A dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father and an angry mother forced Sonia Sotomayor to grow up quickly. Throw in a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes at age seven, “a culture that pushes boys out onto the streets while protecting girls,” and a neighborhood where stairwells were filled with muggers and addicts shooting up. Not the background you would expect for the first Hispanic justice and third female justice in the Supreme Court’s 220-year history.
In her memoir, My Beloved World, Sotomayor reflects on her childhood as the daughter of Puerto Rican parents, her education, her relationships, and her brilliant career.
The self-discipline and perseverance began at a very early age. Faced with a life-threatening disease, a working mother and a father with trembling hands, Sotomayor started giving herself insulin shots at age seven. This “existential independence” set the stage for a remarkable life journey with impressive stops at Princeton, Yale Law, the Manhattan district attorney’s office, and an appointment to the bench.
Sotomayor, however, is quick to point out the obstacles and challenges along the way.
Realizing that she lacked the appropriate study skills in elementary school, she approached the smartest girl in the class and asked her how to study. When she received a C on her first midterm paper at Princeton, she devoted each day’s lunch hour during subsequent summers to grammar exercises and learning ten new words. After a less than stellar performance at one of the top law firms in Manhattan, she trusted her instincts and applied for a job at the state department.
Unfortunately, this well-honed independence led to the break-up of her marriage to high school sweetheart, Kevin Noonan. Her husband felt she didn’t really need him; Sotomayor didn’t think of “need as an essential part of love.” While she regrets the children she never had, she lavishes love and attention on her many godchildren.
Whenever Sotomayor entered any new environment, she experienced an initial period “of fevered insecurity, a reflexive terror that I’ll fall flat on my face.” But the love and protection of her grandmother Abuelita allowed her “to imagine the most improbable of possibilities” and her mother taught her that “a surplus of effort could overcome a deficit of confidence.”
Throughout the book, it is evident that Justice Sonia Sotomayor has a deep and sincere love for the “beloved world” that shaped her values. In sharing many of the darker experiences, she has succeeded in showing everyone, especially people in difficult circumstances, that happy endings are possible.