How Julián Castro’s Candidacy Has Revealed the True Meaning of the ‘Latino Vote’

Jun 4, 2019
1:07 PM

I felt a true glimmer of hope only once so far during this presidential race—and it was when Julián Castro announced he was running for President. As I watched the livestream of his announcement in my hometown, which ended with a song by Selena (the queen of Tejano music and my childhood idol), I cried with orgullo because never in my lifetime had I felt any presidential candidate be so relatable to me and my Chicana-Tejana experience.

As a little girl, I wanted to be a lawyer, a politician, and eventually the President of the United States. When I won the spelling bee for my school in the 5th grade, a classmate told me to enjoy my 15 minutes of fame because Mexicans like me didn’t get to be President. When I was a teenager, my father excitedly told me about how the young Castro brothers, twins from the west side of San Antonio and graduates of Stanford and Harvard Law School, were a making a name for themselves in the political world. Afterwards he said “See, mija, it’s possible for us Latinos. That’s going to be you someday.”

I didn’t go on to law school to be a politician, nor do I aspire to be the President anymore, but I did face the same types of challenges I imagine the Castro brothers did as a brown Latina from a low income background, struggling to succeed in the elite education system, and afterwards in a capitalist, and often racist workforce.

Since Julián’s announcement, I’ve felt frustration and contempt towards the mainstream media and online opinions of supposed progressive Democrats for their blatant overlook of Julián as a candidate. A question being asked now is why hasn’t Julián Castro and his progressive policies not getting much mainstream media attention, and the answer is quite clear to me: it’s because he’s brown and Mexican. That he is an underdog in this race has nothing to do with his experience, his policies, or the amount of money he’s raised, and everything to do with his skin color, indigenous looks, and working class background.

As the only Latino in a field of over 20 notable Democrats, he was the first candidate to visit Puerto Rico, one of the first to call for impeachment of Trump, and has denounced family separation and putting children in cages. He’s also been a trailblazer in releasing substantive policy proposals, from immigration to education, economic justice, foreign policy, and his latest; a police reform plan. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren is the candidate mainstream media has covered for her array of policy proposals, while getting mentions in NPR and the front cover of TIME magazine for her reputation of having a policy for everything. The TIME article mentions that Warren might not be a match for candidates like Biden and Sanders, leaders in the race, but even Beto, whose polling numbers don’t compare with her. They are all white men who have had the privilege of being viewed favorably by the media for merely announcing their candidacies, regardless of scandals in Biden’s case, or inexperience, as in Beto’s.

Perhaps most importantly, Julián has even begun reflecting on and reconciling America’s past mistakes in a way I don’t see other candidates doing. In addressing reparations, he wants to initiate a plan to explore race-based reparations for the African-American community. He recognizes that the “original sin of slavery” is a moral debt that America hasn’t addressed and as a result, we haven’t healed as a country.

In addition, he recently pointed out in an interview with Seth Meyers the mistakes the Obama administration made in regards to immigration reform and what we need to fix as a country to move forward, as Latino Rebels also pointed out.

Despite Julián’s clear strengths as a candidate, when articles are written about the importance of the Latino vote, like in a recent AP article, they don’t even make an effort to highlight the only Latino candidate. The article starts off with how to pronounce Beto’s first name and mentions Beto’s experience living on the border as a way to resonate with Latinos. However Beto is of Irish descent. Gis real name is Robert. A Spanish nickname and growing up in a city with a majority population Latino is no substitute for the Latino experience. While the article does cover Julián and his campaign, the importance of his unique ability to relate to the Latino experience is unmentioned, while Beto’s ability —and Julián’s inability— to speak fluent Spanish is. Measures of success for catering to Latino voters are often narrowed down to whether or not candidates speak Spanish, or their immigration policies at a shallow level, without any emphasis on what actually speaks to our values and struggles and what policies the Latino community needs to see coming from candidates.

And that’s just what the Latino vote is: a vote. American politics are not genuinely invested in the best interests of Latinos. If they were, we’d be given more political voices in the mainstream media to represent the many that we are in America. The Democratic Party especially would uplift representatives whose experiences reflect the realities certain classes and races face in America. People like Julián Castro would be given an honest opportunity to compete against white men and women who were raised with an immense amount of privilege that many of them do not recognize.

Maybe my classmate in 5th grade had a point —Mexicans like me and Julián Castro don’t become president— but it’s not because of our ability or accomplishments. It’s because we are still second-class citizens in this country and considered of less value. Simply the color of our skin or accents in our names have impeded us from the successes and merits that we deserve. It’s sad to see this happen in a presidential race, but unsurprising. Change will occur when Latinos in politics like Julián not only have their voices amplified but are empowered to make decisions for this country. Only then can we be sure that we are truly being represented and unforgotten.


Maricela Perryman is a dual degree master’s student in public policy from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and Fundação Getulio Vargas in Brazil. She is currently based in Puerto Rico, conducting research on the relationship between race and the politics of debt. You can follow her at @marimar1288.