Introduction–Chapter 6

In this memoir, Sonia Sotomayor recounts her childhood in the South Bronx, her education and early work as a lawyer, and her eventual appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. resonate
    evoke or suggest a strong meaning or belief
    My story may resonate in ways that many of you will relate to. You may feel the way I felt. The challenges I have faced—including material poverty, chronic illness, struggling to learn English, and being raised by a single mom—are not uncommon.
  2. tenure
    the term during which some position is held
    A young student once asked me: “Given that there are only nine Supreme Court Justices, each with life tenure, can anyone realistically aspire to such a goal? How do we hold on to dreams that statistically are almost impossible?”
  3. headlong
    in a hasty and foolhardy manner
    Watching water boil would try the patience of any child, but I was physically restless as I was mentally and had well earned the family nickname Aji—“hot pepper”—for my eagerness to jump headlong into any mischief impelled by equal parts curiosity and rambunctiousness.
  4. speculation
    a message expressing an opinion based on incomplete evidence
    There was speculation about whether Mami’s own mother had died of this terrible affliction and talk of a special herb that might cure it.
  5. affliction
    a cause of great suffering and distress
    There was speculation about whether Mami’s own mother had died of this terrible affliction and talk of a special herb that might cure it.
  6. noxious
    injurious to physical or mental health
    Abuelita knew all about healing with herbs. The least sniffle or stomachache had her brewing noxious potions that would leave me with a lifelong aversion to tea of any sort.
  7. aversion
    a feeling of intense dislike
    Abuelita knew all about healing with herbs. The least sniffle or stomachache had her brewing noxious potions that would leave me with a lifelong aversion to tea of any sort.
  8. potency
    capacity to produce strong physiological or chemical effects
    She would tell him where to find the plant, which he was to pick at dawn before boarding a flight from San Juan the same day so she could prepare it at the peak of potency.
  9. clinical
    relating to or based on direct observation of patients
    But even more than the clinical procedures, it was my absence from school for so long that set off my inner alarm.
  10. lance
    a surgical knife with a pointed double-edged blade
    My very last day at the hospital started again at eight o’clock with the big needle and the lances.
  11. tenement
    a run-down apartment house barely meeting minimal standards
    My mother saw the projects as a safer, cleaner, brighter alternative to the decaying tenement where we had lived.
  12. inadvertently
    without knowledge or intention
    My sense of security depended on what information I could glean, any clue dropped inadvertently when they didn’t realize a child was paying attention.
  13. exuberant
    joyously unrestrained
    I was determined to grow up to be just like her, to age with the same ungraying, exuberant grace.
  14. haggle
    wrangle, as over a price or terms of an agreement
    She would always haggle, and though she made it sound as if she were complaining about the quality and how expensive everything was, by the end she’d be laughing with the vendedor. All these years later, an open market still stirs in me the urge to haggle the way I learned from Abuelita.
  15. bodega
    small shop selling groceries, especially in a Hispanic area
    With Abuelita, our shopping trip would conclude with a final stop to pick up bread and milk at the bodega a few doors down from her place. The bodega, a tiny grocery store, is the heart of every Hispanic neighborhood and a lifeline in areas with no supermarkets in walking distance.
  16. embellish
    add details to
    Sometimes one of them would read the Daily News and explain to the others in Spanish what it said. I could tell when he was improvising or embellishing the story; I knew what news sounded like in English.
  17. paraphernalia
    equipment consisting of miscellaneous articles
    But in the projects, the elevator was more than a convenience: Junior and I were absolutely forbidden to take the stairs, where my mother had once been mugged and where addicts regularly shot up, littering the scene with needles and other paraphernalia.
  18. imperceptibly
    in a manner that is difficult to discern
    Even in the midst of the wildest mayhem that Nelson and I could concoct, even sinking my teeth into Abuelita’s irresistible crispy chicken, even when everyone else was lost in music and laughter, I would be watching my father from the corner of my eye. It would start almost imperceptibly. His fingers would slowly curl up into claws.
  19. corrugated
    shaped into alternating parallel grooves and ridges
    I watched the afternoon rains pour down like a curtain enclosing the balcony, rutting the street below with muddy streams, pounding on the corrugated roofs and wooden walls...
