As we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, we honor two Latinos with Disabilities: Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Pulitzer Prize nominated author Victor Villaseñor. Both the Chief Justice and Mr. Villaseñor have what are called “invisible disabilities”. Chief Justice Sotomayor has diabetes and Mr. Villaseñor has dyslexia.
Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, New York on June 25, 1954 to Juan and Celina Sotomayor, who were of Puerto Rican descent. She is the older of two children and was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes at the age of eight. Education was emphasized in her family from the Chief Justice’s early childhood. Chief Justice Sotomayor would attend Princeton University, where she struggled at first; however, she would take the classes necessary to improve, become involved in several Puerto Rican groups on campus, and work with the university’s discipline committee, where she began to work on her legal skills. In 1976, her hard work paid off and she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and, later that year, she entered Yale Law School, from which she received her J.D. in 1979. The Chief Justice passed the bar in 1980 was hired as an assistant district attorney. During the 1980s, she worked as a corporate attorney and, in 1992, she was appointed as a US District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York City. She was its youngest judge. In October 1998, she was elevated to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In August of 2009, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice – becoming the first Latina to do so.
Victor Villaseñor, Pulitzer Prize nominated author
Victor Villaseñor was born in 1940 in the barrio of Carlsbad, California to parents born in Mexico, and was raised four miles away in a ranch in Oceanside. Mr. Villaseñor only spoke Spanish when he began school and, for many years, faced language and cultural barriers, heavy discrimination, and a reading problem – which was not diagnosed as dyslexia until he was well into adulthood. During his junior year of high school, he dropped out and went to live in Mexico where he discovered a wealth of art, literature, and music; all of which helped him understand the dignity and richness of his heritage. A few years later, Mr. Villaseñor returned to the US where a chance encounter with James Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man awakened a desire to confront the problems associated with his cultural heritage through literature. Mr. Villaseñor sold his first novel, Macho!, after producing 9 novels, 65 short stories, and receiving 265 rejections. He is best known for Rain of Gold, but it is Burro Genius, published in 2004 after writing 19 drafts, that he considers a miracle: He began writing it before he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia (the diagnosis came after he had already written three other books). Victor has written a series of award-winning children’s books and the screenplay for The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, starring Edward James Olmos (who is also a Latino with dyslexia and who will be highlighted later in this series). Victor Villaseñor’s acclaimed written works, as well as his lectures, have earned him numerous awards and acknowledgements, including the Founding John Steinbeck Chair appointment of Hartnell College and the National Steinbeck Center.