Stories of life challenges and the determination to overcome them is something that will always attract attention and admiration when we select our role models. On Tuesday night inside Cullen Hall at The Wortham Center, a room full of admirers welcomed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor as she shared her inspirational and incredibly relatable story.
The Progressive Forum of Houston, who claims to be "America's only civic speaker organization dedicated expressly to progressive values," hosted the event that served as the first stop on Justice Sotomayor's promotional tour in support of her new autobiography entitled My Beloved World.
The book is an extremely personal recollection of her childhood and journey from her poor upbringing in the Bronx, to attending and excelling at Princeton and Yale Law School, until her eventual nomination and confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice. She would be the third woman and first Hispanic to achieve that position in the justice system.
"It is so nice to be in Texas!" she proclaimed as she walked slowly across the stage. She looked genuinely grateful and surprised by the applause and cheers she received after being introduced. Her demeanor and manner of speaking was akin to a fun-loving tia as she flashed her toothy grin, cracked jokes and interspersed "Ay Dios mio"s throughout her talk.
With her book, she told us that she felt the need to give us more than just the facts, more that what was already printed in the newspapers. To inspire her readers to find the courage to learn and achieve, that if ordinary "little Sonia from the Bronx" can make it, so can the rest of us.
She spoke directly to the kids in the audience, of which there were many. "Television is wonderful, but words paint pictures like nothing else can!" she said.
As an example, she read from chapter two of her book, the story about going to the neighborhood vivero (small-scale slaughterhouse) in the Bronx with her abuelita. As she read about the smells, sounds, and colors of that place, I realized how gifted Sotomayor is in the art of storytelling. "Are you in the vivero with me?" she asked. Yes, we were definitely there.
One of the greatest outcomes of her nomination was the extensive exploration into her life and history during her confirmation. She visited Puerto Rico to find out more about her father, who died when she was young. She also took the opportunity to sit with her mother and hear her story. "If there is one thing you learn tonight," she said, "let it be this: Do not wait to hear your family's history from your parents and grandparents. Learning, especially about the ones you love, is a beautiful thing."
She did not spend much time at the podium, but instead walked slowly amongst the crowd (due to her "weak ankles"). She lovingly leaned on people for support as she walked, including Mayor Annise Parker. She read from her book again -- this was a book tour after all -- but it didn't feel rushed or unnatural.
She left us so many nuggets of wisdom that it was hard to keep up: "Be strong, ask questions. Tell the truth! Be stubborn, but not proud or arrogant. Money doesn't buy happiness. Life sometimes deals us a bad hand, but don't let it knock you down. It's okay to say 'I don't know.' If you fail, get up and try again. You may not reach the moon, but maybe on a passing asteroid that will also lead you to happiness."
In these challenging times, an asteroid to happiness sound pretty awesome.