JEFFERSONVILLE — Lorenzo Arredondo was 5 years old when his teacher told him to speak English to his parents.

"[My mother] said, 'Look, your teachers' job is to teach you English. This is America. You have to learn English,'" Arredondo said. "'My job is to teach you Spanish so you don't lose your language and your culture ...'"

That was 70 years ago.

A Hoosier-born son of Mexican immigrants, Arredondo finds that his Spanish is valuable these days. It helps bridge the gap between the former judge who is running for Indiana Attorney General and his Latino constituents, who he hopes he can motivate to vote.

"We have to show them that there are people from our community who have qualifications to hold the highest positions in our state and to be role models and break the ceiling for future generations," said Arredondo, who stopped at the News and Tribune's offices Tuesday while on the campaign trail.

Arredondo was born in Lake County and is the youngest of 10 siblings. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1923 after the Mexican Revolution. Attracted by Indiana's steel industry, they settled in East Chicago where his father eventually co-founded the United Steelworkers of America labor union.

Arredondo received two bachelors degrees and a master's degree in secondary education from Indiana University. After teaching every grade from kindergarten through high school, he received a law degree from the University of San Francisco where he co-founded the Hispanic National Bar Association.

He then returned to Lake County, where he served as a deputy prosecutor, county judge and then a circuit judge for 34 years.

"I've had a successful career for many, many years on the bench, and our parents taught us if you've been blessed, you have kind of an obligation to share the blessing with others as long as you can contribute and make it a better place," Arredondo said.

Growing up, Arredondo said he never saw Latino lawyers. When he returned to East Chicago after law school, he said he was the only lawyer in a town that was 40 percent Latino who could speak English.

If elected attorney general, he'd be the first Latino to hold the office in Indiana history.

On the campaign trail, the Democratic candidate visits the state's 324 supermercados and Mexican restaurants to reach Spanish-speaking Hoosiers, passing out brochures and other freebies.

His message — now is the time for Latinos to make their voices heard in elections.

"Understand what's at stake here, because if it doesn't happen now it's not going to happen in my lifetime," Arredondo said, referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's stance on immigration.

He tells one story of attending a Latino festival in Fort Wayne, appearing as just another politician in a suit at first glance.

"But then I spoke Spanish to them. Now, that changes the whole dynamic," he said.

There's been a concerted effort to engage eligible Latino voters recently. Arredondo claims that if twice as many Latinos in Indiana vote in this year's election as they have in the past, results of state elections could swing in favor of the Democrats.

"We're in unchartered waters here because those numbers have never been counted," he said.

Of Indiana's 426,000 Latino residents, about 40 percent who are eligible to vote, according to Pew Research Center. That compares to 78 percent of the state's white population that is eligible to vote.

If Indiana does elect Arredondo, the former judge believes he has the perspective and experience that makes him best for the job. He faces Republican nominee Curtis Hill in the general election.

"[The position] was created to be the lawyer for the people, the advocate for the people ... but through the years in recent times, it's become very politicized, and it's become a launching pad for young, ambitious politicians who one day view themselves as being governor, senator or in the White House," Arredondo said.

One of his top priorities is addressing the state's drug epidemic, particularly relating to opioids. He would take a two-prong approach, focusing on "holistic" education of communities coupled with strict enforcement of the law for licensed entities like doctor's offices.

He talks about bringing the office "to the people" — responding as legal advocates in times of natural disaster, environmental disaster. He proposes mobilizing the office's 160 or so attorneys to counties all over the state during specific times of the year when those who are victims of scamming can report complaints in person.

"I have no political agenda, I have no ax to grind and I have nothing to prove," Arredondo said.

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Elizabeth is the Southern Indiana government reporter for the News and Tribune. She is a Louisville, Ky. native and graduate of Western Kentucky University. Follow her on Twitter at @EMBeilman.