Sonia Sotomayor

by Zhan Ouyang from San Diego, California in United States

I do know one thing about me: I don't measure myself by others' expectations or let others define my worth.

                                                                         - Sonia Sotomayor

"Every reasonable man and woman is a potential scoundrel and a potential good citizen. What a man depends upon his character what's inside" (Shaw). George Bernard Shaw believes that everyone has the potential to be anything because what one becomes is determined by the values and morals of a person from the inside. Social class, race, gender, and sexual orientations do not determine the future or successes of one in society. Potential is not limited to certain backgrounds; the notorious prisoner can become a world leader. The question constantly pondered is whether one has the mental integrity to overpower taglines stamped onto each individual based on outer appearances. Traits such as perseverance and courage bring about actions that are unique to the world and provide resolutions to the devastating, or seemingly futile, issues of society. Issues like racism, sexism, violence are forever existent, but with the growing amount of heroes, these problems can diminish. Heroes are not perfect; therefore, the world is inevitably imperfect no matter how many heroes are present. One may contemplate the declination of heroes in the modern world compared to those of the Renaissance or the Great Enlightenment. Formerly, it was the harsh environment that stimulated an enormous group of heroes; now, heroes are not only defined by their actions to resolve modern-day crises, but also by the impact they create morally or inspirationally. These types of heroes may not be the epitome of greatness or the equal of Albert Einstein; they could be everyday people: police officers, nurses, doctors, teachers, or just figures worthy of one’s admiration. A hero is not partial to only one specific group. They are an inspiration to numerous people because of courage and perseverance to combat challenges and demolish issues of society.

121598Sonia Sotomayor poses for a picture as a young child. to do greatness for others, Sonia Sotomayor, defined as a minority of her time, delivers moments of inspiration to the world. An alcoholic father, a largely absent mother, a family of immigrants from Puerto Rico, Sonia Sotomayor's life was full of barriers and hardships waiting to be endured by the strongest soldiers. In an already insecure childhood, diabetes hit at around eight years old, followed by the death of her father, which further struck Sotomayor’s mother into a devastating state. Although the unfortunate events did not diminish, Sotomayor’s fears did. Prompted by the willingness to achieve her goals to a brighter future, she began to unleash her abilities of mental integrity. In fifth grade, she persisted in receiving all A’s by the end of the year; driven by gold stars, her perseverance is what brought accomplishment and success into a life that seemingly deprived of potential. The ethical values obtained by Sotomayor is what brought her from the squalid conditions of a family on the brink of poverty, towards a dream that has become reality. In modern society, the perseverance to persistently keep a moving force driving in oneself and the courageousness to stand up against social issues serve as aspects for a hero. Perseverance is a self-driven motive to engage in the battles of life and become stronger through the process. Sotomayor combatted family issues, striving to reach the apex of her abilities; with this attitude, she has driven beyond what her childhood life promised. Courageousness is found when Sotomayor battles racism and despicable people during her years at work. Faced with trials and tribulations consisted of family issues and racism, Sotomayor perseveres through family hardships that once threatened to drown her in despair, and possesses the courage to demolish the racist stereotypes that once defined her potentials to succeed; furthermore, she depicts the epitome of the American Dream- from a minority who had no prospects to one who created their destiny.

