Sonia Sotomayor discusses childhood, role models at Lisner Auditorium

Media Credit: Sarah Urtz | Photographer

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor answers children's questions during a book talk with Eva Longoria Bastón at Lisner Auditorium Friday.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke about her life and career at an event in Lisner Auditorium Friday.

At the event, Sotomayor spoke with actress Eva Longoria Bastón about her childhood and her journey to becoming the first Hispanic person to sit on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor also talked about two autobiographical books she released last September: a picture book titled “Turning Pages: My Life Story” and an abridged version of her memoir published in 2013, “The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor.”

Throughout the evening, Sotomayor referenced the importance of books in her life. She said books often provided her with solace during the sad periods of her childhood, like her father’s death.

“I had to find a way to go somewhere where I could get away from the sadness a bit, and that place for me was my library,” she said. “I found friends in books.”

Sotomayor and Bastón were introduced at the event by Wendy Perez, an eighth-grader attending Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington and a participant of Latinas Leading Tomorrow, a local nonprofit mentorship organization. Prior to the event, Sotomayor met with more than 300 local grade-school students who received a grant from the Eva Longoria Foundation and Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif. and an alumnus, to attend the event.

Addressing an audience largely consisting of Hispanic students, Sotomayor urged the crowd to find a role model to guide their life. She added that her personal role models included her grandmother, aunts and mother.

“It’s important to look for people who you can say are doing good things in life, that they’re doing things that are important for people, and to learn from them how you can do good things,” she said. “That’s what a role model is to me. Someone who teaches you how to be a better person.”

Sotomayor said she decided to become a lawyer to help people work through their disputes and live peacefully with each other. She added that, after becoming a lawyer, she decided to become a judge because she believed she would be able to explain laws that help avoid conflict.

“What laws try to do is to give us rules that we can live together by,” she said. “I loved being a lawyer because, as a lawyer, I was able to help people in their relationships with one another.”

Sotomayor, who called herself a proud American with a Puerto Rican heart, said the color of her skin presented her with obstacles as she worked to become a justice. She said that during the nomination process, she faced insults questioning her intelligence and ability to perform the duties of a Supreme Court justice.

“Being a Supreme Court justice has taken a lot of years of a lot of hard work and studying,” she said. “Some people, when I was nominated to the Supreme Court, said I wasn’t smart enough to be on the Court. That hurt me a lot. But despite how hard it is, there’s a whole lot of other people in the world who helped me.”

But Sotomayor said she was encouraged to continue her bid for the nation’s highest court when she thought about the importance of giving young Latinos a role model.

“For all the Latinos and Latinas in this room, I don’t want to be the only Latina justice on the Supreme Court,” she said. “Hurry up, grow up, work hard and either join me or come take my place, OK?”

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