Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, who will be giving the keynote address tonight, is, according to some, the next Obama. But while Obama’s radicalism may have escaped the notice of the DNC in 2004, Castro’s views are bit more transparent.
Indeed, he, along with his twin, Joaquin, currently running for Congress, learned their politics on their mother’s knee and in the streets of San Antonio. Their mother, Rosie helped found a radical, anti-white, socialist Chicano party called La Raza Unida (literally “The Race United”) that sought to create a separate country–Aztlan–in the Southwest.
Today she helps manage her sons’ political careers, after a storied career of her own as a community activist and a stint as San Antonio Housing Authority ombudsman.
Far from denouncing his mother’s controversial politics, Castro sees them as his inspiration. As a student at Stanford Castro penned an essay for Writing for Change: A Community Reader (1994) in which he praised his mother’s accomplishments and cited them as an inspiration for his own future political involvement.
“[My mother] sees political activism as an opportunity to change people’s lives for the better. Perhaps that is because of her outspoken nature or because Chicanos in the early 1970s (and, of course, for many years before) had no other option. To make themselves heard Chicanos needed the opportunity that the political system provided. In any event, my mother’s fervor for activism affected the first years of my life, as it touches it today.
Castro wrote fondly of those early days and basked in the slogans of the day. “‘Viva La Raza!’ ‘Black and Brown United!’ ‘Accept me for who I am–Chicano.’ These and many other powerful slogans rang in my ears like war cries.” These war cries, Castro believes, advanced the interests of their political community. He sees her rabble-rousing as the cause for Latino successes, not the individual successes of those hard-working men and women who persevered despite some wrinkles in the American meritocracy.
[My mother] insisted that things were changing because of political activism, participation in the system. Maria del Rosario Castro has never held a political office. Her name is seldom mentioned in a San Antonio newspaper. However, today, years later, I read the newspapers, and I see that more Valdezes are sitting on school boards, that a greater number of Garcias are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, and, of course, teachers. And I look around me and see a few other brown faces in the crowd at [Stanford]. I also see in me a product of my mother’s diligence and her friends’ hard work. Twenty years ago I would not have been here…. My opportunities are not the gift of the majority; they are the result of a lifetime of struggle and commitment by adetermined minority. My mother is one of these persons. And each year I realize more and more how much easier my life has been made by the toil of past generations. I wonder what form my service will take, since I am expected by those who know my mother to continue the family tradition. [Emphasis Castro’s]
Rosie named her first son, Julian, for his father whom she never married, and her second, who arrived a minute later, for the character in the 1967 Chicano anti-gringo movement poem, “I Am Joaquin.” She is particularly proud that they were born on Mexico’s Independence Day. And she was a fan of the Aztlan aspirations of La Raza Unida. Those aspirations were deeply radical. “As far as we got was simply to take over control in those [Texas] communities where we were the majority,” one of its founders, Jose Angel Gutierrez, told the Toronto paper. “We did think of carving out a geographic territory where we could have our own weight, and our own leverage could then be felt nation-wide.”
Removing all doubt, Gutierrez repeated himself often. “What we hoped to do back then was to create a nation within a nation,” he told the Denver Post in 2001. Gutierrez bemoaned the loss of that separatist vision among activists, but predicted that Latinos will “soon take over politically.” (“Brothers in Chicano Movement to Reunite,” Denver Post, August 16, 2001).
Gutierrez made clear his hatred for “the gringo” when he led the Mexican-American Youth Organization, the precursor to La Raza Unida. According to the Houston Chronicle, he “was denounced by many elected officials as militant and un-American.” And anti-American he was. “We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to worst, we have got to kill him,” Gutierrez told a San Antonio audience in 1969. At around that time, Rosie Castro eagerly joined his cause, becoming the first chairwoman of the Bexar County Raza Unida Party. There’s no evidence of her distancing herself from Gutierrez’s comments, even today. Gutierrez even dedicated a chapter in one of his books to Ms. Castro.
While apologists for La Raza Unida now claim that the group has been dedicated to the “civil rights of Mexican-Americans and promoting a strong ‘Chicano’ identity,” as Zev Chafets of the New York Times puts it, its brand of populism and socialist radicalism was controversial among Mexican-Americans and Democrats who considered it too extreme. The party pushed racial redistricting, affirmative action, bilingual education, and Chicano studies.
