Despite Auraria’s sobering history, Sonia Sotomayor addressed cultural misrepresentations and personal strength at MSU Denver.
Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third female U.S. Supreme Court justice, visited the Auraria Event Center May 2. The event was co-sponsored by MSU Denver and the Center for Colorado and the West at the Auraria Library. Performers with El Centro Su Teatro also presented pieces from their book “Where the Rivers Meet.”
Luis Torres, MSU Denver deputy provost and one of two moderators at the event, prefaced Sotomayor’s conversation with some of Denver’s history, complied by the Center for Colorado and the West at the Auraria Library.
Torres said the area of Auraria, before the campus was built, developed a heavy Latino population because of the gold rush along the Platte River in 1858. He added that in 1965, when Auraria was being developed as a campus, that Latino population was forcibly removed.
“Unfortunately, Latinos in Denver are considered to be a recent immigrant population,” Torres said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Sotomayor briefly addressed this issue of presumed immigration when Polly Baca, a former state senator and second moderator of the event, asked her about the heavy significance she places on Puerto Rico, in her book “My Beloved World.” Sotomayor’s family is from Puerto Rico and she said one of the purposes of her book was to introduce the United States, and the world, to the island and to explain that Puerto Ricans are not foreigners.
“Do you know how many people ask me whether I have a Puerto Rican passport or a US passport?” Sotomayor asked. “Scott Pelley did a beautiful interview with me on ‘60 minutes’ and introduces my family as immigrants. And I’m sitting there in a group of friends and I say ‘We’re migrants, we’re not immigrants.’”
Sotomayor also spoke about her life experiences found in the book. She has faced challenges in her life including childhood diabetes, living in poverty and an alcoholic father. Despite all odds and successes she has experienced, Sotomayor said she was “an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary experiences.”
“I wrote this book talking about the challenges in my life, hoping that everyone who read it would see a little piece of their own lives in my book and in my life story,” Sotomayor said.
Ultimately, Sotomayor’s message to MSU Denver was love. She said the ability to give and receive love, despite peoples’ flaws, is the quality that moves someone to success.
“If you can come out of your sense of despair and look around and find the joy in knowing that there are people who care around you, they can give you the strength to do the impossible,”
Because of her “grit, hard work and fairness,” MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan presented the Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership award to Sotomayor Jordan compared Sotomayor’s path to Supreme Court justice with that of MSU Denver students and Golda Meir, who lived in west Denver before becoming the prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974.
“At MSU Denver we use the word ‘scrappy’ to describe this kind of determination and resilience that we see in our students,” Jordan said. “I would venture to say that the late prime minister of Israel and Justice Sotomayor have lived the spirit of this adjective, as individuals emboldened by challenge, who nonetheless set about building purpose-driven lives.”