By Rob Schuette, Triad Staff
Perhaps as much as anyone, Fort McCoy's Hispanic Heritage Month
guest speaker can appreciate the opportunities available in the United
States through democracy, education and diversity.
Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez of the La Crosse County Circuit Court
system told the audience at an Oct. 14 observance that her family grew
up in Dominican Republic. The country's dictator, Gen. Rafael Molino
Trujillo, told the country that he would permit political parties. Her
father, a physician, decided to take Trujillo up on his offer,
Gonzalez said. But it turned out to be a ruse to determine who the
Judge Ramona A. Gonzalez speaks
to attendees at the Fort McCoy Hispanic Heritage Month
observance. (Photo by
"My father literally escaped the country by going rooftop
to rooftop to stay ahead of the secret police," Gonzalez said.
"He decided to go to the United States."
Gonzalez' father came to New York City, where he took a job as
a window washer to save enough money to bring the family to New York
and gain his physician's credentials in this country.
Her father then moved the family to Chicago to get away from
the danger of New York City, Gonzalez said, noting the irony. Gonzalez
said eventually the family settled in the small community of
Springfield, N.Y., which is near Buffalo.
"Springfield was small-town America, with fish fries and
football," Gonzalez said. "People there were willing to
sacrifice for what I call freedom."
Throughout her life and high school career, Gonzalez was aware
of her heritage and what people thought about Hispanics. Many people
in the 1960s had the stereotypical view of Hispanics being stupid and
lazy because of their accents. Gonzalez' father, who spoke with an
accent, then made the decision to forbid his children from speaking
Spanish at home so they wouldn't develop an accent.
"When I was married and had children, what do you think
(my father) asked me?" she said. "He asked me 'when was I
going to teach them Spanish?' My children learned Spanish in
Gonzalez furthered her education after high school in the
Midwest. She met her husband attending law school at Marquette and
moved with him to La Crosse after graduation and marriage.
In 1994, she decided to run for an open circuit court judge
seat as Judge Peter G. Pappas, who served as a mentor to her, was
retiring. Many people told her not to run because it was widely
assumed that the seat would go to the district attorney.
"I decided to run to give people a choice," Gonzalez
said. "I was able to meet people and get to know them. People
elect people. Fortunately, people were open to looking at me as a
candidate for judge and not just as being a woman and Hispanic."
Gonzalez said the United States has always found its strength
in diversity. In the local area, she noted she recently had attended a
Hmong New Year celebration in West Salem and the German Oktoberfest
event in La Crosse to celebrate those diverse cultures. La Crosse, as
a community, has grown and is different and better since she first
moved there, Gonzalez said.
She also thinks of how far the country has come with diversity
since she grew up in the 1960s and how far it has to go.
During a question-and-answer period, she said one of her major
life lessons is to be open to change and not let her first impression
be her lasting impression. As a judge, she said she always is trying
to find common ground to allow her to judge the people who come before