One of La Raza’s most powerful leaders, Frank Shaffer-Corona, an at-large member of the Washington, D.C. school board, even visited communist Cuba for a conference on Yankee imperialism and conferred with Marxists in Mexico. He was prone to conspiracy theories, decrying the “pervasive influence of the Central Intelligence Agency on American politics and what he says is a conspiracy of the multinational corporations against all minorities and the people of Latin America,” in the words of the Washington Post. (“His Pitch: Populism, and Very Latino; Shaffer-Corona Unruffled After Trip to Cuba,” Washington Post, August 28, 1978). The radical organization’s second most successful candidate, Texas gubernatorial aspirant Ramsey Muñiz, remains in prison on drug charges. La Raza Unida members periodically call for him to be pardoned, saying without evidence that the corrupt Muñiz is a “political prisoner.”)
Carlos Pelayo, another founder of La Raza Unida, clung to communism even after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, telling a San Diego paper that “the desire of people for social justice will never end.” “If it doesn’t work [the Soviet Union’s] way, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work,” he said. “So we capitalists have 20 different cereals and Nike shoes. Over there [in the Soviet Union], they have free education, free medical care.” (“Fall of Communism Fails to Deter Local Communists,” San Diego Union Tribune, September 14, 1991)
Is Ms. Castro repentant in the slightest over her involvement with La Raza Unida? Not in the least. She sees the rise of her sons’ political fortune as the fulfillment of her promise–some say threat–in 1971 when she lost her bid for San Antonio city council: “We’ll be back.” “When Julian was installed, it was just such an incredible thing to be there because for years we [the Chicano activists and La Raza Unida] had been struggling to be there,” she told Texas Monthly in 2002. “There was so much hurt associated with being on the outside. And I don’t mean personal hurt, but a whole group of people [the activists] being on the outside–the educational, social, political, economic outside.” Now she has not just one, but two men on the inside–her sons.
In July of this year, she attended a reunion of the now-defunct party. Its promoters recalled her 1971 bid for the San Antonio city council and announced that her sons were the heirs of the party’s founders and thought. Indeed Irma Mireles, who after Rosie was the second chairwoman of the Bexar County Raza Unida Party, “sees results of the party’s work” in Mayor Julian Castro and her godson, Julian’s brother Joaquin, who is running in the 20th congressional district as a Democrat. Mireles and Ms. Castro continue to use the experience they got running the party to benefit the Castro brothers. Zev Chafets of the New York Times writes of the “barrio machine” that got both elected to office straight out of law school. He was elected to the city council in 2001 and was elected mayor in 2009 and 2011 after narrowly losing his first bid in 2005.
One of Julian’s first acts as mayor in 2009 was hanging a 1971 La Raza Unida city council campaign poster, featuring his mother, in his office. While it’s possible that Castro was hanging the poster in deference to his mother, it is unimaginable that a candidate who was the son of one of the leaders of a white supremacist party would be given similar latitude.
Far from distancing himself from his mother’s odious views, Castro cites them as an asset, though perhaps one he isn’t always ready to advertise. “She has never held political office, but has always been civically involved,” Castro told Time magazine. “Growing up, I learned to appreciate the value of the democratic process through her love for making a difference in the lives of others.” Chafets of the Times explains just what the Castro boys learned.
In their spare time they accompanied their mother to political events and strategy sessions, where they were exposed to her fiery style of radicalism … ; met the key figures in the Chicano political world; became practiced community organizers on political campaigns; and learned to make the system work for them.
Julian Castro’s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention is sure to help grow his profile along with his campaign coffers. But in his decade in public office, he has racked up something that Obama lacked: a paper trail, which might make his political career beyond San Antonio short-lived. He pushed a divisive resolution that opposed Arizona’s immigration law, which two council members (including the first immigrant on the council) called a distraction. He’s pushed for a sales tax-funded expansion of the federal Head Start program, even though the evidence is pretty clear that Head Start doesn’t have much lasting impact. And he’s been a busybody, calling for a cell phone ban in school zones that would include all types of cell phones, even “hands-free” devices.
In standing up for affirmative action and bilingual education, the mayor evokes some of the demagogic language of La Raza Unida. “Make no mistake, Mitt Romney would be the most extreme nominee the Republican Party has ever had on immigration,” the national co-chairman of Obama for America breathlessly told reporters on a teleconference call with reporters arranged by the Obama campaign. He’s turned San Antonio into a sanctuary city, meaning its police aren’t allowed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and attacked Senator Marco Rubio’s proposed alternative to amnesty for illegal immigrant children as “cotton candy politics.” He considers efforts to restrict illegal immigration to be anti-immigrant and even anti-Hispanic.