  20. gauzy
    so thin as to transmit light
    At night, I slept with Abuelita in a room crowded with sisters and cousins, and the mosquito nets transformed our bed into a cozy hideaway among gauzy clouds.
  21. facility
    skillful performance or ability without difficulty
    I knew the price of every item, and I knew how to make change—I was discovering that I had a facility with numbers, which I inherited from Papi—and Titi Elisa would let me work the cash register when my uncle wasn’t around.
  22. gaunt
    very thin especially from disease or hunger or cold
    He was a handsome man but gaunt. His arms were just sticks poking from the sleeves of the hospital gown.
  23. rivet
    hold someone's attention
    This was all so strange that I was scared but also riveted as I watched to see what would happen next.
  24. articulate
    express or state clearly
    I couldn’t articulate exactly what I feared, but I knew I should stay close by and keep an eye on things.
  25. solace
    comfort offered to one who is disappointed or miserable
    My solace and only distraction that summer was reading. I discovered the pleasure of chapter books and devoured a big stack of them. The Parkchester Library was my haven.
  26. semblance
    an outward appearance that is deliberately misleading
    Those baseball games, with some good shouting for a change, were such a rare semblance of normal family life that on those nights I would fall asleep with a smile that wouldn’t go away.
  27. intercede
    act between parties with a view to reconciling differences
    If Papi had slowly poisoned himself to death, then of course it must be Mami’s fault (as had long been the theory), or maybe Abuelita now blamed herself and the failure of her spirit powers. Titi Carmen, too, might have faulted herself for not interceding.
  28. ominously
    in a manner suggesting something bad will happen
    Of course Junior and I still found plenty of reasons to yell at each other, provoking my mother’s familiar warning call—her la la la la that rose ominously in tone, step by step, until we got the message that we had gone too far and that justice would be swift if we didn’t immediately make ourselves scarce.
  29. immaculate
    completely neat and clean
    The apartment was always immaculate, but it was no longer my doing.
  30. compulsive
    caused by an irrational motive for repetitive actions
    I quit my compulsive cleaning and left it to my mother, who cared about the place now.
  31. formative
    capable of molding or fashioning
    It just wasn’t in my mother’s nature at that time to show affection, give you a hug, or get down on the floor to engage with a kid. She had been deprived of the formative security that nurtures such impulses.
  32. modest
    limited in size or scope
    My mother always dressed with effortless style, which seemed almost magical given her modest means.
  33. badger
    annoy persistently
    There was always some fault in my appearance that was glaring to her and invisible to me, and she badgered me constantly for being sloppy.
  34. respite
    an interruption in the intensity or amount of something
    My fourth-grade teacher, Sister Maria Rosalie, made an effort to be kinder, and I enjoyed an unofficial respite from reprimand from April, when Papi died, until summer vacation.
  35. reprimand
    an act or expression of criticism and censure
    My fourth-grade teacher, Sister Maria Rosalie, made an effort to be kinder, and I enjoyed an unofficial respite from reprimand from April, when Papi died, until summer vacation.
  36. falter
    speak haltingly
    My mother’s English was accented and sometimes faltering, though she could manage well enough at the hospital, even working an occasional weekend shift on the telephone switchboard.
  37. solemn
    characterized by a firm belief in your opinions
    After the first As began appearing on my report card, I made a solemn vow that from then on, every report card would have at least one more A than the last one.
  38. explicitly
    in a clearly expressed manner
    Study skills were not something that our teachers at Blessed Sacrament had ever addressed explicitly.
  39. divulge
    make known to the public information previously kept secret
    I decided to approach one of the smartest girls in the class and ask her how to study. Donna Renella looked surprised, maybe even flattered. In any case, she generously divulged her technique: how, while she was reading, she underlined important facts and took notes to condense information into smaller bits that were easier to remember; how, the night before a test, she would reread the relevant chapter.
  40. prerogative
    a right reserved exclusively by a person or group
    It’s true that I called him stupid, but that was a big sister’s prerogative, and I knew that he wasn’t really.
Created on February 13, 2020 (updated February 18, 2020)

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