Sotomayor’s excruciating life did not barricade her success - in fact, her perseverance to push her potentials will promote higher honors in a life that promised otherwise. At a young age, Sotomayor not only faced the challenges that sought to tear the family apart, but also succeeded in combatting personal issues: “I was not yet eight years old when I was diagnosed with diabetes. To my family, the disease was a deadly curse. To me, it was more a threat to the already fragile world of my childhood, a state of constant tension punctuated by explosive discord, all of it caused by my father’s alcoholism and my mother’s response to it, whether family fight or emotional flight. But the disease also inspired in me a kind of precocious self-reliance that is not uncommon in children who feel the adults around them to be unreliable” (Sotomayor 13). Sotomayor’s life is constantly unstable. Her description of “family fight or emotional flight” is referring to a life where there is no other alternative than to engage in tears and fury, or screaming and violence. The “deadly curse” is referring to a burden Sotomayor would have to carry throughout her life; this “curse” hung over her life, warning, that with each passing day, how little a life she is able to pursue. Diabetes not only denied multiple future careers and threatened to withdraw her dreams, but also jeopardized her life; despite the discouraging factors, she remained determined to achieve what seemed to be impossible. The conflicts thrashed into Sotomayor's life did not leave her in despair; she was not the one to only hope for a better life or a brighter future. Action was the word that rung with meaning. The only way to leave the life of darkness behind is to act and not anticipate for a miracle that will never occur. Sotomayor is an independent and self-driven person who does not depend on other people to provide her mental strength or social endurance. Despite her background disadvantages, despite her low academic grades, she does not let those daunting factors discourage her potential to reach higher. As a fifth-grader, Sotomayor decides to reach for her own academic success, something beyond her present stance that might propel her forward: “Mrs. Reilly, our fifth-grade teacher unleashed my competitive spirit. She would put a gold star on the blackboard each time a student did something really well, and was I a sucker for those gold stars. I was determined to collect as I could. After the first A’s began appearing on my report card, I made a solemn vow that from then on, every report card would have at least one more A than the last one” (Sotomayor 90). No one forced or even directed Sotomayor on her path to success. She was self-driven to do better and become more than what her backgrounds describe of her. Determined to push hard, to have “one more A than the last one,” depicts the perseverance she possesses to make a difference in a life only she can control. Sotomayor transferred her thoughts into actions, and with those actions, she is able to achieve whatever she believes in accomplishing. With her father being alcoholic and her mother almost never having time to bond with her children, Sotomayor does not believe how a person starts out is how they are defined to become. Golden stars represent her potential to achieve the best in herself. The golden stars that gave her hope, that instigated a force to go beyond her capabilities, allowed her to realize that she was the captain of her own ship. Her sails may not be the whitest, her wood may not be the most polished but on her sails writes the word “perseverance” and within her ship carries a massive dream. The sorrowful, impoverished, and hopeless minorities- no, this does not define Sotomayor; she believes in persevering through any challenge, if one is willing to be self-driven to accomplish anything, nothing is futile.  

As a Latina, Sotomayor is defined as a minority, a low-status woman in society; yet she possesses the courage to break society's stereotypes and define her true self through intellectual abilities rather than race. Upon the event of buying a jacket from an expensive, white occupied, shop, the saleswoman was unwilling to provide assistance to Sotomayor and her mother due to their Latina presence, until she learned about Sotomayor’s commitment to an Ivy League. After Sotomayor’s mother stood in line for more than necessary did the saleswoman finally acknowledge their presence when Sotomayor’s mother inquired about buying a coat; the saleswoman shrugged them off until she realized how blinded she had been: “ ‘So where’s she going to college?’ ‘To Princeton’ …She was suddenly all courtesy and respect, full of praise for Princeton, and more than happy to make a phone call in search of my coat” (Sotomayor 158). Sotomayor’s long-term determination in her academics and extracurriculars has proven successful to her Princeton admission; with this credential, people will see and treat her differently. She possesses the courage to pursue dreams higher than her potential; and when she achieves those goals, it will serve to prove herself worthier than what people judge based on her Latina race. At first, the saleswoman thought her Latina customers were “a pain in the ass” simply because she feels superior to them. After hearing how a Latina like themselves have the capability to go beyond the intelligence of a white person, she became “all courtesy and respect.” The reaction of the saleswoman before compared to after portrays how people are easily prejudiced, and if one has the courage to prove themselves from the inside out, then they will be judged differently. People with the highest levels of education can be manipulated by biases and stereotypes, and in this case, Sotomayor fights against a white man for his inferior actions: “ ‘Don’t you think it's a disservice to minorities, hiring them without necessary credentials, knowing you’ll have to fire them a few years later’… I decided to address a formal complaint to the firm through the university’s career office and challenge Shaw, Pittman’s right to recruit on campus in light of that partner’s disregard for Yale’s discrimination policy” (Sotomayor 243). Shaw Pittman assumed Sotomayor to be unqualified because it is rare to uphold such a high honor and be a Latina at the same time. No, Sotomayor was not giving in to the racist words of Pittman. With the experience and education Sotomayor acquired, she displays courage that she is not fearful to disturb Pittman’s system at Yale when firing off her complaint of his discrimination. Even though Sotomayor is a minority, she does not believe in keeping such absurdness away from the public and being manner able to people who discriminate despite them being superior to her. In fact, her potential and abilities lead her farther than narrow-minded people like Shaw Pittman. Without the courage Sotomayor possesses, her honor would be demolished by the racism thrown towards her; yet she can outsmart her opponents and use her credentials as a factor to her intellectual capabilities despite the stereotypes for Latinas.

148752Sonia SotomayorWiki CommonsBefore Sonia Sotomayor unraveled the perseverance to endure the life she was given, before she harnessed the courage to stand greater than the stereotypes, she was thrown in despair; now, after achieving the best in herself, Sotomayor has stirred a fantasy into reality. “ ‘Just study,’ she would say. ‘I don’t care what grade you get, just study. No me importa si trabajan lavando baños. Lo importante es hacerlo bien.’ I don’t care if you clean toilets, just do it well. Achievement was all very well, but it was the process, not the goal, that was most important” (Sotomayor 73). Sotomayor did not possess the greatest of background, but despite her harsh life conditions, she held the persistence to keep on treading through deep waters. Latinas were considered one of the minorities of society, and Sotomayor was determined to overcome the challenges that barricaded her chance to succeed just like anyone else. When I am experiencing failures from my life, like the time when I did not win anything from Science Olympiad in seventh grade. I became downtrodden; I felt utterly stupid that even sixth graders were achieving higher than me. My failures did not prevent me from giving up this passion, and in eighth grade, I worked very hard; the hard work did pay off as stood there, eyes shining, teeth gleaming, a medal dangling from my neck. “Finally, he blurted it out. ‘Look, nothing personal. I just don’t like brassy Jewish women’ … I looked at him. ‘You’re right, I can’t do anything about that’ ” (Sotomayor 232). Racism was never oblivious to Sotomayor. Yet, she is never intimidated by the presence of racism. Sotomayor does not erupt into perpetual violence to defend her honor; instead, she remains calm and resilient to hateful words driven by racist stereotypes.  “As the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor already stands as a role model for Latinos… the associate justice hopes to inspire those facing disease, discrimination, drugs and alcoholism, divorce and the dire poverty she faced growing up” (Wolf 2). The values Sotomayor possesses as a person, became the tools to combat the “alcoholism, divorce, and the dire poverty”. Sotomayor is an inspiration because of the way she perseveres even after the greatest setbacks. Other people facing the same situations will see her as a role model; that the way one starts does not determine how one will end.

I was inspired by Sotomayor’s integrity and the way she was able to divide and conquer the daily issues of her life. She made me believe that if she could do it, so could I. Especially when I am pressured by a sudden, horrific “B” in my grade, I tell myself actions can speak louder than words; hence, I work harder to redeem myself. "My family showed me by their example how wonderful and vibrant life is and how wonderful and magical it is to have a Latina soul… love being a Puertorriqueña and to love America and value its lesson that great things could be achieved if one works hard for it. But achieving success here is no easy accomplishment for Latinos or Latinas, and although that struggle did not and does not create a Latina identity, it does inspire how I live my life” (New York Times 10). What is most intriguing, is Sotomayor’s shameless face for her family and her origins even when she doubts her intelligence will drive her very far. She not only accepts the life granted to her, but also never stopped embracing her Latino race that had caused many issues. I remember distinctly, that day in sixth grade when I felt the social norms build up about being Asian. I began to become intimidated by the way other people judged me just by my appearance: black hair, brown eyes, yellow skin- Asian. Honestly, my entire life, I never really embraced my culture the way my parents expected me to. Until my recent trip to China, where I stayed for a month with my beloved cousins, did I finally understand and love my origins. Sotomayor's shameless passion for her culture and her background is an inspiration to those who are self-conscious and take their lives for granted. " ‘You know, failure hurts. Any kind of failure stings. If you live in the sting, you will - undoubtedly - fail. My way of getting past the sting is to say no, I'm just not going to let this get me down' " (Sotomayor). Everyone has the potential to be who they aspire to become. Sotomayor has experienced the "stings" of life and understood how it felt to be underestimated by those superior. As quoted by Shaw, everyone can be a “potential scoundrel and a potential good citizen”. It is our passions, our aspirations, and our values that determine who we will become. Whatever happens in the future is up to one to decide. Sonia Sotomayor never gave up her dream to become a judge; she persevered through all obstacles to achieve the highest honor ever imaginable. Fortunes are non-existent; fate is not preliminary. Only know that in a lifetime, one is given a book and a pen. The pages are blank, only waiting to be written on. One’s fate is unclear, only to be steered by one’s actions.


Works Cited

“Lecture: ‘A Latina Judge’s Voice.’” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 May 2009,

Sotomayor, Sonia. My Beloved World. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

Wolf, Richard. "Sotomayor hopes to extend reach as role model in new book." USA Today, 14 Jan. 2013, p. 05A. Biography in Context, Accessed 26 Dec. 2017.

Zimbardow, Philip. “What Makes a Hero?” Greater Good, 18 Jan. 2011,

Page created on 2/24/2018 8:23:19 PM

Last edited 7/8/2022 4:17:54 PM

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Related Links

Sonia Sotomayor Biography - Learn more about Sotomayor's life as a child and later on!
Supreme Court of the United States - View the different figures in the Supreme Court including Sotomayor who is known as the first Latina to be in that position.