Hispanic Heritage Month: Paying Tribute To Gonzalo Curiel

By: Nelleke Bruyn, DA-Costa Rica


As a voter from the Hoosier State, I would like to recognize the contributions of a notable Hispanic-American from my home region named Gonzalo Paul Curiel. Curiel was born on September 7, 1953, in East Chicago, Indiana—an area with a large Mexican-American community and steel mills aplenty. His parents originally emigrated from Mexico, first moving to Arizona before settling down in Indiana. Curiel graduated with his BA from Indiana University, and after hard work, completed his law degree at Indiana University’s Law School.

As a young federal prosecutor in the Narcotics Enforcement Division, he led a task force in busting a drug cartel which included inside cartel information of an assassination attempt on his life. This threat meant that Curiel had to live under federal protection for a time. Despite this, Curiel ended up working 17 years as a prosecutor

In building his positive reputation in the courtroom, then-Governor Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) appointed him to the San Diego County Superior Court in 2006 where he worked until a few years later when President Obama (D) nominated him to serve as a federal judge.  He was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2012.   

Judge Curiel has never put politics ahead of country when it comes to deciding cases. He has worked tirelessly in interpreting the law to the best of his ability, including drawing praise from members of both major political parties. Unfortunately, his expertise in judicial procedure drew ire from the current president. In 2016, Judge Curiel—a natural-born American citizen—was the political target of Donald Trump in calling him “a Mexican” and thus implying he could not competently decide court cases in Trump’s favor because “he’s of Mexican heritage.” Legal experts were critical of Trump’s original attacks on Curiel, viewing them as racially charged, unfounded, and an affront to the concept of an independent judiciary.

Still, with an unwavering dedication to fulfilling his role as a federal judge, Curiel has continued to be a key figure in decisively ruling against the now-defunct Trump University and the presidential demands of a “big, beautiful border wall.”

Proud of his ascent to the federal judiciary, the people of East Chicago, Indiana respect and admire Judge Curiel. Many Americans may only know him as “that guy who President Trump attacked,” but Indianans know him as “the guy who didn’t back down from his job even though racial slurs were thrown at him.”