Former San Antonio First Lady Erica Lira Castro Stays True to Her South Side Roots

click to enlarge Former San Antonio First Lady Erica Lira Castro Stays True to Her South Side Roots
Jade Esteban Estrada
Editor's Note: Jade Esteban Estrada is the writer of Glitter Political, a series of articles detailing San Antonio's political scene.

If there’s anything Erica Lira Castro would like for people to know about her, it’s this: she’s more than just Julián Castro’s wife.

I’m sitting across from her in the conference room at her husband’s campaign headquarters in the Finesilver Building two days before Christmas — about a week before the former San Antonio mayor and Obama housing secretary withdrew his presidential bid.

Erica Lira Castro’s dark hair is pulled into a bun that sits on her head like a tiny crown, a dramatic style that draws my attention to her large diamond-shaped earrings. Her two children, Carina and Christian, sit quietly in the next room as my conversation with San Antonio’s most influential former first lady unfolds.

Castro, 41, was raised on San Antonio’s South Side. Today, she continues to work as an educator in the area, and her mother still lives in the same house where Castro grew up.

Her happiest childhood recollections revolve around her affinity for reading, which was encouraged by her father.

“I have very early memories of going to the public library with him and checking out books,” she tells me.

Castro never lost her passion for reading. But in college she also developed a penchant for math, now her focus as an educator.

In 1999, Castro was out with her friends when they ran into a set of twins at the Fox & Hound Bar and Grill. It was her first encounter with Julián and Joaquin Castro. She and Julián didn’t speak that night, but he ended up getting her number. Shortly after, he asked her out.

“We ended up meeting at Mi Tierra,” she says. “I didn’t want to order anything, so we ended up ordering nachos that we split that evening.”

The pair hit it off right away, even though their worlds were vastly different. Julián’s family had a history of political involvement through his mother, Rosie Castro, a leader at the forefront of the Chicano movement.

“I knew nothing about politics prior to meeting Julián,” Castro says. “No one in my family had ever been politically involved or spoke of politics. It was a learning experience for me.”

She looks back on Julián’s 2009 mayoral win as a highlight of that new and thrilling political life.

“It was very exciting,” she says with a laugh. “I remember being very overwhelmed that night, getting those results in. And I remember the campaign office being so full of people that I had to step out and go sit in my car for a few minutes before getting on the stage, because at that moment I felt the weight of the winning of that election. I was very excited and proud for Julián. That was his second run [for mayor].”

That moment also provided a taste of what was in store on the eve of her husband’s swift political rise.

When President Barack Obama tapped him as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the family headed to Washington D.C. to begin a new chapter. A holiday dinner at the White House stands out as one of Castro’s most vivid memories of that time.

“I remember thinking, ‘Never in a million years would I have imagined myself [setting] foot in the White House, also sitting here at this amazing din ner with the President of the United States in the same [room], a table away.”

Last January, Castro stood by her husband as he launched his presidential campaign at the West Side’s Plaza Guadalupe. The 12 months that followed were full of emotional highs — and sacrifices.

“[It’s been] a year of really relying on each other as a family,” she adds.
Amid the national press she’s garnered, I ask her how she manages this responsibility of being looked up to as a woman, a mother and a Latina.

“Just being myself,” she says. “You know, I need to be true to myself in order for others to see who I am. And they take from that what they may.”
I also ask what motherhood has taught her about life.

“How short it is,” she says softly but with conviction. “In the blink of an eye, time flies. You know, once you become a parent, you start measuring [time] by the ages of your children. And, so, my daughter Carina, she’s 10. She’ll be 11 in a few months. Christian turns 5 next Friday. It’s amazing to us, Julián and myself, how fast time has gone by and seeing how much they’ve grown.”

Throughout 2019, Castro grounded herself in San Antonio while Julián was on the campaign trail. Not only because she works full-time, but also because she wanted to ensure her children had a sense of stability.

“That has been important for me as a mother, to make sure that they didn’t feel like their lives were getting disrupted,” she says.

Since Julián ended his campaign, he’s thrown his support behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Pundits have argued that a Warren-Castro alliance could attract more Latinx voters to the Massachusetts senator’s ticket.

Regardless of how the remainder of this political season plays out, Castro says she’s ready to maintain the kind of stable environment for her family that she felt growing up.

Political life doesn’t define or consume her.

“I’m my own person. I have my own career. I have my own thoughts and opinions. I don’t always see myself as just Julián Castro’s wife.”

She pauses thoughtfully.

“I’m Erica Castro,” she says. “I stand on my own two feet.”

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