CHICAGO -- Pobrecita means "poor little girl" in Spanish.
You won't find this word in Justice Sonia Sotomayor's recently published memoir, "My Beloved World."
And this alone tells you everything you need to know about the woman who grew up in near-poverty, in an ire-filled home with a distant mother and an alcoholic father who died when she was 9. She was left to manage her diabetes, her family and her hard-won education nearly all by herself.
You'd probably be forgiven for calling her a pobrecita, though it would surely infuriate the endlessly self-reliant Supreme Court justice. Believe me, you won't find any self-pitying words littering this story of pluck and perseverance.
I specifically chose those two words because the cliche irks me so. Generally speaking, I stay away from autobiographies because they're usually meant to put the author in the best possible light for whatever next stage of fame her or she is hoping to achieve.
Sotomayor tells her own story, however, with the confidence of someone who has already arrived and doesn't need to embellish it. On this count she almost goes overboard in the evenness, proportion and restraint with which she describes her meteoric rise to judicial stardom.
At times she describes the patience with which she maneuvered every obstacle -- from the fear of insulin needles to the snootiness of high school administrators who couldn't believe the eventual class valedictorian managed to get herself into Princeton -- and the wonderment with which she greeted every successive academic and professional distinction andÂ you just want to grab her by her threadbare lapels and yell, "Look alive, honey!"
But that's Sonia Sotomayor: nose-to-the-grindstone, unassuming, and down to earth -- nearly to a fault. For how many times she mentions her disregard for stylish clothes, purses or shoes, one is almost surprised by how beautifully put-together she appears on the cover of her book.
In truth, the pedestrian sobriety with which Sotomayor tells what amounts to a Greek mythology-style triumph -- which easily could have been cast as yet another "I was a poor, victimized minority" sob story -- is both refreshing and edifying.
So let's get a few things straight about the woman who rocketed to Hispanic icon status by calling herself a "wise Latina."
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