July 12, 2013

Celebrating the Life of:

By La Prensa San Diego

Marta Sotomayor: A life moving forward all the time

By Pablo J. Sáinz

sotomayorMarta Sotomayor was the youngest of five sisters, but she never acted as the “baby sister.”

“Since she was little she was a leader,” said her oldest sister, Connie Puente Miller, who owns El Fandango Restaurant in Old Town San Diego. “In church, at home, in school, she grew up leading others.”

For her other sister, Celia Moody, Sotomayor was a person who always had her priorities clear.

“Marta’s life to me was like drawing a straight line,” she said. “It did not have any ups and downs. It was a straight line moving forward at all times.”

Sotomayor passed away on June 24, 2013, in Corpus Christi, Texas, where she retired after leaving Washington, D.C.

She was the first executive director of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families and their caregivers.

Sotomayor was born in Mexico City, and her family returned to California a few years later, relocating to San Diego. She lived here until she went on to college.

The first Latina in America to earn a social work doctorate, Sotomayor served for many years as President and CEO of the National Hispanic Council on Aging.

“Board of Directors President Marta Sotomayor led the organization through these challenging first years – first on a volunteer basis and later as Executive Director,” reads the NHCOA’s history on its website. “By the end of its first decade, NHCOA had established itself as a valuable and unique community resource.”

Sotomayor played a major role in turning the NHCOA into what it is today, her sister Celia said.

“The moves she made from several educational institutions, government agencies and leaving her family in San Diego had a purpose,” Celia said. “Marta was able to find the location where she could do the best and most to help the elderly. This place was Washington, D.C.”

Previously, she held positions with the National Institute of Mental Health, the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration, and the National Institute of Health, where she was Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary’s Task Force on Minority Health.

An international consultant, Sotomayor also held teaching positions at several schools including the California State University School of Social Work, Baylor School of Medicine, Howard University School of Social Work and the University of Maryland Community Development Department.

“She serves as a role model,” said her sister Connie. “Her story tells young Latinas that they can reach the top, just like she did.”

But to reach the top, Sotomayor had to start from the bottom.

After the Great Depression, the economy was bad in the United States, and Sotomayor’s father had lost his grocery business in Calexico. Her mother, having been trained as a teacher in Mexico, decided to move the family when she was offered a teacher’s position in Mexico City. It was there that Sotomayor was born.

“My mother was a strict disciplinarian,” remembers Celia Moody. “She believed in using our time wisely. She knew the value of education and at an early age, she instilled in us the importance doing our homework as well as our assigned housework.”

The family finally returned to the United States and settled in San Diego. Sotomayor was enrolled at Stockton Elementary as a 6th grade student. Se did not speak nor understand English. She did very well in Spelling dictation and math.

“Perhaps years later, this experience gave Marta the enthusiasm to be involved and support the English as a Second Language movement,” Celia Moody said.

Her sisters describe Sotomayor as a quiet, peaceful, cute, sweet, and wise young girl. As an adult, her sisters said she was generous, reserved, soft spoken, protective, elegant, humble, loving and caring.

“She was very committed to the community. She not only tried to help the elderly, but also, children, and all the Mexican people,” Connie Puente Miller said.

Marta Sotomayor is survived by her only son, Karl Schlatter and his wife Frances, and their two sons, Joven and Christian.

To learn more about the National Hispanic Council on Aging, please visit www.nhcoa.org.