CHARLOTTE, N.C. — San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, in the most defining moment of his young political career, gave a Democratic National Convention keynote on Tuesday night that reiterated Barack Obama’s 2008 message of hope, from the promise of recent immigrants to the anticipation of the nation’s youths to the dreams of Americans reaching for the middle class.
“To me, to my generation, and for all the generations to come, our choice is clear,” Castro said. “Our choice is a man who’s always chosen us. A man who already is our president.”
Castro’s speech was thrilling and moving for Texas Democrats, who don’t hold a single statewide elective office but are pinning their hopes on the state’s shifting demographics and young, charismatic leaders like Castro.
“Tonight, being here with Mayor Castro, this is probably as historic a moment as has happened in my lifetime — to see a young Hispanic take the podium in front of millions of people,” said Ben Barnes, a former Texas House speaker, former state lieutenant governor and a major Democratic fundraiser.
The speech was also largely personal; Castro’s identical twin, San Antonio state Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is running for Congress, introduced him. But Julián Castro aimed his biographical tale at the demographics Obama most needs.
To Latinos, he spoke of his grandmother, who immigrated to Texas from Mexico, worked as a maid and a cook, and “would’ve thought it extraordinary that just two generations after she arrived in San Antonio, one grandson would be the mayor and the other would be on his way … to Congress.”
To young voters, he spoke of the “digital revolution,” of Republicans slashing education funding and financial aid, and described Mitt Romney’s solution for young people entering the job market — to “borrow money if you have to from your parents” to start a business — as out of touch. "Mitt Romney just doesn't get it," he said, a common refrain in the night's remarks.
And to those who’ve suffered from the nation’s economic downturn — the poor, and those straining for the middle class — he described his humble upbringing, and relied on his twin, Joaquin, who in his introduction of Julián said the brothers “shared a small room” for their first 18 years in a neighborhood of “humble folks who grind out a living by day and go home and say prayers of thanks to God at night.”
“Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them,” Castro said. “But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone. We have to come together and invest in opportunity today for prosperity tomorrow.”
In his remarks, Castro defended Obama, praising his federal health reform plan, his expansion of Pell grants for college students and his executive order to stop deporting some young illegal immigrants who were raised in the U.S.
“Now it’s time for Congress to enshrine in law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they’ve ever called home: America,” Castro said.
But he also squeezed in some plugs for his own initiatives in the San Antonio mayor’s office, from his effort to pass a one-eighth-cent sales tax to fund pre-kindergarten for more 4-year-olds to Cafe College, a program for students to get help with test preparation and financial aid.
“We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity,” he said. “They’re a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow.”