The 39-year-old Mexican-American mayor is a much sought-after
speaker following his delivery of the keynote address at the
2012 Democratic National Convention, the first Latino to do so.
Castro also spoke in March in Columbus, addressing the Ohio
Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner.
Castro stated there are other issues besides immigration
reform “that rally the Hispanic community” together, such as
investing in public education and healthcare reform, citing that
Latinos “have the highest rate of the uninsured in the United
“These are issues that are aspirational, that have to do with
the pursuit of the American Dream,” he said. “Those have
typically rallied the Hispanic community, regardless of the
national origin of the group.”
Castro spoke of educational improvement efforts he has spearhead
as San Antonio mayor, “acting proactively,” because Texas “is
not one of the states at the top of per-pupil spending.
San Antonio voters
last November approved an eighth-of-a-cent tax increase to fund
a pre-kindergarten program aimed at improving the school
readiness of 22,400 four-year-olds over the next eight years.
“Because of Pre-K for SA, I believe San Antonio will have the
closest thing to universal pre-K in Texas, as well as the
best-educated and most-prepared four-year-olds in the entire
state,” he said.
Castro spoke of other educational improvements in his hometown,
as part of a larger effort known as SA 2020, an effort
begun in 2010, which identified eleven key areas for community
leaders to work on. Education was—and still is—a key
component of that work, he explained. High school dropout rates
have fallen “several points,” college matriculation “by several
points,” and teen pregnancy rates fell “by more than 25 percent
over the last four years,” he said. At one point, San Antonio
led the nation in births among girls aged 15-19, as well as
“repeat births” in that same age group.
“By working together to reduce that teen pregnancy rate and
investing in education, we’re seeing an improvement in
educational achievement,” said the San Antonio mayor. “There are
more of them choosing to stay in school, more young folks
graduating, and more of them enrolling in college. I’m very
proud of that.”
Castro touted a program he helped start as mayor, which is
geared to increase high school graduation rates and college
attendance. Cafecollege is a one-stop center for
students and parents to receive free financial aid and
admissions advice, free ACT and SAT prep courses, and other
college-related guidance. It also has a truancy-intervention
program. He stated part of the reason was that San Antonio high
schools have a student to guidance counselor ratio of 420 to
one. More than 25,000 students have used the service in just the
last three years.
“We wanted to make sure that young folks could avail themselves
of all the information and the resources you need to make a
smart decision of going to college and how to afford it,” he
said. “So many folks write themselves out of the game of college
because they think they can’t get in or their family won’t be
able to afford it. We wanted to change that.”
The San Antonio mayor drew a comparison between the recent
16-day government shutdown and stalled vote on
immigration reform, blaming House Speaker John Boehner
(R-Ohio) and stated “he catered to the Tea Party faction of the
Republican Party.” He noted Latinos will be watching what
develops closely heading into the 2014 elections, especially
after both parties realized what a powerful voting bloc Latinos
“My hope is now that the Senate has acted and President Obama is
making a push for full immigration reform, that the House
Republicans will allow a vote,” he said. “The reason the
(government) shutdown ended is because Speaker Boehner finally
agreed…to allow a simple vote.
“If Speaker Boehner would just allow a simple vote on
comprehensive immigration reform, I’m confident that at least 18
Republicans in the House would vote for it, it would get a
majority overall, and it would pass.
“If comprehensive immigration reform fails, America will
understand that House Republicans and specifically House Speaker
Boehner, made it fail.”
Castro commented on Cleveland’s effort to establish “a place”
for Latinos to live and congregate, comparing it to two sections
of San Antonio that have developed over the past few decades.
That Texas city is now 60 percent Latino.
“It’s important, I think, in communities that are as diverse as
Cleveland, and with a growing Hispanic community, for folks
within the community to have a place that they can express pride
in—but a place where Clevelanders, no matter what their
background, can go and experience the wonderful culture of the
Latino community in a friendly way,” he said. “It’s a way for
communities to come together positively.”
Castro’s mother Rosie served as a leader of the La Raza Unida
movement, which sought to defend the civil rights of
Mexican-Americans in Texas in the 1970s. Organizers of the group
believed the effort would help boost the Chicano movement
in Texas and become more influential in politics. He was asked
to compare the San Antonio of his mother’s time versus how it
“There’s no question that my generation has been blessed with
tremendous opportunity,” he said. “In my mother’s generation:
higher dropout rates, I think it was more challenging socially.
