Texas Mayor Is DNC's First Latino Keynote Speaker

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Julian Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, Texas, has been called the new face of the Democratic Party. And on Tuesday night, he'll become the first Latino to deliver the keynote speech at the party's national convention.

Over the weekend, parishioners at St. Paul Catholic Church in San Antonio sent off one of their own with a breakfast taco rally.

"It's a great step when you look at the progressions that happened with the parities that have gone from not recognizing the Hispanic community to having somebody in the very front, you know, being the keynote speaker," said parishioner Larry Ybarra. "That's like a thousand percent improvement over the last several years."

This is the neighborhood where Castro and his twin brother, Joaquin, grew up — going to Jefferson High School just down the street. Before becoming mayor, Julian Castro represented this working-class Mexican-American neighborhood on the city council. Joaquin Castro is a state representative in Austin and a Democratic nominee for Congress.

Their mother, Rosie, raised the boys as a single mom, pushing them to stay out of trouble and excel in school. It's a success story not unlike President Obama's. Local Tea Party activists say there's another comparison between Obama and the Castro brothers.

"I see a very clear similarity between the upbringing that Mr. Obama had in a nontraditional home and being mentored by radicals and the same thing with the Castros being brought up in a nontraditional home by their mother, who herself was a member of the Raza Unida Party, which was very, very radical," said activist George Rodriguez.

In the '70s, Raza Unida was a civil rights organization that campaigned for better working, housing and education opportunities for Mexican-Americans. Castro's mother was one of its leaders in South Texas. She broke barriers by organizing voter registration, getting out the vote and putting new Mexican-American candidates on the ballot.

Julian Castro shrugs off any suggestion that Raza Unida was a radical cell.

"If somebody calls trying to get people to vote radical, then that's quite a difference from the United States, because the democratic process is about the biggest blessing we have in this country," he said.

When the brothers arrived at Julian's sendoff at the church hall, the crowd went wild, slapping their backs and snapping smartphone photos.

The mayor told the crowd that when he speaks at the convention, he "won't be talking to any empty chairs up there."

He said he did watch parts of last week's GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., and he expects a more positive tone at the DNC in Charlotte, N.C.

He has been practicing using a teleprompter and tweaking the speech that he says will tell his version of the American dream and explain why he supports Obama's re-election.

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit nervous — it's something new," Castro said. "But by the time I get up there on Tuesday night, I'll be ready."

The feeling around the neighborhood is that history is taking place — that a local boy is heading for Charlotte and coming back a national political figure, who one day might be running for the White House himself.

Copyright 2012 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.tpr.org/.

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