Browse Storytellers

 
  This Story has been written by Tamar Burris  
  Read more Storyteller Stories  

Sonia's Story

  CHAPTERS
My Entire Life
   
   
  I've been featured!
   
  CATEGORIES
Categories not defined yet
   
 

Featured Story

It Has Been A Rough Year

I am adding this additional chapter to my introduction, because after I initially wrote the introduction, it was very difficult to come back to it and try to make sense of all that I have experienced through the various stages of my life and the trials that I have endured or overcome.  I wish ...


[more]



The Birth of Charles Leonard Wiggins

The story has already been written for awhile on my blog "From the heart of Praise, Prayer and Perseverance. 0; Here is a link to that posting, Below are the pictures of the blessed event.   http://fromthehea rt-dotwigg.blogsp ot.com/2008/03/an other-2-prayer-re quest-answered.ht ml


[more]

Browse for more stories

Sonia Fuentes's Story > Storyteller Feature

Featuring: Sonia Fuentes
Written by: Tamar Burris
 

"Where is Sonia Fuentes NOW?" 


Comments: 13 Published on: Jan 19, 2010 Views: 81,605

Category: Cool Jobs


Sonia Pressman Fuentes is an American author, speaker, feminist leader and lawyer. She was a founder of National Organization for Women (NOW) and Federally Employed Women (FEW), and was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). How does someone with such a rich history "retire"?


~~~


From the time she was a young girl, Sonia Pressman Fuentes lived with this funny feeling that there was a mission she had to accomplish. She was not free to just marry, have a family, and pursue happiness like other girls and women could. No, Sonia had a special purpose. This notion came from three things: the first was that she’d been born only because her mother’s favorite abortionist was out of the country; the second, that she and her immediate family had escaped the Holocaust; and the third was that she was bright. To her, all this added up to the idea that she’d been saved in order to make a contribution to the world.

 

For many years, she did just that. Sonia had a successful 36-year career as an attorney and executive with both the federal government and multinational corporations. As a leading voice in the second wave of the women’s movement in the United States, Sonia was one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Federally Employed Women and became the first female attorney employed in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), where she drafted many of the EEOC’s initial landmark decisions. Her work was important. It was satisfying. In fact, she’d always thought she’d work until she dropped. However, when nearing 65 she found herself working as an attorney at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, stuck in a job she really wasn’t altogether crazy about, that Sonia decided to retire. Returning home from her retirement party on May 29, 1993, exactly one day before her 65th birthday, the reality of what she’d done finally hit her. What on earth was she going to do now?

 

Sonia had always heard it was important before you retire to have a plan for what you were going to do afterward. Knowing that the D.C. Superior Court had a mediation program touted as one of the best in the country, Sonia decided that after retirement she would volunteer there. She applied and was told she’d made the first cut in her area of choice—domestic relations. People told her she was crazy by wanting to get involved with domestic cases. But Sonia had always been interested in human relations and felt it would be a good niche for her. When orientation day came, she and about 100 others were invited to attend mock sessions. However, stepping into that mock session proved to be completely different from what Sonia had anticipated.

 

“I was asked to go into a mock session where a husband and wife were arguing about divorce and child custody. As they were yelling at each other, I said to myself, ‘What do I need this for?’ I stayed the rest of the day and when I went home, I wrote to the court and said, ‘Take me off the list.’”

 

Sonia’s plan for retirement hadn’t worked out. She didn’t know what to do. The euphoria of retirement had worn off and she became dejected.

 

“When I worked, my job took me downtown from where I lived in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I always met people for lunch, or after work for dinner, and then we went on to a movie or theater in the evening. I wouldn’t get home until 10ish at night. The work tied me into a whole social life and now that was gone. My whole life I’d been ambitious and always striving for the next rung of the ladder. Everything was over—but I was still alive.”

 

Almost all the retirees Sonia knew had seemed to segue into retirement just fine. She was the only one left feeling this way, as if she had all this time on her hands and nothing meaningful to do with it.

 

 

“That’s not the book you want to write,” Sara said. “You want to write a book of humorous stories about your parents, the kind of stories you’ve been telling me. And you want to write it yourself.”

 

Sonia volunteered for a number of months at the Smithsonian, working the front desk in the National Museum of Natural History, but that didn’t turn out to be quite what she was looking for. She spent a year or so volunteering with the Montgomery County Human Relations Council, working one day a week as a volunteer lawyer, but the job situation was frustrating and stressful.

 

“I only worked one day a week and I couldn’t do much in one day. They didn’t expect me to tackle a week’s worth of work in that one day, but I tried to do it the best I could. I used to come home from that job and I was so stressed out from trying to do that week’s worth of work in one day that I would have to go to bed.”

 