There were more headwinds to success if your color of skin was
“In my generation, the glass is more than half full—and that’s
due to the hard work of a lot of folks in the U.S. of different
backgrounds to make our country a place where more folks can
achieve the American dream. I’m pretty proud of that.
“My brother Joaquin and I are examples of that. We’ve been able
to work hard and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Castro brought that question back to what the Hispanic
Roundtable is trying to accomplish for young Latinos in
northern Ohio, trying to keep his visit on a positive note.
“That’s why this Convención is so important. We want our
young people to realize the opportunities that they have in the
year 2013 to work hard and to take advantage of those
opportunities,” he said. “There has been tremendous progress
Castro’s twin brother Joaquin is a now member of US Congress,
and admits “even though I see him less than I ever have in my
life, the two communicate regularly so the San Antonio mayor can
keep abreast of what’s happening on Capitol Hill. Castro
admitted his brother “is frustrated, like Americans have been
frustrated” by the gridlock that has gripped Washington DC
Castro complimented the Cleveland-area efforts of the
Hispanic Roundtable during remarks he made to the media
prior to speaking at the convention.
“It’s important work that is happening here in
Cleveland—communities like this one that are seeking to boost
educational achievement, to create entrepreneurialism, to boost
small business ownership, and to ensure that the newest wave of
immigrants and particularly the Hispanic community, make a
tremendous impact and are a positive asset,” he said.
The Hispanic Roundtable hosts
Convención Hispana once every three years, “as a catalyst for
advancing education, economic development, and empowerment,”
explained José C. Feliciano, Sr., a Cleveland lawyer and
chairman of the all-volunteer organization.
Then-Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals Judge Keila Cosme
of Toledo served as the keynote speaker at the last Convención
Hispana held in 2010. Prior to that, former San Antonio Mayor
Castro was first elected mayor of San Antonio in 2009 at the age
of 34. He easily won re-election two years later. His political
career started when he was elected as the youngest city
councilman in San Antonio’s history in 2001 at age 26.
Castro served as a co-chairman of President Obama’s re-election
campaign in 2012. He has received national attention and
recognition for his focus on raising the bar of his city’s
economy and education.
As a result of those achievements, many political observers
consider him a rising star in the Democratic Party. Some
describe him as “the Latino Obama,” because of the belief
he has the potential to become the first Latino
president of the United States.
“There is a Hispanic president who is alive today. We just don’t
know who he or she is,” said Feliciano, attempting to remove any
hint of politics from the event, much like Castro did in his
However, the San Antonio mayor was treated like a political rock
star by the convention crowd. It took
him at least an hour to leave the St. Ignatius gym where he
delivered the keynote address so he could get to the airport.
“We live in a world in which the United States is competing in a
21st-century global economy where brain power is the
new currency of success,” Castro told the crowd.
Castro stressed his own backstory during that speech as an
example of how education and aspiration can help young Latinos
can achieve their dreams. He spoke of his mother and
grandmother, who came from México at age six and worked as a
maid and other menial jobs so his family could have a better
Both Castro and his twin brother went on to graduate from
Stanford University and Harvard Law School after being raised by
a single mother.
is designed to identify priorities in the Latino community of
Northeast Ohio—and for that matter, the Midwest— and to marshal
resources to address them.
More than 100 booths dotted the high school gymnasium, adjacent
to the convention floor, which offered a job fair for bilingual
Latinos; the event also offered an immigration debate between
state representatives Bill Patmon (D-10) and Matt
Lynch (R-Bainbridge Township); “life workshops” that dealt
with social media skills, the Affordable Care Act, and immigrant
rights; and high school/college forums for Latino youth; and
presentations of essay contest winners (by Victor Ruiz,
executive director of Esperanza, Inc.).
Convención Hispana 2013 committee co-chairs included: Jorge
Gatica and Victor Ruiz (Education/Educación), Jasmin Santana and
Jessica Cartagena (Health/Salud), Ivelisse Roig and Magda Gómez
(Empowerment/Empoderamiento), José C. Feliciano Sr. and Richard
Herman (Immigration/Inmigración), and Ingrid Angel and Ramonita
Vargas (Workforce and Economic Development/Fuerza Laboral y
On the Internet:
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson