The Julian Castro I Knew – and How He’s Changed

Here’s a thoughtful essay by Texas Chicana anthropologist and journalist Cecilia Ballí, reflecting on the trajectory of San Antonio mayor’s Julian Castro’s political career.  Julian and his brother Joaquin are the twin sons of single mother and longtime Chicana community organizer Maria del Rosario “Rosie” Castro.  The Chicana por mi Raza Project writes that Rosie “served as president of the Bexar County Young Democrats and as vice-president of the women’s division of the Young Democrats at the state level. She ran for city council in 1971 and finished second out of four candidates on the Committee for Barrio Betterment slate. She earned a MA in environmental management from the University of Texas-San Antonio. Castro was also instrumental in making San Antonio shift from electing City Council members at-large to creating districts.”

But about Rosie’s boys, Cecilia Ballí writes:

In 1995, as a freshman at Stanford, I watched two Texans two years above me land the highest number of votes in the race for student senate. They were identical twins, no less, a fact that made for a catchy story in the school paper (“Twin Senators Not Two Close for Comfort”) and a portrait of the smiling, newly minted politicians clad in khakis and polo-style shirts, sitting back-to-back on the floor of the Stanford Quad. It seemed Julián and Joaquin Castro had grasped a critical lesson my sister and I had learned running for our junior high student council: Being a twin pays in politics because it doubles your publicity and votes—and people love twins.

That was 17 years before Julián would keynote the Democratic National Convention, “plucked from relative obscurity,” as CBS News put it Tuesday, though he is now the mayor of the nation’s seventh-largest city.

I didn’t know the Castros well at Stanford, but we had friends in common and a natural affinity as fellow Mexican Americans from Texas, meaning we smiled at each other when we crossed paths on campus. I perceived them to be more mainstreamed Hispanics less invested in the ethnic politics that others of us had embraced away from home. When one or the other showed up to a party at Casa Zapata, the Chicano-themed dorm, I sensed he was there mostly to watch, to check it out, maybe, to understand one part of his constituency better. I had no idea they’d already had their own schooling in 1960s-style Chicano activism from their mother, Maria del Rosario Castro, a longtime community organizer (and single mother) who’d battled for the political inclusion of Mexican Americans, a demographic majority that remained outside the power structure in San Antonio.

It was Rosie Castro’s values around public service that made Julián, the elder of the twins by one minute, wonder if it now was his turn to continue advancing her cause. In a lyrical essay he penned in a freshman writing class in response to the prompt “Do people ever make assumptions about what you’ll do after college, and how do you feel if they do?” he described the political gatherings he’d grown up around (“functions,” his mother called them) that all seemed to him to blur together (“the same speeches and speakers, the same cheese and ham sandwiches”). But he concluded that “maybe politics” was his future.

Stanford became the Castros’ first staging ground. Both brothers double-majored in political science and communications, working under the mentorship of professor Luis Fraga, who specialized in Latino urban politics. After they graduated in 1996, they returned home for a year and took a job at City Hall while they waited to begin Harvard Law School the following fall….

Several years later, I met up again with the twins to write a piece for Texas Monthly about their formal launch into politics. They’d finished law school, and now 26-year-old Julián was serving his first year as San Antonio’s youngest councilman, while Joaquin, previously less sure about politics, had thrown his name in a local state representative race he’d win that fall.

Surrounded by energetic young volunteers, they were running grassroots campaigns that hinged on heavy analysis of voting data and relentless canvassing. Their mother served as their chief strategist; always a feminist, she wouldn’t allow them to use the supposedly masculine term “war room” for their workspace. In fact, it was a failed attempt by Rosie 30 years earlier to get on the council that helped the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund to make a case, successfully, to the U.S. Justice Department that San Antonio needed single-member districts to ensure fair representation.

That Rosie’s son was now the direct benefactor of those struggles moved her, enough to inspire her to believe a Latino could someday be president, she confessed to me. But that was before Barack Obama, when many of us couldn’t yet imagine the country embracing anything but a white president….

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