A Life of Public Service

Julián Castro’s American dream story began two generations ago and instilled in him a mentality of empowerment—for himself and others

By Kathy Kantorski

“My story is an immigrant American dream story,” says 2020 US Democratic Presidential Candidate Julián Castro. “It’s the story of my grandmother, who came over from Mexico and sacrificed tremendously as a single parent for her daughter, who went further than she did and who sacrificed as a single parent so that my brother and I could go further than my mom did.

“And now,” he continues, “two generations later, one grandson of that Mexican immigrant is a United States congressman and the other is a candidate with a chance to become president of the United States. That’s a beautiful American dream story for the twenty-first century. It didn’t come out of Ireland or Germany or Italy, it came out of Mexico, but it’s wholly American.”

One might say public service is second nature to Castro, whose mother, Rosie, worked as an educator and civil rights activist, the first Chicana to ever run for city council in San Antonio. Castro’s website notes, “She taught us that if you want to make a chance in your community, you don’t wait—you work. You make your future happen.”

Julián Castro

Empowering others to realize their own American dream is a common theme in Castro’s career. As mayor of San Antonio, his community-wide visioning effort, called SA2020, saw San Antonians choosing their own future, then turning that vision into reality. He also focused on increasing the number of San Antonians graduating from high school and going on to college.

“My story is an immigrant American dream story for the twenty-first century. It didn’t come out of Ireland or Germany or Italy, it came out of Mexico, but it’s wholly American.”

As secretary of US Department of Housing and Urban Development, he made housing more accessible, increasing the construction of affordable housing units, which decreased homelessness. Also, one of the key accomplishments he prides in is offering internet—the ultimate empowerment tool—to families in public housing.

“I always tell people that the most important thing is to believe in yourself,” he says. “There are so many things in this world—doesn’t matter who you are—that you encounter that will pull you down or try to pull you backward. In order to succeed, you have to have a strong confidence and belief in yourself. Also, surround yourself by people who believe in you.”

As suggested in that last sentence, Castro knows that whatever he accomplishes, he doesn’t do it alone. He explains his leadership philosophy as: “Bold vision, strong team, and accountability on execution.” Central to that philosophy is the team, Castro’s criteria for which includes treating others with respect, offering diverse perspectives, and, of course, a strong work ethic—as was instilled in him by his grandmother, where his American dream story began.

Interview: Ruben Navarrette
Photos: Cass Davis

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