Sonia Sotomayor's Dollar-an-Hour Job Stops Boredom

Sunday, March 10, 2013

She was the first Latina appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In this excerpt from her book, "My Beloved World," Sonia Sotomayor recounts her first job and growing up in the housing projects in the Bronx.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor


Credit: Commonwealth Club on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

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NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--The summer vacation between freshman and sophomore years, I was working my way through the summer reading list when "Lord of the Flies" brought me to a halt.

I wasn't ready to start another book when I finished that one. I'd never read anything so layered with meaning; it haunted me and I needed to think about it some more. But I didn't want to spend the whole break doing nothing but reading and watching TV.

Junior was happy shooting baskets all the daylight hours, but there wasn't much else going on around the projects if you were too old for the playground and not into drugs. Orchard Beach still beckoned, roasting traffic and all, but getting there was a trek you couldn't make every day. Besides, without Abuelita's laugh and the anticipation of her overgenerous picnic in the trunk, without Gallego gunning the engine of a car packed with squirming kids, somehow it just wasn't the same.

So I decided to get a job. Mami and Titi Carmen were sitting in Abuelita's kitchen over coffee when I announced my plan. There were no shops or businesses in the projects, but maybe I could find someone to hire me in Abuelita's old neighborhood. Titi Carmen still lived at Southern Boulevard and worked nearby at United Bargains. The mom-and-pop stores under the El wouldn't hire kids--leaning on family labor rather than paying a stranger--but the bigger retailers along Southern Boulevard might. I proposed to walk down the street and inquire in each one.

"Don't do that," said Titi Carmen. "Let me ask Angie." Angie was Titi Carmen's boss.

My mother meanwhile looked stricken and bit her lip. She didn't say anything until Titi had gone home. Then, for the first time, she told me a little bit about her own childhood: about sewing and ironing handkerchiefs for Titi Aurora since before she could remember, for hours every day. "I resented it, Sonia. I don't want you to grow up feeling like I did." She went on to apologize for being unable to buy us more things but still insisted it would be even worse if I blamed her one day for depriving me of a childhood.

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