Mayor Castro calls voter I.D. laws “voter suppression,” repeating the common left-wing canard that Hispanics, who have marginally higher rates of lacking an I.D., won’t be able to cast ballots. The possibility of a smaller Hispanic turnout also has Julian and Joaquin upset because it might delay their paths to statewide office.
The choice of the left-wing mayor as keynoter at the party’s convention is perhaps as much psychological warfare as anything else, not only part of a longer-range plan to mess with Texas’s electoral math but also an immediate attempt to remind those ‘racist’ Republicans that the future is here. Until that day comes, National Public Radio can gush that it hopes America will one day look like San Antonio–and the Castro brothers can wait, anxious to do what La Raza Unida’s founder told all young Hispanic men to do in 2003: “get a job, get an education, and go paint the White House brown as soon as you can.”
Like Obama, the Castro brothers have been presented as pragmatists and centrists. But those who know them best say it’s a lie. And now Julian is the convention keynote speaker for a party led by a far-left president in many ways similar to himself.
Read Castro’s speech below:
My fellow Democrats, my fellow Texans, my fellow Americans: I stand before you tonight as a young American, a proud American, of a generation born as the Cold War receded, shaped by the tragedy of 9/11, connected by the digital revolution and determined to re-elect the man who will make the 21st century another American century — President Barack Obama.
The unlikely journey that brought me here tonight began many miles from this podium. My brother Joaquin and I grew up with my mother Rosie and my grandmother Victoria. My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl, she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio, where some relatives had agreed to take her in. She never made it past the fourth grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family. My grandmother spent her whole life working as a maid, a cook and a babysitter, barely scraping by, but still working hard to give my mother, her only child, a chance in life, so that my mother could give my brother and me an even better one.
As my grandmother got older, she begged my mother to give her grandchildren. She prayed to God for just one grandbaby before she died. You can imagine her excitement when she found out her prayers would be answered — twice over. She was so excited that the day before Joaquin and I were born she entered a menudo cook-off, and she won $300! That’s how she paid our hospital bill.
By the time my brother and I came along, this incredible woman had taught herself to read and write in both Spanish and English. I can still see her in the room that Joaquin and I shared with her, reading her Agatha Christie novels late into the night. And I can still remember her, every morning as Joaquin and I walked out the door to school, making the sign of the cross behind us, saying, “Que dios los bendiga.” “May God bless you.”
My grandmother didn’t live to see us begin our lives in public service. But she probably would have thought it extraordinary that just two generations after she arrived in San Antonio, one grandson would be the mayor and the other would be on his way — the good people of San Antonio willing — to the United States Congress.
My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible. Ours is a nation like no other, a place where great journeys can be made in a single generation. No matter who you are or where you come from, the path is always forward.
America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident. My grandmother’s generation and generations before always saw beyond the horizons of their own lives and their own circumstances. They believed that opportunity created today would lead to prosperity tomorrow. That’s the country they envisioned, and that’s the country they helped build. The roads and bridges they built, the schools and universities they created, the rights they fought for and won — these opened the doors to a decent job, a secure retirement, the chance for your children to do better than you did.
And that’s the middle class– the engine of our economic growth. With hard work, everybody ought to be able to get there. And with hard work, everybody ought to be able to stay there — and go beyond. The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not unique to Americans. It’s a human dream, one that calls across oceans and borders. The dream is universal, but America makes it possible. And our investment in opportunity makes it a reality.
Now, in Texas, we believe in the rugged individual. 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. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow.
And it starts with education. Twenty years ago, Joaquin and I left home for college and then for law school. In those classrooms, we met some of the brightest folks in the world. But at the end of our days there, I couldn’t help but to think back to my classmates at Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. They had the same talent, the same brains, the same dreams as the folks we sat with at Stanford and Harvard. I realized the difference wasn’t one of intelligence or drive. The difference was opportunity.
In my city of San Antonio, we get that. So we’re working to ensure that more four-year-olds have access to pre-K. We opened Cafe College, where students get help with everything from test prep to financial aid paperwork. We know that you can’t be pro-business unless you’re pro-education. We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity. They’re a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.
And it’s paying off. Last year the Milken Institute ranked San Antonio as the nation’s top performing local economy. And we’re only getting started. Opportunity today, prosperity tomorrow.
