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Justice Sonia Sotomayor's mother, Celina Báez Sotomayor, dies at 94

Born in Lajas, Puerto Rico, Báez Sotomayor was a nurse who was widowed young, raised two children and saw her daughter become the first Latina Supreme Court justice.
Sonia Sotomayor, Celina Sotomayor, Omar Lopez
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, from right, stands with her stepfather, Omar Lopez, and her mother Celina Sotomayor, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, on Sept. 8, 2009.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP file

Celina Báez Sotomayor, the mother of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, died Sunday in Weston, Florida, at age 94. The cause was complications from cancer, according to an obituary published in the Sun Sentinel newspaper.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., paid tribute to Báez Sotomayor on Twitter.

As detailed in her obituary, Celina Báez was born in Lajas, Puerto Rico. She enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and moved to New York City, where she married Juan Luis Sotomayor. He died in 1964, and in the memoir "My Beloved World," Sonia Sotomayor details her mother's crippling grief after his passing.

Sotomayor wrote extensively about the pride she felt for her mother, who worked as a lower-paid practical nurse for years, too afraid to take the English-language nursing exams — which she later easily passed. 

Sotomayor wrote in "My Beloved World" about her mother's realization of what her acceptance into Princeton University meant.

“I have to tell you Sonia, at the hospital I’m being treated like a queen right now," Sotomayor wrote, quoting her mother. "Doctors who have never once had a nice word for me have come up to congratulate me."

Decades later, Báez Sotomayor was at the White House, looking on as her daughter was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the country's first Latina Supreme Court justice.

"Celina was a beloved mother whose home was a gathering place for family and friends," her obituary says. "She was a generous caregiver, frequently going out of her way to help neighbors who needed nursing assistance."

In addition to Sonia Sotomayor and her brother, Juan Sotomayor, Báez Sotomayor is survived by three grandchildren.

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