Over the weekend I received a text from one of my politics-obsessed friends: “NYT: Castro to get HUD.” As I was out and about, more interested in the conjunto festival in San Antonio than its political shakeup, it took a while for all of that political dust to settle on my distracted brain.
Once it did, however, the first thought that came to mind was not what Castro’s move meant for the 2016 election and whispers of a potential VP nomination from Hillary Clinton. No, my thoughts were much more local: too bad for San Antonio.
Julián and Joaquín Castro are among the most exciting rising political stars to come from Texas in a long time, replete with a rags-to-riches, against-the-odds story that had a happy ending. And as I recently explained to a friend from California, it’s not like there’s another dozen of them, or anyone similar to them, waiting in the wings in Texas somewhere to step in once they move onto bigger and better things.
If the Castro brothers both go to Washington, Texas is gonna have to do some soul searching to find the next batch of rising stars.
Why aren’t there more talented and experienced Latino politicos from Texas who have that most important quality, that je nais se quoi, that it? That’s a good question, unfortunately the answers aren’t particularly reassuring.
Let’s take the self-anointed bastion of liberalism in Texas as an example: Austin. This year the city elects council members from 10 districts for the first time, shattering an honored “gentleman’s agreement” that meant that only one Latino and only one African American could ever be on the city council at any given time — this at a time when the Latino population was growing like crazy.
How many liberals does it take for Latinos to receive fair representation?
And, as an illustration of how overdue these districts and this representation are, you need only look at who’s filing to run in these districts. There are several Latinos running in almost every one of these districts, even as councilman Mike Martinez vies for mayor. Latinos running for all these seats represents a political hunger that’s been repressed for decades in the name of this “gentleman’s agreement” (And, come on, would a real gentleman be that threatened by a little competition?). I don’t mean to give Austin a bad rap for Texas’ dearth of Latino political talent; I just use it as an example of a prevalent attitude in the state.
One that ranks so low when it comes to education, health insurance, health and housing stats, etcetera — and when those numbers focus almost squarely on Latinos, what do you expect? When you blatantly talk about non-existent voter fraud and barely hide the fact that you’re looking to disenfranchise Latinos, what do you expect? When the Democratic party counts on Latino votes, yet doesn’t invest in Latino leadership (the first Latino Chair was elected in 2011!), what do you expect? When you ignore decades’ worth of warnings from the likes of your own state demographer like some climate change naysayer, what do you expect? When you’re one of the most gerrymandered states in the country, what do you expect?
I have a hard time imagining San Antonio without Mayor Castro, since the media has covered the city’s growth in tandem with his political growth. What’s even harder for me to imagine is a Texas with only two political Latino superstars — where are the rest? In a state as awesome and rich as Texas, I know there are many other treasures to be found here. Castro’s rise is great for Texas — imagine if we had five more talented people like him, Texas would be unstoppable!
As Mayor Castro is wont to point out, Latinos are part of America’s future; they are the future of Texas, too. But if that’s the case, Texas sure has a funny way of showing it.