Julián Castro: Is The "Latino Obama" Ready For The National Stage?

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at his office.

SAN ANTONIO – Politics runs in Mayor Julián Castro's blood, but he didn't always like it that way. When his twin brother Joaquín and he were boys, they were constantly at the side of their mother Rosie, a leader in the Chicano movement here in San Antonio.

"They came with me to all the gatherings, and all the marches, the César Chávez marches, the elections. Whenever I was able to bring them, I brought them," she said in Spanish. Did they enjoy going to those marches when they were young?

"No, no, no," she replied. "No les gustaba. Se quejaban (They did not like it, they complained)."

Castro, 37, shed that attitude long ago. On Tuesday, he will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. It is undoubtedly the biggest speech of his life, and as the first Latino ever to keynote the Democratic convention; many view him as a rising star in the party who could one day seek the presidency.

In choosing Castro, Democrats see in him shades of President Obama. As a little-known Illinois state senator who was running for U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston, launching his national political career. Castro made direct comparison to that event in an Obama campaign video announcing his selection in late July.

"Being the keynote speaker at the convention this year is an honor I don't take lightly," Castro said. "I know I've got some big shoes to fill. Two conventions ago, the keynote speaker was a guy named Barack Obama."

Like Obama was eight years ago, Castro isn't a household name. So, who is this man? And is he ready for his moment in the spotlight?

His mother's child

Castro's personal background shares distinct similarities with that of the president. A single mother raised him and he took advantage of affirmative action admissions policies to attend the nation's top institutions of higher education. Castro graduated from Stanford University before earning a law degree from Harvard, the same law school that the president attended.

The Castros grew up in San Antonio's west side, a relatively poor neighborhood that remains heavily Latino. Their father, activist Jesse Guzman, and their mother, a schoolteacher, separated when the kids were just eight years old. Rosie Castro raised her two children with the help of her mother, a Mexican immigrant who dropped out of elementary school and worked as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter. The year that Julián and Joaquín matriculated at Stanford, their mother made less than $20,000.

They relied on student loans, scholarships, and part time jobs to get through school as college students. There is little question that Castro's mother is the most influential figure in his life. Hanging prominently on his office wall is a poster from his mother's 1971 run for city council as a member of the Raza Unida party, which vociferously fought for civil rights of Mexican-Americans in Texas in part by fielding Latino candidates to run for office against politicians from mainstream parties.

"Even though I grew up and I didn't always like getting dragged to the meetings or the rallies or the speeches, I developed a very strong respect for participating in a democratic process," Julián said. "She's the biggest reason that Joaquín [a state representative] and I decided to go in the public service."

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