A dazzling smile and an inspiring life story were America’s introduction to Julian Castro in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tuesday night. The San Antonio mayor was the first Hispanic to make the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.
“My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes my family’s story possible,” Castro said in his speech on the opening night of the convention, just before First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage.
Castro, 37, is the youngest mayor among the top 50 biggest cities in America. (San Antonio is seventh.) His rousing speech, which amped up the crowd in Charlotte and focused on the right of every American to achieve the American dream, was a “momentous” moment in history for Hispanics — both in Texas and across the nation, said Fred Cantu, head of the Austin Tejano Democrats, a group that seeks to get out the Latino vote.
“The president and the national party are recognizing the fact that we are up and coming, and that we need to be given a place at the table,” Cantu said. “So that is huge.”
“In Texas, we believe in the rugged individual,” Castro said. “But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone.”
Castro, whose identical twin brother, Joaquin, is a state rep on the way to being elected to U.S. Congress, comes from humble immigrant beginnings. An orphaned grandmother and a single mother from Mexico used those good old Texas bootstraps to pull themselves out of poverty and give their children a chance at a better life. Castro said his mother is a longtime political activist who raised her children to be engaged and involved in the community.
“In Texas, we believe in the rugged individual,” Castro said. “Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them. But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone.”
Castro’s position as the face of the party —which is basically what the Democrats are declaring by putting him in such a prominent position at the convention — is clearly a nod to the party’s approach to immigration policy and a welcome sign for Hispanics who are being pursued hard by the GOP.
While Republicans hammer home pro-business policies and pro-family as well as socially conservative legislation as proof that they are the party Hispanics should join, the Democrats preach appreciation and inclusion of immigrants, as well as human rights and this country’s responsibility to help “anyone who works hard” to achieve the American dream, as Castro put it.
The keynote speech, delivered on opening night during prime time, is reserved not only for those the party wants to spotlight, but also for those who are being groomed for higher office or a position on the national stage.
Castro is not the only Hispanic rock star in the party. But many say he was chosen for his bold stances and his status as the youngest mayor of the big cities.
In 2004, then Sen. Barack Obama delivered a barn burner of a speech that had the national media buzzing. That speech turned him into a household name just a couple of years before his run at the White House.
Castro is not the only Hispanic rock star in the party. But many say he was chosen for his bold stances — he’s asking San Antonio voters to raise their own taxes to pay for early education programs — and his status as the youngest mayor of the big cities. Plus there’s the resounding 83 percent reelection victory he won over four challengers last year.
His choosing clearly irked the Republicans, who have criticized Castro as having no real political experience. They have called him a meaningless symbol, just like — they say — Obama was in 2004.
Whether they like it or not, though, Castro appears primed for greatness, according to this recent Dallas Morning News profile.
It may surprise some that the Democrats are just now getting around to putting a Hispanic in that position, given that minorities tend to flock to their side of the aisle. But it doesn’t surprise people like Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher, the Democratic state rep from San Antonio and friend of the Castro twins.
Texas, he said, is still the South; the growing Hispanic demographic here is only just starting to get recognition in the political arena.
In Texas, the majority of kindergartners are Hispanic. More than 40 percent of the state legislature is Hispanic. The state is expected to be majority Hispanic in the next couple of decades. It’s about time, Martinez Fisher said, that their influence is recognized.
The speech, then, is about more than promoting Castro or pleasing Hispanic voters. In Texas, it turns Castro and Hispanics into nationally recognized political players, said Martinez Fisher. “It’s that watershed moment where the Hispanic leadership in Texas is going to break through that ceiling, if you will.”
Some see it as the moment Castro gets his foot in the door to national greatness, perhaps as the first Democratic Texas governor since Ann Richards lost to George W. Bush in 1994. Others see a potential run for president, though Castro himself says he can’t see it.
In his speech on Tuesday, though, Castro picked up the national political mantle like a pro, building up Obama as the president who got things done, in spite of what his critics say. And tearing down GOP nominee Mitt Romney as a “good guy” who is clueless as to what real America deals with on a daily basis.
“He just has no idea,” Castro said to a cheering crowd, “how good he’s had it.”