The Sotomayor saga


MPR’s Midmorning has done a great job lining up a program reacting to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. I won’t wade into the politics of her nomination nor the analysis of her judicial record because they’re available there.

I am interested in her journey from the south Bronx to an appointment with the president in the East Room. How is it that one person can make such a journey, and not most others? Nature or nurture?

Regardless of how you feel about the politics, there’s no denying she’s a story of success from hard times. Her father, who had only a third-grade education, died when she was 9. Her mother, a nurse, took a second job to support her family. True, this sort of thing happens to people all of the time, but most don’t go on to be Supreme Court justices.

Here are a few links with background:

The Chicago Tribune calls her “plucky.” “Sotomayor immersed herself in Nancy Drew books and spent hours watching Perry Mason on television, and knew she wanted to be a judge by the age of 10 after being inspired by a Perry Mason episode that ended with the camera settling on the robed sage,” it says.

The New York Daily News adds that she made a heck of a jump from a housing project to Princeton, but doesn’t answer the question: “how is that possible? What — other than Perry Mason — allowed her to escape the Bronx (Six Degrees of Aerosmith: Steven Tyler of Aerosmith went to the same high school)? Is she a fluke or is she an example of what hard work and some breaks can do? “Born in the Bronx in 1954 to parents from Puerto Rico, she was diagnosed with diabetes at 8. Her father, a factory worker, died when she was 9. Her mother supported Sotomayor and her brother, now a doctor, by working at methadone clinics,” it says.

“Like Sonia’s mother, he had a willingness to work hard, a strong sense of family, and a belief in the American Dream,” President Obama said this morning. How much of achieving success consists of those traits?

In an interview with the Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, she outlined the criteria that makes poor Latinos successful. “This is the pathology of successful Latinos and other successful individuals who come from economically deprived populations. It is hard to enjoy your success and wear it comfortably when the world we have grown up in is filled with friends and sometimes relatives who don’t make it in our society at all.”

In this 2004 video from the Law School Admission Council in 2004., posted today, Sotomayor describes more about her upbringing:

Her comments refute some of the descriptions of her housing project-apartment. One account today called it “drab.” She called it “pristine” and “wonderful.”

“My mom believed that education was the key to everything in the world. If you became educated, you could do whatever you wanted, and accomplish whatever dreams you had,” she said, adding she didn’t think of herself as a “minority” in the environment she was in.

From the looks of things today, the kids at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx might have seen the message firsthand that anything is still possible.