TYRE — It was a little later than the peak dinner hour Friday night when Sonia Sotomayor and her party of six walked into El Bajio restaurant on Fall Street for their evening meal.
On Monday, Homero Guerrero — he opened the Mexican eatery with his brother, Eduardo, three years ago — was still beaming about the visit from the Supreme Court justice and first Latina appointed to the nation’s highest court. Sotomayor and 10 other women were in the Finger Lakes over the weekend for their induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
“She’s the most famous (to have ever eaten here),” Homero Guerrero said of Sotomayor. “She’s very nice.”
As he gestured toward Fall Street, Guerrero said he was surprised Sotomayor chose his restaurant “with so many nice places,” but he was obviously touched.
He said he and the justice conversed in Spanish, and Sotomayor consented to having her photo taken with him and his brother. Guerrero wanted to wear a sombrero for his photo op and posted that picture on the restaurant’s Facebook page late Saturday night. By Monday the post had been shared 10 times and attracted more than 60 likes.
He’s planning to have the photo enlarged and framed for display on one of the restaurant’s brick walls.
Sotomayor ordered a mole enchilada with sliced avocado on top, Guerrero said. She also ordered four desserts for the table to share, perhaps to celebrate her induction the next day. The party appeared to enjoy their meals; they left clean plates.
“I was so happy. I can’t believe it,” Guerrero said.
Sotomayor also proved to be very accessible while attending the induction festivities at del Lago Resort and Casino on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, she met privately with 17 Mynderse Academy and two Romulus Central School students for about 45 minutes. Kim Stevers, School-to-Career Coordinator at Mynderse Academy, helped arrange the visit with Joell Murney-Karsten, a Seneca Falls school board member who works for del Lago.
Stevers said she knew last week that a student meeting with Sotomayor was a possibility, so Mynderse juniors and seniors who might be interested were identified so they could undergo background checks. However, Stevers was not prepared for the intimate meeting that she, three other Mynderse staff and the students experienced.
“We thought it was going to be her and 100 other people, but it wasn’t,” she said.
Instead of attending a press conference, Sotomayor met with the students in a room at del Lago. Stevers said the Supreme Court justice sat in a chair with the students facing her in two rows that were arranged in a semi-circle. There was no podium or other barrier between her and them.
She said the justice spoke about her upbringing and the fact that her only sibling, a brother, is a doctor in nearby Syracuse and that she’s fond of the Central New York area. She also recalled her interview with President Barack Obama — which was supposed to be 30 minutes but lasted well over an hour. She knew she was one of three finalists for the nation’s highest court and recounted receiving a call from the White House asking whether she had a black or navy suit for a press conference in case she was selected for the spot.
Stevers said Sotomayor joked that “No, I’m Puerto Rican. I don’t have those colors,” and sent three friends to find her possible “appropriate” suits to wear. They returned with 30 possibilities.
“It was really a cool experience having the kids listen to that,” said Stevers, who found Sotomayor very relatable.
The justice also spoke about working in a male-dominated field and the importance of taking a stand.
“She said you have to be willing to speak up when you see things that aren’t right,” she said.
Stevers said it was an incredibly meaningful experience to meet Sotomayor, one that may take some time to sink in for some of the young adults.
“Some day they are going to get it and reflect on it and realize the magnitude of what they participated in,” she said.
Senior Jamie Fisher, who hopes to be a lawyer some day, agreed it was surreal to have Sotomayor literally in front or her and to shake her hand.
“It didn’t hit me in the moment that I met this amazing woman who has done so much with her life,” said Fisher, who was most moved by hearing about how Sotomayor “plowed through” all the discrimination she faced.
She also found the justice “super accessible — very much like a human being,” and not on a high pedestal like Fisher imagined.
For the induction ceremony later that afternoon, additional Mynderse students were able to attend, along with other a total of about 300 students from the Rochester and Finger Lakes area. Stevers said 39 in all witnessed the induction.
In addition, there was an assembly at the school Friday morning with three of the new inductees — Native American attorney Sarah Deer, retired Air Force pilot Nicole Malachowski and musician Laurie Spiegel — and prior inductee Lily Ledbetter, an equal pay advocate. The students gave them a standing ovation.
Stevers herself had never attended an induction ceremony and enjoyed sharing the new experience with some of her students.
“We all found it very inspirational,” she said.