Justice Sotomayor Poured Her Heart Out To Puerto Rico After Hurricanes

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor encouraged Puerto Ricans to embrace fortitude and pride as the island rebuilds from a devastating hurricane season, in a WKAQ 580 message broadcasted Tuesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Sotomayor is arguably the most prominent Puerto Rican in American public life, and has written movingly about the importance of the island to her personal identity. Though the justice was born and raised in the Bronx, she visited the island regularly for lengthy visits with family — her father was from San Juan while her mother lived as an orphan in the rural reaches of Lajas. Even in New York, the island’s influence loomed large, as she lived in the Bronx’s predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhoods. She, like her fellow islanders living in New York, identifies as a “Nuyorican,” a portmanteau of “New Yorker” and “Puerto Rican.”

In her autobiography “My Beloved World,” Sotomayor writes candidly about Puerto Rican history and culture as the ground for her personal success. Summers spent on the island rank as her happiest childhood memories, and she found her way at Princeton after organizing a course of independent study in Puerto Rican history and culture, devising her own syllabus and reading list under the tutelage of a sympathetic professor.

“Those self-assured people surrounding me, who had traveled the world confident of having an influential role in it one day, were no less certain of themselves as the rightful inheritors of history,” she wrote of her early days as a Princeton undergraduate. “It was not something on which I could ever hope to have the same purchase. I needed a history in which I could anchor my own sense of self. I found it when I began to explore the history of Puerto Rico.”

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the island over successive weeks, the justice revealed that she was struggling to reach a number of family and friends in Puerto Rico. A Court spokesperson said the subsequent rush of well wishes prompted her to record a message of encouragement for the island.

Here’s the translation, as transcribed by New York Magazine’s Cristian Farias:

This past week I’ve felt especially connected to my Puerto Rican brethren here and those on our beloved island. I’m grateful that I was able to hear from many in my family. But I know that many other people are still going through uncertainty as they await to receive news from their loved ones.

Our hearts are anguished in the face of so much devastation and destruction that [Hurricane] Maria caused. And now we face the great task of reconstruction. But above all, we are united in the firm belief that Puerto Rico will persevere. The incredible spirit and strength of the Puerto Rican people is unbreakable. Our island has faced innumerable challenges throughout the centuries. However, each and every time, Puerto Rico has emerged stronger. And we will do so again.

For the people on the island, I want you to know that you are not alone. Your families and friends, along with private and public organizations, have already begun to mobilize to send help. Through our ability to work hard, the Isla del Encanto will be reborn as a beacon of hope.

Puerto Rico will not only survive this. It will bloom once again. My beloved Puerto Rico, I embrace you with love and hope. I hope to see you in a not-so-distant future.

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