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Activist Rosie Castro’s Advocacy Set the Scene for Her Sons’ Political Rise 

click to enlarge JADE ESTEBAN ESTRADA
  • 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.

From a young age, civil rights activist Maria del Rosario Castro, more widely known as Rosie Castro, wondered why social inequities existed.

Now 72 — and as her son Julián Castro’s Democratic presidential campaign gets an uptick thanks to his performance in last week’s debate and his twin brother Joaquin Castro heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — she’s reflecting on her life as a mother. But, even as she does, she continues to ponder the future of Latino politics and Mexican-American representation.

As we sit across from each other at Barrio Barista, a rustic-chic coffeehouse on the city’s West Side, Castro tells me about her late mother, Victoria — a maid, babysitter and cook for wealthy families in Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills. In later years, Castro learned that Victoria had dreamed of becoming a journalist and that her mother’s goal was to see the family name up in lights.

Indeed, when she was five years old, Castro, an only child, would accompany her mother to Spanish-language variety shows near the Alameda Theatre.

“She would drag me up to sing, hoping that my name would be in lights one day,” she recounts in her calm, alto voice. “I’m not a great singer.”

When she says this, I think back on her starring moment at Plaza Guadalupe in January, when Julián announced his run for president. As she introduced her son, she received heartfelt cheers from her West Side community, many of whom have followed her five decades in political activism. Her entrance seemed like the grand dame’s curtain call her mother had envisioned.

More of Victoria’s life story came to light in 2012, after Julián’s keynote speech at the National Democratic Convention.

“The Huffington Post had found all this documentation that we had never seen,” Castro says, adding that the news site’s likely aim was to learn whether Julián’s grandmother was a legal immigrant. “They helped fill in a lot of gaps.”

While Castro was attending Our Lady of the Lake University in the early ’70s, her mother would cry because she didn’t have any grandchildren. Then, in 1974, when Castro was 28, she gave birth to Julián and Joaquin.

“She got two at one time,” Castro quips.

The boys’ father, Jesse Guzman, was “a mathematician,” she tells me. There’s a soft undercurrent of pride as she informs me that he was from the academic world.  

However, unlike political matriarchs like Rose Kennedy and Barbara Bush, who aligned their public trajectory to that of their husbands, Castro has devoted her life to her children, grandchildren and activism.

Julián rose to prominence while serving as San Antonio’s mayor for two and a half terms. From there, he became President Obama’s housing secretary from 2014 to 2017, an honor for which his mother will always be grateful.

“When someone [bestows such an honor upon] your son, you will always remember it,” Castro says.

When Joaquin urges the start of impeachment proceedings against President Trump and Julián tweets about the president’s ineptitude, those moments echo Castro’s firebrand politics. Although her activism dates back to Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential campaign, it also extended to calling out OLLU’s lack of Latino professors and later to protesting against the Alamodome.

Though Castro credits her time at OLLU for some of her political awakening, she said her 12 years at Little Flower Catholic School, a part of Little Flower Basilica, also helped open her consciousness. One of the cornerstones of her political ideology remains the Gospel, which she reminds me is laden with stories of the fight for social justice.

When I ask what she feels she’s learned from her sons, she replies, “When they look like they’re not listening to you, they sometimes are — and they’re learning.”

She remembers her boys, then around 9 years old, cutting up while she was presiding over a PTA meeting. She assumed it meant they weren’t interested in leadership or public speaking.

“I took them everywhere, and they were always bored.” A few years later, while teaching a class on goal-setting, the twins “thought it was funny.”

“And yet now, that’s what they’ve done all their [professional] lives. They set goals and make plans,” she says with a chuckle.

Though she’s a proud mother, Castro’s political work is unlikely to take a backseat any time soon.

“I’ve always preferred local government to any kind of national or state government,” she says thoughtfully.

When I ask her why that is, she looks at me with a warm and ever-patient smile.

“Because [local government] is closest to the people.”

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