Themes

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Last Updated on August 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

In this memoir, Justice Sotomayor explores her personal and professional life up until her appointment to the US Supreme Court. As the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor had earlier established a trailblazing record at other levels of jurisprudence. This memoir chronicles her poor childhood in a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx through her education at Princeton and Yale law school. Her memoir was published in both English and Spanish so it could reach a wider audience, including people in Spanish-speaking countries.

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The Impact of Privilege

One of the key themes of the memoir is the relationship between privilege and persistence, particularly in a democratic country that does not have a level playing field. When she attended Princeton, Sotomayor found that her background was very different from that of her college classmates, who were primarily wealthy and white. Having not had access to high school with AP course offerings, she had to put in huge amounts of extra effort just to earn good grades and catch up with her peers academically. While at school, she was also always aware of her class and cultural differences. Eventually, she came to realize that her life, though different from those of her classmates, had given her certain insights earlier than her peers. She stresses that her family’s work ethic provided much of the support she needed to ultimately succeed at Princeton and Yale.

The Value of Family

The importance of family, especially in Sotomayor's largely female extended family, is another a major theme in her memoir. Because her father died when she was a child, her mother—who later remarried—was left to shoulder the tremendous responsibility of raising children on her own. Her mother struggled with her grief, and this made her a distant figure in Sotomayor's early childhood. During this time, Sotomayor formed a close relationship with her grandmother (Abuelita), who helped care for her granddaughter, always showing her care and love. Sotomayor eventually becomes closer to her mother, and when she is sworn in as a justice on the Supreme Court, she is thankful to be surrounded by her family, whose support and love have been integral to her personal and professional growth.

The Relationship Between Self-Discipline and Success

The book opens with Sotomayor recounting her diagnoses with type-1 diabetes at age seven. Though this may seem an odd place to start her memoir, Sotomayor's recollection of how she learned to manage her condition at a young age—even teaching herself how to administer her own insulin injections—foreshadows the personal qualities that led to her professional success: namely, her strong sense of responsibility and independence. While this anecdote relates to her personal life rather than the study or practice of law, Sotomayor convincingly shows how the habits imposed through self-direction figured into her professional work as well. Her capacity for discipline is demonstrated again later in the memoir when she arrives at Princeton only to realize that she is lagging behind her classmates academically. Instead of giving up, she pushes herself to work twice as hard and eventually graduates at the top of her class.

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