Who Is Julián Castro and Why Is He Being Touted as the Next Minority President?
By Steve Sailer
Last week’s New York Times Magazine article by former Israeli Likud Party spokesman Zev Chafets, The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician (web posted May 3), breathlessly anoints the 35-year-old mayor of San Antonio, the ambitious and suavely blank Stanford and Harvard graduate Julián Castro, as a potential U.S. President—the Hispanic Barack Obama:"Mark McKinnon is prepared to be more explicit about the long-term stakes. An early member of George W. Bush’s inner circle in Austin, he knows Texas political talent when he sees it. "Julián Castro has a very good chance of becoming the first Hispanic president of the United States," he says flatly."
Just as Obama (Harvard Law ’91) enthralled Chicago lakefront fundraisers, consultants, and journalists by finally fulfilling their Sidney Poitier fantasies dating back to old Stanley Kramer movies, Castro (Harvard Law ’00) strikes America’s elites as their kind of Hispanic.
The wonderful thing about Chafets’ article, however, is that the veteran reporter, who was born in Michigan but then served in the Israeli military and worked for the late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, appears to get his own joke about just how funny this Castro-for-Governor in 2014 / Castro-for-President in 2016 boomlet really is—even as he’s helping concoct it.
A half-decade in the Begin government appears to have permanently cured Chafets of the clueless and humorless naiveté about ethnicity that pervades most American political discourse. (Chafets’s 2007 article on the rich, fertile, and almost sociopathically clannish Syrian Jews of Brooklyn is particularly memorable. [The Sy Empire, October 14, 2007]) But, lacking Chafets’ worldliness, most NYT subscribers will fail to notice his subtly irreverent attitude.
Yet, the way he checks off a long list of my own personal obsessions—SAT scores, identical twins (Julian’s brother Joaquin—the one with the more lopsided head—is a Democratic state legislator), and the Bush dynasty’s hopes for young George P. Bush to beat Castro to the White House as the first Hispanic President—suggests that Chafets knows the score.
Julian and Joaquin Castro are the twin sons of Rosie Castro, a prominent San Antonio 1960s Chicana college militant. ...
Rosie was a radical activist in the La Raza Unida Party co-founded by José Angel Gutiérrez, the son of a Texas doctor and author of A Chicano Manual on How to Handle Gringos. ...
Gutiérrez co-authored the 2007 book, Chicanas in Charge: Texas Women in the Public Arena, which devotes Chapter Nine to Rosie Castro.
Gutiérrez also proclaimed in a speech in San Antonio in 1969—around when Castro was first getting involved in his organization—"We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him." (He later claimed he was speaking about killing gringos in self-defense, although his firebreathing reconquista rhetoric inclines toward a rather aggressive view of self-defense.) ...
In 2003, Gutiérrez said: "The best advice I could give a 20-year-old: Get a job, get an education and go paint the White House brown as soon as you can."
Interestingly, despite being marinated in this climate of radical Chicano organizing while growing up, Mayor Julian Castro doesn’t speak Spanish. Chafets helpfully points out:"Although he pronounces his name ‘HOO-lee-un,’ he doesn’t really speak Spanish—a fact he isn’t eager to advertise. … A Mexican-American with statewide political aspirations needs to be able to do more than pronounce his name correctly."
Amusingly,"Early in his administration, Castro assigned his chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum—a Jewish lawyer from the border town of Laredo whose own Spanish is impeccable—to discreetly find him a tutor. Rosie Castro’s son is now being taught Spanish by a woman named Marta Bronstein. Greenblum met her in shul."
(Which reminds me of a scene in Sam Lipsyte’s new comic novel, The Ask. The narrator watches an Ivy League debate on the Middle East involving an American Likudnik intellectual: "One of the experts said the Palestinians were irrational and needed a real leader, like maybe a smart Jewish guy.")
Chafets, a veteran of Holy Land ethnic struggles over land and legitimacy, amuses himself by pushing the Castro family’s buttons over San Antonio’s Alamo:“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."
In contrast, Rosie’s son Julián is almost as polished and even more opaque than Obama:“‘The Alamo?" he said. ‘It’s the largest tourist attraction in Texas. And tourism is one of San Antonio’s major economic engines.’ …
“‘The curator called it a shrine.’
Castro considered that briefly, then nodded. ‘There are people for whom the Alamo is a sacred place.’ he said without any discernible emotion.”
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By the way, one oddity of the NYT article is that while much space is devoted to the mayor's mother Rosie Castro, a single mother who gave her last name to her twins, there's no mention of who the Castro twins father might be. I started to read other articles about Mayor Castro, and noticed the same omission. Everybody keeps talking about the wunderkinds' mom, but nobody ever mentions who their dad is.
After awhile, I found a vague reference by Joaquin to an unnamed father as "a retired teacher," and Rosie's explanation that she and the unnamed father broke up when the boys were about eight.
It all seemed odd. Were they keeping the father's identity hidden because he was somebody intriguing?
More research revealed that two fairly prominent men had been friends of Rosie Castro from long before the birth of her sons in 1974: Jose Angel Gutierrez, the radical Chicano professor, and Henry Cisneros, the moderate former wunderkind Kennedy School professor, mayor of San Antonio, Clinton HUD secretary, and coconspirator with Angelo Mozilo in the Minority Mortgage Meltdown. Both might be described in some sense as "retired teachers." Gutierrez co-wrote a seven page biography of Rosie in 2007 that celebrates her sons' triumphs. And Cisneros, who went to kindergarten with Rosie, dispenses avuncular advice to her sons on how to climb the political ladder.
I then spent many hours trying to see if the chronologies of either celebrity's life might fit with the few clues Rosie had revealed about her time with her ex-boyfriend.
Just when I felt like I was on the verge of a huge scoop, I stumbled upon a 2005 newsletter of the Edgewood Independent School District, which featured a picture of Julian Castro making a speech. The caption read:
Councilman Julian Castro served as keynote speaker at the recent Retiree Banquet. ... Castro shared in the celebration as his father, Jesus Guzman, a Memorial High School teacher for 30 years, also retired.
So, their father wasn't mentioned in most of the articles not because he was somebody exciting, but because he was somebody ordinary. Oh, well ...