Julián Castro wasn’t my first choice for president this year. So I was surprised when I found myself on the verge of tears watching the video of him announcing he was dropping out of the campaign earlier this month — and the extent to which his endorsement of Democratic rival Elizabeth Warren mattered to me.
“Ganaremos un día!” declared Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who was the only Latino in the 2020 race. “One day we will win!”
How is it possible that we still have to think, “One day we might win and have a Latinx president?”
It stopped me cold. Something got caught in my throat. My heart raced, and not in a good way. Why one day? Why not today?
I am sick of waiting for this one day. Why do we have to wait? Why isn’t our time today?
The Census Bureau estimates that more than 18 percent of the U.S. population is Latinx. No national election should be missing our voices given that we’re about a fifth of the total populace.
We’ve been in this country since 1565, when Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the first European settlement in the future United States, St. Augustine, introducing Catholicism and the Spanish language to Florida.
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1565 is a long time ago; 455 years to be exact. How is it possible that after all those centuries, we are still dealing with the “only” phenomenon? How is it possible that we still have to think, “One day we might win and have a Latinx president”?
It is our birthright, too, as Americans born in this country, to run for president. Many of us have immigrant parents and grandparents, as is common among political leaders, who chose to leave their first homes behind to be part of this crazy, messy, amazing nation, who believed that they could be a part of its story — and that, as their descendants — so could we.
Like Castro, I’m Mexican-American. One of his grandmothers was born in Mexico, as was my father. My mother is also an immigrant, from Guatemala. My parents met and had me in upstate New York. I often joke that I was born close to the border, too — Canada’s.
After bringing his family to the United States, my grandfather worked at one point as a custodian at a movie theater. He had taken a blue-collar job, despite the white-collar work he had done in his first home. He taught me that all work was honorable and that he had come to this country in hope that his children and grandchildren could achieve more and have a better life.
I tried to fulfill that vision, starting by going to Cornell University. There, I found myself one of very few Latinas, and after an incident of vandalism with racial slurs targeted at the Latinx community, I got involved in campus politics. I joined a takeover of the administration’s headquarters to demand, among other things, more Latinx professors and a Latino Studies program. I was then elected as a student representative to the Cornell Board of Trustees. There, as well, I was one of the only members of Latinx heritage.
Two decades later, little has changed. Too often, I have still been one of the few Latina executives at the Fortune 500 companies I’ve worked for — or even the only one. I am the only Latina vice president on the executive team of my current employer and, as an executive vice president at a leading international marketing company before that, was one of the three highest-ranking Latinas in the entire corporation.
There are too few of us in these positions. Unfortunately, the “only” phenomenon doesn’t apply just to politics and business. Indeed, there are many professions in which we barely exist. Despite our significant share of the population, Latinas represent only 2 percent of the computing workforce in such tech hubs as the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York.
In 2003, I tried to engage more members of the Latinx community and increase our representation in politics as the point-person for Hispanic outreach for retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s 2004 Democratic presidential campaign.
Seventeen years have passed, and yet here I am again dealing with the same issue of visibility. I am disheartened that in the nearly two decades that have passed, the presidential candidate who spoke most directly about issues affecting our community, including the mass detention of children along the border, is no longer in the race.
We have a saying in Spanish, “Un pasito pa’ delante y dos pasitos pa’ tras.” In English it means: One step forward and two steps back. With Castro’s campaign over, I worry that we’re moving two steps back.
I hope one day my sons will be able to run for president if they choose, and that they will not be the “only.”
It’s this realization that’s made me reconsider future support of his candidacy. Wouldn’t it be nice if he ended up on the Democratic ticket as the vice presidential pick? We need him and his voice in the mix. That’s part of why I found myself so encouraged when he joined forces with Warren to stump for her around the country, because we’re still seeing someone who looks like us on the campaign trail. That’s resonating, as Warren’s endorsement Thursday by 100 prominent members of the Latinx community— Castro’s mother among them — demonstrates.
One day we will win, but only if the power of the 60 million Hispanics in the United States is behind the notion that we will — and if we take the needed steps to hold the country and its institutions accountable for including us.
I am grateful that Castro was in the race as long as he was, because in some small way, he represented me and my two boys, 3 and 6, and what’s possible for Latinos as we strive toward the American dream. I hope one day my sons will be able to run for president if they choose and that they will not be the “only.”