In the midst of an outpour of Democratic presidential nominees for 2020, it’s easy to have missed the announcement of Julián Castro as one of those in the running. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re not alone.
Within the diverse political landscape in Texas, Castro has seemingly fallen under the radar as Beto O’Rourke stands in the national spotlight. However, Castro has been building his Democratic reputation for years.
So what makes him stand out in this crowded Democratic field?
The 44-year-old Hispanic mayor from San Antonio has been a popular public servant for years. Born to two Chicano activist parents and a family of immigrants, he attended Stanford University with his identical twin brother Joaquín Castro. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 2000, he began his political career in his hometown and shortly after, in 2001, he was elected to serve as San Antonio’s youngest City Councilman at age 26. He later went on to become mayor—while his brother eventually became a state representative.
A 2010 New York Times profile piece described Castro as “cerebral, serious, self-contained and highly efficient.”
During a visit to the White House in 2010, Castro was often joked about due to his inexperience, but the youthful mayor left a strong impression on the Obama staff.
Castro rocketed to fame in 2012 after he was chosen to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, becoming the first Hispanic-American person to do so. He spent his time in the spotlight reflecting on his immigrant family, saying, “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.”
Castro served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014-2017, making him the youngest member of Barack Obama’s cabinet. However, prominent Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren accused the department of selling too many mortgages to Wall Street banks with little oversight. Shortly after these accusations, the HUD changed its policies.
On Jan. 12, 2019, Castro announced his bid for the Democratic nomination in San Antonio. In his speech, Castro stated, “I am running for president because it’s time for new leadership, because it’s time for new energy. And it’s time for a new commitment to make sure the opportunities that I had are available to every American,” repeating himself once in Spanish.
Castro will have to find his way through a crowded ballot, competing against older, more experienced politicians while fighting off criticisms for his work as secretary of HUD as well as his Hispanic-American identity.
Castro builds his campaign on the foundation of an affordable college, universal health care, free trade, clean energy, LGBT+ and women’s rights, and welcoming immigrants. Although he has a strong base of Hispanic supporters, some have criticized the young politician for not being fluent in Spanish and not “fully embracing” his identity, instead focusing to make his American journey more “relatable” to the masses.
It seems Castro wishes to be defined by more than just his race, stating in 2002, “To me, the ideal would be for people to be able to run based on their ideas but still mean something to the community they come from, because that’s also part of what inspires people.”
In his announcement speech, Castro also recognized the odds stacked against him.“I am not a front-runner in this race, but I have not been a front-runner at any time in my life,” adding that the low-income communities he grew up in were never thought to produce any great change. “I am going to go speak to them in a way that resonates with them…my family’s story is a testament to what is possible when this country gets it right.”
With a solid foundation of Democratic ideals, experience in both local and federal government, and a passionate base of Texans and Hispanic voters, it’s surprising Castro hasn’t gained more national media attention.
It seems that Castro is willing to take on the challenge, and in the coming months, I hope to see more coverage of this highly educated, passionate, and dedicated young Hispanic mayor. If all goes well, it may just be a battle between Trump and one beloved “bad hombre.”