Previously published in Metro www.readmetro.com.
Young, dynamic - and Hispanic. Julian Castro, the young mayor of San Antonio, gives a glimpse of America's political future. Hispanics like Castro, a Mexican-American, are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States. Pundits predict that Castro will become the United States' first Hispanic president. In fact, Castro and his identical twin brother, Joaquin, a newly elected Congressman, form America's newest political dynasty. "We'll have a Latino President within the next generation", Julian Castro tells Metro.
Latino, Mexican-American, Texan, mayor, politician: which attribute describes you best?
A person who's living through the early part of the 21st century, governing a city that's on the rise. My role is determined as much by my generation as by anything else. My work in San Antonio has really been focused on preparing the city to compete in the 21st century global economy. The most important things in terms of what I've brought to my leadership position have been a sense that we need to create opportunities in order to create prosperity. I'm proud of my Latino background, of course, and proud of being a Texan and an American, but what I'm focused on is creating more opportunities and prosperity here in San Antonio.
Latinos are the largest minority in the United States. Why have they, until now, been largely invisible in political leadership?
There's no question that the Hispanic community has not voted at the rate of other communities. It's improving, and we saw that in the last election. The number of Hispanics in elected positions has increased tremendously in the last two decades, but not at the highest levels: Congress and above.
Why do most Latinos, including you, vote Democrat? Isn't their work ethic more in line with Republican pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps values?
It's not surprising that the vast majority of Latinos vote Democratic. Democrats embrace policies that create opportunity for people throughout the country, whether it's investing in education or healthcare or small business. And there's more inclusiveness on the Democratic side these days.
As mayor, which part of the Democratic platform do you feel most passionate about? Welfare? Education?
The great thing about being mayor here in San Antonio is that it's a non-partisan office, so I didn't have to run as a Democrat or Republican. I enjoy working with different folks, no matter what their perspective is. If I had to run representing a party, I'd obviously run as a Democrat. As mayor I focus on three things: enhancing educational achievement, matching a well-skilled workforce with jobs, and creating a more livable, vibrant city.
Speaking of education, you and your brother both went on to Stanford, an elite university, after attending a public high school in San Antonio. How can more Latino teenagers get the same opportunity?
I feel very blessed that I had great educational opportunities, and as mayor I'm determined to make sure that San Antonio has great educational opportunities, for example by expanding full-day pre-Kindergarten [editor's note: preschool] education. And we'll continue working on improving public school education because that's the surest way that an individual and a city can be competitive in the 21st century global economy.
What would you tell a teenager, especially perhaps a Latino teenager who doesn't feel that he has access to the best education, is key to success in today's society?
Hard work. Believing in yourself. The surest way to succeed is to put in the time, work hard and have confidence that you can achieve what you want. My brother and I didn't know that we'd get into Stanford or anywhere else, but we'd done well in school and just decided to apply. It worked out, but so many times people who have a lot of talent don't believe enough in themselves, so they don't find that opportunity because they sell themselves short. When we got to Stanford I did very well in terms of my grades. It was challenging but not overwhelming.
Among your residents are many illegal immigrants. Should they be expelled or given amnesty to remain in the US?
I support comprehensive immigration reform, and I'm confident that Congress and the President will come to a good decision with legislation on comprehensive immigration reform. That will benefit the United States as a whole, and San Antonio as well.
It will allow people to come out of the shadows and go to the back of the line for citizenship. That creates safer communities, it allows young people to have good talent to make use of that talent and go to college. It would be dangerous to have a two-tiered society.
Would you understand if legal immigrants feel unfairly treated if illegal immigrants are given the same opportunities as those who obey the rules?
I think we definitely need to make vast improvements to the legal immigration system as well. Right now the fact is that in the legal immigration system it takes too long to become a citizen. There needs to be improvements on that end, too.
When I was in San Antonio just before the election, a young Hispanic woman told me that she didn't have enough time to do research about all the candidates so she'd vote a straight Latino ticket, "because we have shared values". Is voting along ethnic lines a good thing?
Nobody should ever vote for a candidate simply based on the candidate's race or ethnicity. A candidate should be judged on his or her full merits: their ideology, their performance in office, their views on different issues. I don't think that straight-ticket voting by party is the best idea either. People need to be fully engaged participants in democracy and evaluate candidates in full.
Today there are more Latinos than African-Americans in the United States. African-Americans have their first President. When will Latinos get theirs?
It's by no means a competition to see who gets there first. But I'm confident that with all the progress that the United States has made, people from many different backgrounds will become Presidents in my lifetime. So I do believe that within the next generation there will be a Latino president, and it will be someone who represents everyone, who is an American president, not a Latino president.
An interesting result of Latinos' growing prominence is that more US-born Latinos, including you, now learn Spanish. Why is it important to learn Spanish? In the past, the assumption has always been that immigrant groups will learn English.
I still need to improve my Spanish, actually! I understand it better than I speak it. But what you see among the youngest generation of Americans is that it's a generation that speaks English, of course, but also understands the value of speaking a second language. In the 21st century economy understanding a second language is an economic advantage, so it makes sense that people want to learn a second language, whether it's Spanish, Mandarin or another language.
How are your Spanish classes going?
I'm not taking Spanish classes right now. I need to improve though! I'm learning little by little.
Feliz navidad to you.
Merry Christmas and feliz navidad.