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Sonia Sotomayor, Junot Díaz Among Hispanics Honored At Heritage Awards

Image: 29th Hispanic Heritage Awards
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor receives the Leadership Award during the 29th Hispanic Heritage Awards at the Warner Theatre on Sept. 22 in Washington. Leigh Vogel / Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. The country’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice was honored Thursday night at the 29th Hispanic Heritage Awards, one of several high-profile Hispanics who were recognized for their civic and artistic contributions.

To cheers and applause, Sotomayor said that "this award is not about me. It's about the many mothers and fathers, abuelos and abuelitas, and all the others who have led our community, who have taught us all and carried us upward on their backs with hard work and determination."

Sotomayor, who in 2009 became the high court’s first Hispanic justice, received the Leadership Award. Born in New York to Puerto Rican parents and author of the best-selling memoir, "My Beloved World," the Latina justice had the crowd laughing when she said about the medal, "Mami, esto es tuyo porque te encanta la joyería," - "Mom, this (the medal) is yours since you love jewelry."

Sotomayor also said, "Prince Royce, Mami told me that I had to tell you that she loves you. Mami, cumplí "(I did my duty), she said to whistling and laughing.

Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) president and CEO Antonio Tijerino said in a previous statement announcing the award, “She represents what Latinos are capable of, once given opportunities and not stopping until they reach their goals. We are proud to honor her.”

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Sonia Manzano, who played María on Sesame Street for many years and is a friend of Sotomayor, told NBC Latino that "she’s the perfect person to receive this award. She’s very relatable, a person of the people. It couldn’t happen to a better person,” she said.

Manzano recently guest hosted a program on New York public radio station WNYC where she interviewed Sotomayor. “I’m so impressed by the things she says. She has a great interest in people, and lot of empathy. That’s a rare quality and much needed these days,” Manzano said.

Acclaimed Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz, author of several books including the best seller The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao -- which received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008 -- was honored with the Literature Award. His moving comment that "all of us must be free" or else it's none was widely circulated on social media.

One of the more touching parts of the evening was when Colombian hip hop and reggaetón artist J. Balvin – born José Álvaro Osorio Balvin – was presented with the Vision Award. He said in Spanish that when he got to this country, he painted homes, and now he paints dreams through his music.

Mexican movie star and Grammy winner Angélica María, known to many as “La Novia de México," (Mexico’s Sweetheart) – received the Legend Award. The iconic salsa group Fania All-Stars was honored with the Arts Award and artist Prince Royce, who took the Inspira (Inspiration) Award.

Dr. Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas at El Paso and one of the longest-serving presidents of a public university in the United States, accepted the STEM Award. UTEP’s student population is overwhelmingly Latino.

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“I am overjoyed to accept this award on behalf of UTEP’s 24,000 students, and our faculty and staff who have enabled us to achieve our dream of creating outstanding opportunities for highly talented young people whose modest financial means and complex life challenges often limit their educational and career options,” said Natalicio in a statement.

Other awardees include former Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President George Herrera, with the Business Award, entrepreneur Tony Jiménez with the Technology Award and fitness star Massy Arias received the Wellness Award.

The event was a who's who of prominent Latinos in the arts and public and private sector. It was hosted by "Orange is the New Black" stars Elizabeth Rodríguez and Berto Colón, and performers included La Santa Cecilia, opera singer Ailyn Pérez and the Fania All-Stars. Presenters included singer/actor Prince Royce, salsa great Frankie Negrón, actor JW Cortés and HUD Secretary Julián Castro.

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