Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, who will be giving the keynote address tonight, is, according to some, the next Obama. But while Obama’s radicalism may have escaped the notice of the DNC in 2004, Castro’s views are bit more transparent.
Indeed, he, along with his twin, Joaquin, currently running for Congress, learned their politics on their mother’s knee and in the streets of San Antonio. Their mother, Rosie helped found a radical, anti-white, socialist Chicano party called La Raza Unida (literally “The Race United”) that sought to create a separate country—Aztlan—in the Southwest.
Today she helps manage her sons’ political careers, after a storied career of her own as a community activist and a stint as San Antonio Housing Authority ombudsman.
Far from denouncing his mother’s controversial politics, Castro sees them as his inspiration. As a student at Stanford Castro penned an essay for Writing for Change: A Community Reader (1994) in which he praised his mother’s accomplishments and cited them as an inspiration for his own future political involvement.
“[My mother] sees political activism as an opportunity to change people’s lives for the better. Perhaps that is because of her outspoken nature or because Chicanos in the early 1970s (and, of course, for many years before) had no other option. To make themselves heard Chicanos needed the opportunity that the political system provided. In any event, my mother’s fervor for activism affected the first years of my life, as it touches it today.
Castro wrote fondly of those early days and basked in the slogans of the day. “‘Viva La Raza!’ ‘Black and Brown United!’ ‘Accept me for who I am—Chicano.’ These and many other powerful slogans rang in my ears like war cries.” These war cries, Castro believes, advanced the interests of their political community. He sees her rabble-rousing as the cause for Latino successes, not the individual successes of those hard-working men and women who persevered despite some wrinkles in the American meritocracy.
[My mother] insisted that things were changing because of political activism, participation in the system. Maria del Rosario Castro has never held a political office. Her name is seldom mentioned in a San Antonio newspaper. However, today, years later, I read the newspapers, and I see that more Valdezes are sitting on school boards, that a greater number of Garcias are now doctors, lawyers, engineers, and, of course, teachers. And I look around me and see a few other brown faces in the crowd at [Stanford]. I also see in me a product of my mother’s diligence and her friends’ hard work. Twenty years ago I would not have been here…. My opportunities are not the gift of the majority; they are the result of a lifetime of struggle and commitment by adetermined minority. My mother is one of these persons. And each year I realize more and more how much easier my life has been made by the toil of past generations. I wonder what form my service will take, since I am expected by those who know my mother to continue the family tradition. [Emphasis Castro’s]
Rosie named her first son, Julian, for his father whom she never married, and her second, who arrived a minute later, for the character in the 1967 Chicano anti-gringo movement poem, “I Am Joaquin.” She is particularly proud that they were born on Mexico’s Independence Day. And she was a fan of the Aztlan aspirations of La Raza Unida. Those aspirations were deeply radical. “As far as we got was simply to take over control in those [Texas] communities where we were the majority,” one of its founders, Jose Angel Gutierrez, told the Toronto paper. “We did think of carving out a geographic territory where we could have our own weight, and our own leverage could then be felt nation-wide.”
Removing all doubt, Gutierrez repeated himself often. “What we hoped to do back then was to create a nation within a nation,” he told the Denver Post in 2001. Gutierrez bemoaned the loss of that separatist vision among activists, but predicted that Latinos will “soon take over politically.” (“Brothers in Chicano Movement to Reunite,” Denver Post, August 16, 2001).
Gutierrez made clear his hatred for “the gringo” when he led the Mexican-American Youth Organization, the precursor to La Raza Unida. According to the Houston Chronicle, he “was denounced by many elected officials as militant and un-American.” And anti-American he was. “We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to worst, we have got to kill him,” Gutierrez told a San Antonio audience in 1969. At around that time, Rosie Castro eagerly joined his cause, becoming the first chairwoman of the Bexar County Raza Unida Party. There’s no evidence of her distancing herself from Gutierrez’s comments, even today. Gutierrez even dedicated a chapter in one of his books to Ms. Castro.