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Sotomayor rallies Puerto Rico women during visit to island

September 30, 2016 - 3:25 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Justice Sonia Sotomayor is using a visit to her parents' native island to urge Puerto Rican women to develop their skills and challenge themselves as she shared stories about her failures.

The U.S. Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice delivered a nearly hour-long speech mostly in Spanish to some 500 people on Friday at a free event prior to a summit for professional women.

The crowd smiled as Sotomayor went row by row and squeezed women's hands as she encouraged them to recognize their talents and to work hard regardless of obstacles they might encounter.

She recalled how she cried in private during the Judiciary Committee hearings for her nomination because she was so hurt at reading that someone had written she was not intelligent enough and that she was hard on people.

"That caused me tremendous pain," she said. "I had fought and worked hard my entire life. I thought I had a real good reputation."

Sotomayor said that at one point, she decided she was not going to go through with the nomination, adding that some friends talked sense into her as they listed all her accomplishments.

She said she believes people who don't feel fear are conceited, and she stressed that honesty was an important quality to her in friends.

"Don't say to me, 'Yes you can,'" she said. "They tell me how I can make up for the things I am worried about."

Sotomayor also recalled facing obstacles as a young girl growing up in a public housing complex in the Bronx. She told the audience how a teacher ripped up an essay she had written in English because it made no sense. After that moment, she said, she spent the next four years teaching herself how to write properly because writing in English did not come naturally to her.

"And now, what do I do?" she said.

Laughter erupted often as Sotomayor spoke.

Marta Nieves, a 45-year-old director of a Puerto Rico advertising agency, said she was motivated by the speech.

"I found it extremely realistic," she said.

Sotomayor did not take questions from reporters, and she warned she would not talk about politics or any Supreme Court cases during a brief question-and-answer period.

However, in one of her replies, she noted that Puerto Rico was "suffering" amid a decade-long economic crisis as it prepared for the imposition of a federal control board that occurred Friday. She urged the audience to read up on political theory.

"You will not be able to make changes unless you have an informed opinion," she said.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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