Julián Castro and Latinx Faith Depictions

May 2, 2019
4:03 PM

You may not know it based on media coverage, but Julián Castro is one candidate who has been vocal about his faith from early on. Castro, the only 2020 Latinx candidate, intentionally announced his presidency across from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. He talked about the Sacraments his family received there.

“I was baptized there, grew up not far from there and went to school close to there. I wanted my announcement to present to the American people who I am, and my family and I have been Catholic for generations,” the Texas Democrat said in February.

So why didn’t this also go viral among progressive outlets?

Perhaps progressives are more comfortable hearing about faith from a white man than a Latino man?

White Christianity often dominates the political narrative when it comes to faith. Unfortunately, the conversation around 2020 Democrats is not any different. So it’s no surprise that the person that seems to be getting the most attention for their faith is Pete Buttigieg. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor is proudly reclaiming the religious left. He’s openly gay and not afraid to challenge those on the right, even the current Vice President. By proudly being open about his own faith, he reclaims a spot within Christianity for LGBTQ people.

As a progressive Christian, I find myself agreeing with much of what Buttigieg has to say. This meeting point of religion and politics is crucial for the left, but it must be all-encompassing. As campaigns begin to strategize ways to reach Latino voters, they will fall on deaf ears if they do not consider that many Latinos do not resonate with the mold of white Christianity. There is only one candidate who paints us a picture of a faith and who is pridefully Latino, and that candidate is Julián Castro.

On numerous occasions Castro describes the influence of his Grandma’s faith and his mother’s Catholic advocacy work (Castro’s mother Rosie, an impressive Chicana activist in her own right, served on the NETWORK lobby board). Castro even ended his memoir with a reference to meeting the Pope. In an interview with Religious News Service, the former mayor of San Antonio expressed how faith should not be associated with only conservatism, but that it also motivates many on the left—before Buttegieg did.

Of course, it’s not about who said it first. This is not even primarily a reflection of the candidates themselves, both of whom bring much to the table. Instead it’s a reflection of the progressive movement, as well as the news media. It’s about what form of Christianity Democrats are most comfortable with celebrating, which tends to be white (and Protestant) Christianity.

Both Julián and Pete have served as former mayors from predominantly red states. Both men have received top-notch educations. And both grew up in families of faith. So why is one only of these men getting attention for their faith? Headline after headline, we are quick to hero Pete for his firm stance on faith. Yet, Julián’s remarks are hardly known.

While Democrats wrestle with how to turn out Latinos in 2020, it is worth noting that Latinos are one of the fastest-growing populations in the U.S., as well as the fastest-growing group of Catholics in the U.S. As the only Mexican-American candidate, Castro speaks to a different type of faith. One that serves as refuge for first-generation Americans. One that is bilingual and multi-generational. One that understands the importance of La Virgen and familia. And one that is far more reflective of the growing number of Latinos.

Latinos have long been told to abandon their roots—that they should learn English and be shameful of the way they practice religion, but Castro is bringing his religion to the main stage and embodying Mexican-American faith in a way that not been seen before. In a political climate that frequently demonizes Latinos, Castro is refusing to assimilate.

As progressives, we must challenge ourselves to look inward and explore the reasons we are more willing to hero one candidates faith over another. They must realize that Christians are not all white. For progressives who attend congregations that are mainly white, this is a challenge to understand that there are other cultural practices happening in this country. Perhaps progressives have only heard religious messages from white men and that’s why there are more comfortable with celebrating Buttegieg. This can happen when people have regularly attended religious services where the leadership is largely white and male.

But for progressives to really reclaim religious faith, they must imagine a more holistic image of Christianity. One that is racially and culturally inclusive. One that sees Castro’s relationship with faith just as valuable as Castro sees it himself.


Melissa Cedillo is a Campaigns Associate at Faith in Public Life in Washington, D.C. She graduated from Loyola Marymount in 2018 with a degree in theological studies. She will begin at Harvard Divinity School this fall to pursue her master’s in theological studies: she is passionate about Latinx Faith depictions. Melissa tweets from @melissann19.