Is Julian Castro the Key?
What the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention means to the election and to Latino/a Americans.
By Sam Scott
On September 4, Julián Castro, ’96, the mayor of San Antonio, will make history as the first Latino to give the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention.
The keynote honor is typically bestowed upon a rising star within the party. In 2004, Barack Obama, then a little known state senator from Illinois, took the stage and vaulted to national attention. Such selections, however, aren’t just about grooming up-and-comers; they’re carefully calculated decisions to help win the coming election.
Professor Gary Segura, chair of Chicano/a Studies at Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, researches political representation and the politics of America’s growing Latino minority. Stanford asked his thoughts on Castro’s selection, what it means for President Obama, and how it may affect Castro’s future.
What does it mean that Mayor Castro was selected for the keynote speech? Why did Obama want him?
The Romney campaign itself released a statement saying that they needed 38 percent of the Latino vote in order to win nationally. That’s their belief. He is polling nowhere close to that.
Most national polls of Hispanic voters show them in the mid to low 20s, falling behind even John McCain’s performance in 2008. President Obama is trying to press that advantage, and having Julián Castro give a keynote speech is part of his effort to re-solidify a Latino base that had, frankly, become very disenchanted with him during the early and middle part of his administration.
What is the reason for the disenchantment among Latino voters?
The Obama administration set a record for the number of people deported from the United States. Obama promised repeatedly during his 2008 campaign that comprehensive immigration reform would be on the agenda for his first year in office. That didn’t happen. He then promised it would happen before the Congressional election. That didn’t happen. And in the Congressional election . . . the House of Representatives was taken over by a party that is pretty lock-step opposed to any form of immigration change. And so Latinos felt sort of shunted aside or unrewarded for their fairly large turnout in [the presidential election].
What influence will selecting Castro have on Latino voters?
It’s going to have tremendously positive coverage in the Spanish language press and . . . on the Spanish language television network, Univision. It will get a lot of attention from English-speaking Latinos.
Julián Castro represents the best sort of role model for Latinos in the sense that here’s a guy who was born in San Antonio and grew up in a family of modest means, and he and his [twin] brother (Joaquin, ’96) both go to Stanford and they both go to Harvard Law School and one is on his way to Congress and Julián himself is the mayor of San Antonio, which is the seventh [most populous] city in the United States. They’ve done really well so it’s obviously of big symbolic appeal.
What does will it mean for Castro himself?
I think it’s a really important deal. It’s a nationwide television audience. Most Americans have no idea who Julián Castro is. The only Castro they know is Fidel: That’s not a positive sentiment. So they are going to see this guy on television with thousands of people cheering for him in the arena, and that is going to introduce Castro to the American public.
Does he stand to enjoy the same surge Obama did in the wake of his 2004 DNC speech?
Castro clearly has future political aspirations, who knows how high? But he has a problem, a problem that Barack Obama did not have when he was running for Senate in Illinois in 2004. And Julián Castro’s problem is that he’s from Texas. Democrats don’t get elected statewide in Texas, and his brother just took the congressional seat so I don’t know what [Julián’s] next office is.
He may run for congressional district in a couple of years if a seat opens up, but he’s going to need someone to retire or he’s going to have to find a seat to run in. The seat he lives in is going to be represented by his brother after November, and I am presuming he’s not planning on challenging his brother.
So he’s not going to be a senator from Texas or Texas governor any time soon given the politics of that state, so I think for him to move up, he’s going to have to be a cabinet secretary or something. I don’t know how else he gets out of where he is now.
Ignoring the political calculations, is this a truly important step forward for Latino Americans?
I’m the wrong guy [to ask] because I’m not Mr. Sentiment, but it’s certainly nice to have it happen. It’s better that it happens than that it doesn’t. But frankly, a 3 percent increase in the rate of college graduation among Latinos would be way more important; or a 2 percent decrease in unemployment among Latinos, that I would welcome.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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Excellent interivew. Thank you Sam Scott for asking relvant questions and more thanlks to Professor Segursa for answering honestly. It's refreshing to read a political interivew that is without the "spin" that both parties propagate.
Posted by Ms. Patricia Ellen Carroll on Sep 3, 2012 7:24 PM
As much as I may be proud of having a Stanford alum become the Secretary of State, I will address her performance, which fell way short of expectations, separately, alongwith the other stats in Mr. Fernando Gomez Pancorbo's email.
Just to address the affirmative action and Mr. Castro's SAT, let us not forget that President George W. Bush was admitted to Yale because of his dad's alumni status and/or political influence, not on the basis of SAT score. His scores were: Verbal 566 and Math 640 (total 1206) as compared to AVERAGE admiittance score of V-668 and M-690 (total=1358), way below the average. And yet he became a President. Shall we call it "alumni/politically influenced affirmative action"?
Posted by Mr. Ravindra P. Mistry on Sep 4, 2012 10:55 AM
Great article! I'm curious to learn more about how we know that Castro did not have to fight very hard for his spot at Stanford or that he did not face discrimination simply because he did not grow up in the segregated South? Unless you were sitting on the admissions committee that let him in, I think these speculations are ridiculous. I firmly believe that Stanford's expansive definitions of talent and merit rightfully gave this young man an opportunity to further develop and enhance his leadership potential. He's doing great things and serving as a great leader. What a pride for Stanford! We need more people like Julian Castro! I'm excited to see what he has to say tonight!
Posted by Dr. Marcela Cuellar on Sep 4, 2012 3:07 PM
So only SAT scores matter as objective measures of hard work? The SAT is clearly objective and does not unfairly advantage those who have access to better academic resources regardless of intellectual potential...not at all. I can't understand your line of thinking but all I will say is, before you jump to conclusions by saying that he is only being given airtime because of his last name, get to know some of what he has been doing in San Antonio. I do not know everything, but the little I do know, he has put forward good ideas to improve that city.
Posted by Dr. Marcela Cuellar on Sep 4, 2012 4:40 PM
To give a proper context to my comments, Ms. Cuellar, my comments were based on Mr. Fernando Gomez Pancorbo's comments, which seem to have been deleted from above. In his comments, Mr. Pancorbo was very critical of Mr. Castro and of affirmative action, which he thought was the only way Mr. Castro could have succeeded because otherwise, based on his SAT score which was at 1210, he would not have gotten admission. And my point was - if affirmative action is bad, so is the admission of priviledged people in academic institution based on their alumni/political connections and not SAT score. Hope I have made myself clear. I am proud of the way Mr. Castro delivered his keynote this evening.
Posted by Mr. Ravindra P. Mistry on Sep 4, 2012 9:16 PM
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Data is from the past two weeks.