At DNC, Julián Castro Tackles Comparisons To President Obama

Sep 4, 2012

As is traditional, first lady Michelle Obama will be the featured speaker on the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte on Thursday.

But the buzz in the political sphere and in the city is all about San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who has the distinction of being the first Latino to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic convention.

Outside of Texas, however, Castro is essentially unknown.

He talked to All Things Considered's Audie Cornish, yesterday. He was at the NPR broadcast box at the Time Warner Cable Arena, which overlooks the delegate floor.

"I'm very excited but also a little bit nervous," he said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't."

This is a big stage and Castro, with his youth and charisma, has been compared to President Obama. If you remember, back in 2004, when the president was just a senatorial candidate from Illinois, he delivered a powerhouse performance at the convention in Boston. The speech catapulted him from obscurity to the national spotlight and eventually the presidential nomination just four years later.

"President Obama is someone of a unique talent and I'm the mayor of a city," Castro told Audie, downplaying the comparisons. "I'm just here to try to do my best and be myself. I don't think that I'm in the same league with the president."

Back in 2010, when Castro's name started to get national momentum, The New York Times Magazine ran an extensive profile of the mayor. Again, like Barack Obama, the Times dubbed him "the post-Hispanic Hispanic politician." In other words, a post-racial elected official.

The Times hones in on one of the more interesting aspects of Castro's life: His mother Rosie Castro is a chicano activist and their identity politics are very different.

Take the Alamo, in San Antonio. For many it's a glorious symbol of resistance against Mexico that gave rise to an independent Texas. Rosie Castro hates it. Here's a paragraph from the Times piece:

"I met the mayor's mother in her office at Palo Alto College, where she runs a student-services center. She was born in San Antonio in 1947 to an immigrant mother who didn't get past fourth grade; she didn't meet her father till she was 34. To Rosie, the Alamo is a symbol of bad times. 'They used to take us there when we were schoolchildren,' she told me. 'They told us how glorious that battle was. When I grew up I learned that the "heroes" of the Alamo were a bunch of drunks and crooks and slaveholding imperialists who conquered land that didn't belong to them. But as a little girl I got the message — we were losers. I can truly say that I hate that place and everything it stands for."

When the Times reporter asked Julián Castro how he felt about the Alamo, his answer couldn't be more different.

"The Alamo?" he said. "It's the largest tourist attraction in Texas. And tourism is one of San Antonio's major economic engines."

Castro told Audie that times have changed, so of course his opinion differs.

"We're in a different America today than my mother and grandmother grew up in," he said. "So, of course, since the circumstances have changed, the politics are different.... This generation of minority elected officials is less burdened than we would have been 40 years ago, 50 years ago."

At the end of the conversation, Audie circled back to the convention. What's next, after San Antonio? Any thoughts about running for president?

Castro said he will be in San Antonio for a while and he doesn't kid himself about the slim prospects a Democrat has in Texas. But the presidency: "It's never going to happen."

"It's flattering, but I've never thought of that as something I would do," he said. "Not a single day in my life, I woke up and said, 'I want to be president.'"

Much more of Audie's conversation with Castro will air on tonight's edition of All Things Considered. Click here to find your member station. Later tonight, we'll add the as-aired interview on this page.

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