Having had back surgery in the ‘70s, Sonia began experiencing horrific back pain for the first time in years. Clearly, this was not the volunteer job for her. 

 

Still searching for her next purpose, Sonia started toying with the idea of commemorating the historic role she’d played in the women’s movement. Having spent years working on groundbreaking legislation and interesting cases, she wanted to write a book about the legal history in which she’d participated. There was just one problem. Who wanted to go through a basement full of files and write a lengthy discourse alone?  So, Sonia embarked on a search to find somebody to write it with her.

 

“Initially, I couldn’t find anybody. Writers will work with non-celebrities only upon the payment of thousands of dollars. I did find a married couple who were both professors who wanted to write the book with me, but they would have to take a year’s leave from their jobs and I would have to pay their salaries during that time.”

 

Fronting thousands of dollars to write this book was unrealistic for Sonia. However, she still wanted to write it. So she continued looking for a way until she felt there was nothing left to do. The book would not be written. Finally, on the advice of a friend, Sonia wound up at the Washington, D.C. library of the Foundation Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on foundations. There she thought she could learn how to apply for a grant to pay a writer to work with her. Knowing she’d exhausted all other avenues, Sonia felt certain that if her trip to the Foundation Center library didn’t pan out, it would mean the end of her book. Thumbing through the brochures on grant writing at the Foundation Center, it became clear to Sonia that grant writing required an expertise of its own. She was not prepared to devote the time and finances to learning the craft. Just as she was about ready to give up hope, Sonia found a résumé and business card mixed in among the brochures. The information said: Sara Fisher, Writer, Editor, Proofreader. Sonia decided to call. After all, what did she have to lose?

 

Meeting Sara over coffee, the two women chatted about their lives, and Sonia talked about her desire to write a book about the second wave of the women’s movement. 

 

As they talked, Sara said something that caught Sonia completely off guard. “That’s not the book you want to write,” Sara said. “You want to write a book of humorous stories about your parents, the kind of stories you’ve been telling me. And you want to write it yourself.” Sonia was floored. Yet, as the words sunk in, she realized that Sara was right. Leaving their meeting, Sonia went right home and immediately got to work.

 

Writing the book became a journey of its own. Sonia took writing workshops and classes and struggled to accurately portray everything exactly as it had happened. “I am a perfectionist and am very into truth and accuracy. When I wrote about a Monday morning, I wanted to know if it was sunny or cloudy. I was constantly writing people to find out the facts.”

 

Five-and-a-half years later, she had finished her memoir, Eat First—You Don’t Know What They’ll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter.  “I didn’t know if anything would come of it, but I did know why I was doing it.  I didn’t want my parents’ lives to be forgotten. I felt their generation was disappearing and I wanted to preserve that. Also, I didn’t want my own life to be forgotten.”

 

Sonia Pressman Fuentes and her Parents, Hinda and Zysia Pressman
Berlin, Germany, circa 1931

“I did know why I was doing it.  I didn’t want my parents’ lives to be forgotten. I felt their generation was disappearing and I wanted to preserve that. Also, I didn’t want my own life to be forgotten.”

 

 

 

With the book written, all that was left to do was get it published—which turned out to be an entire chapter of its own. Finally, after literally hundreds of letters sent to publishers and one near-miss with a shaky contract, Sonia found an on-demand publishing house that would meet her needs, Xlibris Corporation. In 1999, her memoir was released. And thus began a whole new phase in Sonia’s life.

 

With her book now published, Sonia’s life is richer and fuller than ever before. Having moved to Sarasota, Florida, a small town with big city amenities, Sonia created a full, second life there. It is a life complete with new friends, new causes to champion, and a full social calendar. She has also found herself something of a local celebrity.

 

“Before I moved to Sarasota, I was known in the very small world of women’s rights and feminists. Anybody who was a feminist and had been around for a while knew me. But nobody outside had ever heard of me. Since I came to Sarasota, which is a small town, I’ve given speeches and been in the newspaper. Here I am a fairly well-known person. I’ve never had that before.”

 

Writing her story and her parents’ story was truly a life-changing experience for Sonia. In addition to her work with several boards and committees and a new endeavor to promote reforms needed in maternal and child health care, Sonia now spends much of her time promoting her book and giving speeches.

 

Sonia had always wanted to be a writer but had never been sure that would happen. “I will never forget that in the beginning when I started to write and people would say, ‘What do you do?’ I would feel very uncomfortable saying I was a writer because I didn’t think it was the truth. I felt like I was palming myself off as something I wasn’t. Now I know that I am. I am a writer, a public speaker, and a community activist. My life has blossomed into something it has never been before.”

 

As Sonia says in one of her writings, “From a very shaky beginning as a retiree, I have entered upon the richest phase of my life.”


Thank you Sonia, for sharing your Story with us.

