Reflections on Sonia Sotomayor and Latina/o Role Models

“When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become— whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm— her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than an inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, “Yes, someone like me can do this.”

-Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World

My Beloved World by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is an inspiring autobiography. She includes memories from early childhood to her entrance into the high court. Sotomayor touches on topics and feelings that many young Latino college students can relate to, such as feelings of inferiority upon arrival at a premiere university and the importance that family has in shaping one’s college and personal life.

Personally, I related to her story, especially to the emotions and lessons that she shares during her time at Princeton. They are similar to the lessons that I have learned at UCLA and the experiences that I have so far as a Latina college student.

Reading her story made me realize how many things have changed since she entered higher education. Things are seemingly different for today’s Latino students.

However, some things did remain consistent through time. She recounts her lack of knowledge about the college admissions process. Her high school best friend, who was a year older, advises her on how to apply. Word of mouth is prevalent among Latino students trying to apply to colleges. Regardless of the time period, it remains that your friends or family members, who are one or two years older, become guides through the murky process.

But, one thing has definitely changed. Latino individuals have experienced becoming the first Supreme Court Justices, Congress members, and neuroscientists. There are more Latino role models in close proximity to students now than there has been in the past.

When Sotomayor was in college there was not a single Latino faculty member, yet I look around UCLA and see Latino professors and mentors all around me. I go to my internship and see empowered Latina businesswomen leading departments. I realize I have plenty of people who have been in my similar place to gain inspiration. While these numbers have increased and there are more Latinos in higher education, we have not broken into every single field of study. There are still many fields where Latinos are the minority and trailblazing for the rest of us.

We must acknowledge that while we may not be the first, it is important that we are not the last. Each of us is serving as a role model “in the flesh” and we must continue developing and helping the younger Latinos around us.

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