Democratic Convention Standouts Remembered as Smart, Determined Students

In a state where Republicans control the legislature and all statewide offices, the Democrats are looking to the Castro brothers to help rebuild their state party.

By Shelley KoflerJune 17, 2016 9:33 am, ,

From Texas Public Radio

The 1992 yearbook at San Antonio’s Thomas Jefferson High School includes side-by-side photos of two graduating seniors, Joaquin and Julian Castro. They’re both on the tennis team and in the Latin Honor Society. They’re identical twins decked out in sharp looking tuxedos. About the only way you can tell them apart is Julian’s thin, shadowy mustache.

“One has more of a round face and that’s Julian.  And Joaquin has more of a longer face.  And the one with the mole I think is actually Julian,” said retired chemistry teacher Carita Thomas. She remembers seating the polite, studious Castro twins on opposing sides of the room so she could remember who was who.

“They were regular kids, but at the same time you knew they were going to do something great. They were very smart. They knew they wanted to finish school. And they knew they wanted to finish college.”

Growing Up With Civil Rights Activists

Just how the Castro brothers got from Thomas Jefferson High School to the halls of Congress and President Obama’s cabinet is a story that begins with the family who raised them, in particular their mother and grandmother.

Julian Castro talked about them in 2012 when he gave the keynote speech at the National Democratic Convention:

“My brother Joaquin and I grew up with my mother Rosie and my grandmother Victoria. My grandmother was an orphan. As a young girl, she had to leave her home in Mexico and move to San Antonio, where some relatives had agreed to take her in. She never made it past the fourth grade. She had to drop out and start working to help her family,” Castro said during the speech.

Joaquin Castro, now a Congressman, says his mother’s life in that household led to the political activism he grew up with.

“My parents were together until I was eight, and they were both involved in the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. In fact, that’s how they met … Their childhoods were spent in an era in Texas where you still had segregation, for example, of both African-Americans and Hispanics. And so that really, I think, that really inspired them to get active in the 1960’s and 1970’s and try to change the world that they’d grown up in.”

Stanford, Harvard and Public Office

For the Castro brothers change and opportunity came with education. They earned degrees at Stanford, graduated Harvard Law School, and then returned to San Antonio to practice law.

At age 26, Julian Castro became the youngest member to ever serve on the city council. Then he became the youngest mayor of a major American city. After he led a voter referendum to expand access to pre-kindergarten in San Antonio, President Obama tapped him as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Brother Joaquin, meanwhile, had been elected to the Texas Legislature where he focused on public education. Three years ago he succeeded retiring Congressman Charlie Gonzalez who sees the brothers as political super stars.

“The way the media operates today, it’s too attractive a package. Two handsome young Latinos, Stanford, Harvard. Married to wonderful partners with wonderful children. This stuff is like Hollywood casting almost.”

But Gonzalez believes their attraction and abilities transcend hype and community pride.

“I don’t believe they view themselves as purely restricted to being Latino leaders. These are public policy individuals,” said Gonzalez.

Same colleges. Same professions. Similar career paths. Joaquin Castro says he and his twin are close.

“We shared a room growing up for seventeen years until we went to college. Then, after that, I said I wouldn’t share a room with him again. And yeah, we talk by just about every day. It’s unusual if we don’t talk.”

A Presidential Ticket, and a Possible Run for the Senate

And at age 41 both seem to have their eyes set on higher office. For the Congressman it might be the U.S. Senate.

“Yeah I’ll take a look at the opportunities there,” he said, answering this way when asked if he could see himself running against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018: “I think somebody very strong should run against Ted Cruz because I don’t think he represents the best values of Texas.”

For the HUD Secretary, right now it’s Vice President. He’s among those mentioned as a running mate for Hillary Clinton.

“He’s very prepared. He did more in a week as mayor than most members of Congress do in six months,” the Congressman said of his brother.

Just the idea that one of their own would be considered White House material is exciting for Texas Democrats trying to rebuild their party, and Carita Thomas who follows the careers of the brothers.

“They never forgot where they came from. The boys always came back and visited Thomas Jefferson High School. So you actually had a living model the kids could actually look at,” she said.

The only disappointment for this retired chemistry teacher is that neither Castro brother became a scientist. But they are political scientists, and she says that’s close enough.