Juan Sotomayor Calls Comments About Sister Sonia 'Insulting, Derogatory, Off-Base'

Juan Sotomayor tells "Good Morning America" that his sister is "tough as nails."

June 8, 2009, 12:54 PM

June 10, 2009— -- Sonia Sotomayor's brother says that "angry is just the beginning" of how he feels about criticism levied against the Supreme Court-nominated judge.

"If I could create a Webster's dictionary for the most insulting, derogatory, off-base comments that I've heard about a person, it would be ... I'd have to sit here and go through that," Dr. Juan Sotomayor said in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America." "This is not the person that they're describing."

He strongly defended a sister he calls a "wonderful woman" and "the perfect role model."

"Anyone who knows my sister, she has so many people who love her, adore her; so many people she's friends with; so many people that respect her," he told ABC News' senior national correspondent Claire Shipman.

The nominee's only sibling talked about his relationship with his older sister and his pride in her achievement.

He cannot even look at the display dedicated to his sister at their former high school without tearing up, but said he is "not surprised" that she has risen to the national stage.

"You just don't understand how a brother can feel," said Sotomayor, a physician practicing in Syracuse, N.Y. "It's, you know, you live with someone your whole life and you know it's just great."

Sonia Sotomayor came under fire recently for a remark she made in 2001, when she stated in a speech, "I would hope a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Juan Sotomayor said that conservative politicians who have called those remarks racist "don't deserve a response. It's not even something that should even be mentioned."

"I'm not going to pretend I know what she was talking about, and I'm sure it was done in a context that was meant totally different than it was taken out of," he said. "And it's not my place to say that. But if she said it, and the way it was said, I'm not sure that even the word [racist] even applies to that statement. It's an overreaction."

But perseverance through adversity, he said, is something his sister knows well.

"My sister was tough as nails," Juan Sotomayor said of their childhood together.

Sotomayor Siblings Supportive, Not Competitive

Outside the harsh spotlight of American politics and relentless media attention -- in which Sonia Sotomayor, 54, has been characterized as everything from an "excellent choice" to an "interesting" one, to a "racist" -- her brother paints a more personal portrait of a sister who grew up strong-willed, focused on the family and was "the life of the party."

Sotomayor said people might be surprised to know that his sister marked her 50th birthday by taking dancing lessons.

"She learned how to salsa," he said. "And that probably surprised more than anything.

"I don't think she had the natural rhythm I had," he joked, but added that the two were always more supportive of one another than competitive during their childhood.

"You grow up with someone and you know what kind of person ... there's no mystery with my sister," he said. "She's a wonderful, warm person, one of the greatest family people you'll ever meet. [She] takes being a family member very seriously, just like she takes everything else."

His sister's magnetism extended beyond the family, Sotomayor said, and was borne out of their humble upbringing in the Bronx housing projects of New York City. Sonia and Juan Sotomayor's father died when they were children, at which point their mother raised them alone in a New York City public housing development.

When they were kids, his sister looked out for him, Juan Sotomayor said, even when he got his first job at a bakery where she already worked.

"When I got to the bakery, everyone was like, 'Oh, my God, your sister is the best worker. She takes the place of two people and you should be just like that,'" he said. "And I wasn't like that. I'm sorry."

"She can mix with any crowd," he said. "This comes from my mom. If you're poor, no matter what person you are, no matter what faith you are, what kind of economics, you treat everybody fairly and equally and treat them humanely."

Juan Sotomayor on Sonia Sotomayor: 'She's a Strong Person'

Juan Sotomayor says he now sees his sister four or five times a year but talks to her weekly. They "both have very busy lives," he said, but the two are still very close.

"For me and her, we have a relationship born out of the ... there was just three of us, really. It was a core group and that was our family," he said.

Although he said he was an "irritating" little brother, Juan Sotomayor said his sister took care of him. Now that she's at the doorsteps of the highest court in the land, her little brother says she deserves it.

"[I'm] just really proud of her," he said. "No other word to say it. No other words to describe how you feel. It's just a great feeling.

"I've always said that the Hispanic population in the United States needs role models, educational role models," he said. "And I think she is the perfect role model ... She's a strong person. She's determined."

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