Sonia Sotomayor said Friday that she is touched by the outpouring of public support as the first Hispanic justice on the U.S. Supreme Court but disappointed with the commercialization of her image and, at times, startled by her own celebrity.
Sotomayor, who joined the court in August, told journalists in Puerto Rico that she would rather not see so many T-shirts, buttons and coffee cups with her picture or her famous quote describing herself as a "wise Latina."
"I can't tell you the number of people who come up to me and hug and kiss me and touch me, and some of them in tears," she said. "I wish there was a way of keeping that without the commercialization of me. Because when I spoke my words I spoke them freely, and I never intended for people to make money off them, because that seems wrong to me."
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The newest justice answered questions inside the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico as she visited the homeland of her parents, who moved to New York during World War II.
Sotomayor, 55, said she has had to adjust to a "hurricane" of attention and activity since President Barack Obama nominated her.
"Oh, I miss my anonymity," said Sotomayor, who spoke mainly in English but often switched over to Spanish. She said she misses stepping outside for coffee without photographers taking her picture. And while she was dating up until the spring, the divorcee does not expect to find romance any time soon.
"I understand from my girlfriends that I've been put on a most eligible bachelorette list. I'll figure that out in time. But right now I pity the man who tries to find a minute in my schedule," she quipped.
Still, Sotomayor said she is delighted to have anyone find inspiration in her story.
The judge who grew up poor in New York City public housing projects said she has faced subtle discrimination throughout her career. She said she has often been asked about her achievements in a way that assumes they are due to preferential treatment as a Puerto Rican, and she said others of similar backgrounds face questions about whether they are really capable.
"The short answer is, 'Yes, we are.' We prove it every day. I wear my answer with pride, as I think we all should, because we are more than capable," she said.
While she was not born here, Sotomayor, who is traveling with her mother Celina, said Puerto Rico is part of her identity and she hopes that islanders "understand that I love them."
In her first months on the court, Sotomayor said she has been focusing on learning the job. She said her first opinion took less time to write than she expected, probably because of her 17 years' experience as a judge. And she praised fellow justices for welcoming her into what she called the family of court members.
"I am now the youngest sister. I answer the door when we're in conference. That's a tradition," she said. "But they are very careful about ensuring that I understand I am with them as an equal, and they're very respectful of the part we all play in the great institution of the court."
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