebel on the other. The "Wise Latina" label slapped on her was proudly picked up by a nationwide fan base ever since she had been nominated by President Barack Obama for the open seat in the Supreme Court in 2009. This Justice-the first Latina and only third woman ever to be in the lineup-had come from humble Nuyorican roots, stirring up a swell of pride and support. She will hold the position for her lifetime (or until she retires or is impeached!). Sotomayor lobbied for herself; stood up to relentless, probing interrogations; yet remained rock steady in her confidence that she could do the job. She had already made a name for herself in the judicial arena and as an attorney throughout her career.

As she walked across the stage that day, the buzz of conversations died down. I sat up straighter. She was royalty but with your Latina girl-next-door charisma. Her smile, dare I say it, reached her eyes. There was warmth there. And a true interest in those she spoke to directly. We waited, wanting to hear her story from her own lips. Wanting to know it was real.

It turned out her stories about her childhood and obstacles were very real. So were her joys and heartaches about life as a Nuyorican. Her advice challenged us to dream big and not let anything stop us. Her no-nonsense, no self-pity approach inspired us to deal with what we face and move forward-no excuses.

As she signed my book at the end of the event, we connected. I shared that I had lived in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, for seven years and that my son was born there. Her family roots were there, and she'd written about her memories so beautifully. Only a few words were spoken, but it gave me a glimpse of a courageous and outspoken woman.

Sotomayor had stepped into the spotlight, but in reality, she was the beacon of light for many.

I leftwanting to be a better person, woman, mother, writer, journalist-and to rise to the challenge of pursuing my own life passion.

Fast forward to 2015. I received a two-book contract to be the launch author of the "Living History" series for Zest Books. Aimed at middle grade readers (ages 10-13), the biographical series features inspiring men and women of color.

My first book would be "Sonia Sotomayor: A Biography."

In the year of research, writing and editing with a fantastic editor, my respect and awe for Justice Sotomayor grew. At first, I was overwhelmed with the prospect of 1) the research; 2) condensing, organizing and simplifying the research and 3) writing the story in an engaging way for children-my first time ever writing in this genre. …

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