Now, like many of you, I watched last week’s Republican convention. They told a few stories of individual success. We all celebrate individual success. But the question is, how do we multiply that success? The answer is President Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it. A few months ago he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. “Start a business,” he said. But how? “Borrow money if you have to from your parents,” he told them. Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Some people are lucky enough to borrow money from their parents, but that shouldn’t determine whether you can pursue your dreams. I don’t think Gov. Romney meant any harm. I think he’s a good guy. He just has no idea how good he’s had it.
We know that in our free market economy some will prosper more than others. What we don’t accept is the idea that some folks won’t even get a chance. And the thing is, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are perfectly comfortable with that America. In fact, that’s exactly what they’re promising us.
The Romney-Ryan budget doesn’t just cut public education, cut Medicare, cut transportation and cut job training.
It doesn’t just pummel the middle class — it dismantles it. It dismantles what generations before have built to ensure that everybody can enter and stay in the middle class. When it comes to getting the middle class back to work, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to respecting women’s rights, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, “No.” When it comes to expanding access to good health care, Mitt Romney says, “No.”
Actually, Mitt Romney said, “Yes,” and now he says, “No.” Gov. Romney has undergone an extreme makeover, and it ain’t pretty. So here’s what we’re going to say to Mitt Romney. We’re going to say, “No.”
Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all just go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it. Because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn’t free. What Romney and Ryan don’t understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
Republicans tell us that if the most prosperous among us do even better, that somehow the rest of us will too. Folks, we’ve heard that before. First they called it “trickle-down.” Then “supply-side.” Now it’s “Romney-Ryan.” Or is it “Ryan-Romney”? Either way, their theory has been tested. It failed. Our economy failed. The middle class paid the price. Your family paid the price.
Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it. But Barack Obama gets it. He understands that when we invest in people we’re investing in our shared prosperity. And when we neglect that responsibility, we risk our promise as a nation. Just a few years ago, families that had never asked for anything found themselves at risk of losing everything. And the dream my grandmother held, that work would be rewarded, that the middle class would be there, if not for her, then for her children — that dream was being crushed.
But then President Obama took office — and he took action. When Detroit was in trouble, President Obama saved the auto industry and saved a million jobs. Seven presidents before him — Democrats and Republicans — tried to expand health care to all Americans. President Obama got it done. He made a historic investment to lift our nation’s public schools and expanded Pell grants so that more young people can afford college. And because he knows that we don’t have an ounce of talent to waste, the president took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers.
I believe in you. Barack Obama believes in you. Now it’s time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they’ve ever called home: America.
Four years ago, America stood on the brink of a depression. Despite incredible odds and united Republican opposition, our president took action, and now we’ve seen 4.5 million new jobs. He knows better than anyone that there’s more hard work to do, but we’re making progress. And now we need to make a choice.
It’s a choice between a country where the middle class pays more so that millionaires can pay less — or a country where everybody pays their fair share, so we can reduce the deficit and create the jobs of the future. It’s a choice between a nation that slashes funding for our schools and guts Pell grants — or a nation that invests more in education. It’s a choice between a politician who rewards companies that ship American jobs overseas — or a leader who brings jobs back home.
This is the choice before us. And to me, to my generation and for all the generations to come, our choice is clear. Our choice is a man who’s always chosen us. A man who already is our president: Barack Obama.
In the end, the American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay. Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor. My grandmother never owned a house. She cleaned other people’s houses so she could afford to rent her own. But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college. And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone.
And while she may be proud of me tonight, I’ve got to tell you, mom, I’m even more proud of you. Thank you, mom. Today, my beautiful wife Erica and I are the proud parents of a three-year-old little girl, Carina Victoria, named after my grandmother.
A couple of Mondays ago was her first day of pre-K. As we dropped her off, we walked out of the classroom, and I found myself whispering to her, as was once whispered to me, “Que dios te bendiga.” “May God bless you.” She’s still young, and her dreams are far off yet, but I hope she’ll reach them. As a dad, I’m going to do my part, and I know she’ll do hers. But our responsibility as a nation is to come together and do our part, as one community, one United States of America, to ensure opportunity for all of our children.
The days we live in are not easy ones, but we have seen days like this before, and America prevailed. With the wisdom of our founders and the values of our families, America prevailed. With each generation going further than the last, America prevailed. And with the opportunity we build today for a shared prosperity tomorrow, America will prevail.
It begins with re-electing Barack Obama. It begins with you. It begins now. Que dios los bendiga. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.