It doesn’t take much evidence to figure out why they call Justice Sonia Sotomayor Ají the “hot pepper.” Since she accepted her nomination to the Supreme Court in 2009, Justice Sotomayor has been known to speak her mind. She isn’t shy about taking a stand, and as the first Hispanic and third female Justice to serve on the Court, she is a role model to all who hear her speak.
But life didn’t lead Sotomayor to her seat on the Court without obstacles. At eight years old, when her peers in the Bronx were mostly worried about the night’s homework, young Sonia was pulling a kitchen chair up to the stove in her family’s home so that she could light the burner to sterilize a needle that she would inject into herself to help stabilize her sugar levels. Being diagnosed with diabetes at a young age is something Justice Sotomayor reflects on often. In fact, it is the scene that her new memoir, My Beloved World, opens on. It is from that chair propped up against the stove that we first get a glimpse into the making of the strong woman she has become.
Diabetes was not the only hurdle that Sotomayor had to jump on her way to the Supreme Court bench. Her alcoholic father died when she was a child; her single mother had to learn to speak English; every penny that Sonia’s mother earned from her job as a nurse had to be carefully spent to make ends meet in their home. And yet Sonia never fell at these hurdles. In fact, she chose to soar over them. Always a determined child (how many of us would take a chair to that stove?), she found that when she combined her persistent personality with a love for learning, doors began to open, and ideas for a future began to form.
Once opened, that door lead Sotomayor to top grades in high school. Still, until it was suggested that she could study at Harvard, Yale or Princeton, smart, strong Sonia was unaware that there were college options open to her beyond the local community college. Some told her she wouldn’t succeed at an Ivy League school, and others told her that she would only be considered for admission because of her nationality, but she worked against the odds, graduating with top honors from Princeton University before attending Yale Law School.
Upon graduation from Yale, Sotomayor set off on a career path that lead her to nomination by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court. Through it all, one thing Sotomayor never did was give up. Though the road was never smooth, today Justice Sotomayor stands as an inspiring example to women across the country, whether they too are pulling chairs to their stove so that they can sterilize a needle, or reading books and dreaming of one day becoming a judge. She teaches us all that we can achieve whatever it is that we dream for, as long as we work hard to get there and never give up hope.
Enjoy this excerpt from My Beloved World, where Sotomayor remembers her high school years in the Bronx.