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First Person: Becoming The First Mexican-American Woman Federal Judge

Brooke Ruth
Irma Gonzalez is pictured, March 9, 2017.

First Person: Becoming The First Mexican-American Woman Federal Judge
First Person: Becoming The First Mexican-American Female Federal Judge GUEST:Irma Gonzalez, retired federal judge

Standing out is one thing that Gonzales was afraid of doing when she was one of the few Latino log writer's in California but after standing out as a lawyer and judge and role model, Gonzales has been honored of -- as one of the women inducted into this handy goat women's Hall of Fame. This is part of the ongoing training series. My name is Irma Gonzalez. I'm the first accident American woman to have ever served on the federal bench in the United States. [ MUSIC ] I am hoping that I have paved the way. I think I have. I got this award in the designation was trailblazer. I'm to believe that blazed trails for those who come after me. I hope that every job I have had lived in an example of what you can come and. I hope I said an example for my daughter and my granddaughters. They know their grandmother is a job -- judge. I hope I can show them and teach them and take them to the women's Museum and show them I am there. This has been a proud moment in my life. I hope that they will do great things also. I was born in California when my father was in college. When both my parents, they are Mexicans. My mother was born and raised in Mexico and became a naturalized citizen when I was one euro. My father was born in Arizona but my father had this wonderful ambition to accomplish a lot and he became a doctor, a surgeon and went to Stanford undergrad and Stanford medical school. When he had his children, every one of us was told, you will be great. You will accomplish what ever you want. You will go to a good university. You will do well. You will succeed. There was never any doubt in my mind nor in my siblings mind, that we would be successful and we would all have advanced degrees. All of my siblings, I have five sisters and a brother and everyone has a master and PhD. I felt that it was the example my parents set. My mom, she worked hard. She raised as. She did not have a lot of formal schooling. The hard work and the devotion she had to her children was something that helped us also to get to where we were. It has been a family accomplishment for all of us. That is how I got to where I am, because of my family. Being one of a few women in law school, being one of only -- I think there were only to check Latino women in law school graduate, it was hard. You were different. You cannot get away from the fact that you feel different. You cannot get away from the fact that you wonder whether people look at you differently. There is always this feeling that you have to prove yourself because maybe people are saying she only got into law school because she is a woman or because she is a Latina. Even if that is true, you still have to prove yourself. My first job as an attorney out of law school was to work as a law clerk for a federal judge. He was a great mentor. I think that what planted the seed in my mind that maybe some day I can be a federal judge. Maybe someday I will be in the courtroom as a judge. It ain't me want to strive for something throughout my career. I think it was difficult for women to advance in the job opportunities that were available after law school. Most men were in the really good jobs. There were very few opportunities for women. The fact that I got this clerkship, it open doors because it can be a prestigious position to lead to other things. I was able to overcome some obstacles. What was really interesting is that after I had served seven years as an assistant U. S. attorney, I tried a lot of cases. I had in our law school and I had experience. I applied to law firms in San Diego. I think I applied to 50 law firms and I got one interview. That law firm hired me. You kind of wonder, was it because I was a woman was it because I was a Latina? After working for a couple of years as a Superior Court judge, I applied for the district court here ultimately, I was nominated. I also had to go through a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee. Once the committee votes on your own nation, you go to the floor of the Senate. The Senate votes by a majority as to whether you will become a judge. It happened. August 12, they voted in 1992 and I was sworn in August sworn in August 1992. I was thanking God. You know, I had hoped and prayed that this would happen. I was also grateful to all of the people who supported me. I was grateful to the president for nominating me. I was happy for myself. I had accomplished something that I really got to where I wanted to be. It was my goal. It meant so much to me that my parents were able to celebrate and also my siblings. It was a joyful experience. What was great was that are needed to be diversity on the federal bench. Diversity on the bench is important because the people that come to court come from all walks of life and all different backgrounds. They need to see that there are people who make these very important decisions in their life, anything from divorce to juveniles to putting someone in prison or to awarding someone lots of money in a case. They need to see that the judges in the courtroom, they are like them. They come from a background that is similar to theirs. There could be a more fair decision. [ MUSIC ] That was Irma Gonzalez, the first Mexican American woman to serve in the federal bench. The piece was produced by Brooke Ruth.

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KPBS Midday Edition's First Person series tells the stories of average and not-so-average San Diegans in their own words. Their experiences, both universal and deeply personal, offer a unique lens into the news of the day.

Irma Gonzalez was one of six women inducted into the San Diego County Women's Hall of Fame earlier this month.

She was the first Mexican-American woman to serve as a federal judge in the United States.

"Diversity on the bench is so important because the people that come to court come from all different walks of life, different ethnic backgrounds, different religious backgrounds. ... They need to see that the person or the judges in the courtroom are like them, they come from a background that's similar to theirs," Gonzalez said.

The hall of fame is housed in the Women's Museum of California, which is in Liberty Station.

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As part of our First Person series, Gonzalez tells us about her journey to the federal court.

Corrected: October 5, 2021 at 11:10 AM PDT
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