~~~

Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2010 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life




Email this Story

Read more Storytellers Stories   |   Read more of Sonia's Stories

Share/Save/Bookmark

Comments

Help

You must be registered to leave comments. Register here! It's free!

Already a member? Login here



Member Since
Apr 2009
Brian Highten said:
posted on Jan 19, 2010
Hats off

I much perfer the storng women of today vs. teh ones who believed it was a duty to stay home and serve their husband. I like them in the career place and anyone who doeson't is crazy. You've had a great life that only few will aspire to achieve!


Member Since
Jan 2010
Sonia Fuentes said:
posted on Jan 19, 2010
response to comment

Thanks for your kind words, Brian.

Best,

Sonia


Member Since
Aug 2008
Adara Bernstein said:
posted on Jan 19, 2010
Sonia

I have read your book - excellent read. You are one of my heroes in life :)


Member Since
Apr 2008
Chuck Stallong said:
posted on Jan 19, 2010
Nice

Great person to do a story on. Very inspiring person's life.


Member Since
Jan 2010
Sonia Fuentes said:
posted on Jan 20, 2010
comments

Dear Adara and Chuck:

Thank you for your comments.  How nice that you read my book, Adara, and what an interesting name.

Best regards to you both,

Sonia


Member Since
Aug 2007
Kristen Kuhns said:
posted on Jan 20, 2010
Sonia

Meeting you has been a pleasure. We are delighted to have your story preserved on here. And as you said, your story will be preserved for all the future generations too.

-Kristen


Member Since
Jan 2010
Sonia Fuentes said:
posted on Jan 20, 2010
response

Thanks, Kristen.  It's been a pleasure working with you and Tamar--and I'm very pleased with the result. I also like your system of letting your subjects know when someone posts a comment.

Best,
Sonia


Member Since
Apr 2008
Sarah Green said:
posted on Jan 22, 2010
Sonia, I'd love your take on this

Sonia, would love to get your opinion on this topic discussed recently among my female friends. To me, it's unfortunate that "feminism" seems to have been hijacked to mean a certain set of political principles. I'd like to see more young women—of every political stripe—say they're feminists, instead of, "I'm not a feminist, but ..."


Member Since
Jan 2010
Sonia Fuentes said:
posted on Jan 22, 2010
feminism

Dear Sarah:

I'm well aware of some young women's reluctance to define themselves as feminists because of meanings attributed to the word "feminist" by those who oppose equal rights for women.  To me, a feminist is simply a man or woman who believes men and women are entitled to equal rights and opportunities, and I have long  been proud to call myself a feminist.

If someone doesn't feel comfortable with that term, that's OK, too.  The important thing is whether that person believes in non-discrimination based on gender and does in fact work towards that end.

Best regards,

Sonia


Member Since
Aug 2007
Gina Pertonelli said:
posted on Jan 23, 2010
I too

I have read your book Sonia, and let me just say this: I love it & all you've done. Sometimes I wonder if I'd be as far as I am today if weren't for people like you.

------- Gina -------


Member Since
Jan 2010
Sonia Fuentes said:
posted on Jan 24, 2010
Response to Gina

Dear Gina:

Thanks for your lovely comments.  This is a great way for me to start my day.

So glad my efforts and those of my colleagues paved the way for people like you.

All the best--

Sonia


Member Since
Mar 2009
Ruth Burnstein said:
posted on Jan 26, 2010
reading this

I'm ashamed to say we were never taught of your life in my school. I went to a very conservative Catholic school when growing up.

Sonia, I was wondering your thoughts on this recent issue and posting by Sarah Palin?
http://www.facebook.com/#/note.php?note_id=268722553434&id=24718773587&ref=nf 


Member Since
Jan 2010
Sonia Fuentes said:
posted on Jan 26, 2010
Sarah Palin's posting

Dear Sarah:

First of all, I must tell you that I do not come to a question about Sarah Palin with an objective point of view.  I was aghast that the women's rights movement had as one of its unintended consequences the cynical move by Senator McCain of putting such a wholly-unqualified woman on his ticket as the vice-presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  McCain obviously had such a low opinion of women that he thought they would simply vote in knee-jerk fashion for any woman regardless of her qualifications.  The election showed him how wrong he was.

With regard to the Tim Tebow brouhaha concerning his and his mother's proposed anti-abortion comments during the Superbowl, that is highly inappropriate and I trust CBS will see the light and cancel their appearance. I certainly applaud the efforts of NOW and other organizations and men and women throughout the country who are letting CBS know they oppose such controversial comments by Tim Tebow and his mother at the Superbowl.