CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — A telegenic young Texas mayor seen as a Latino Barack Obama in the making, Julian Castro, on Tuesday becomes the first Hispanic to make the keynote speech at the Democratic convention.
The 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, the second-largest city in the Lone Star State, told AFP ahead of his prime-time speech that he would be telling his family’s personal rags-to-rich story, the embodiment of the American dream.
“Of course, I’m a bit nervous but I know that when I walk up there I’ll be ready for it,” Castro said, hours before the biggest speech of his life, beamed live across America just before First Lady Michelle Obama takes center stage.
“I will be speaking about my own family story as an American dreams story,” he said.
“How America has been a land of opportunity in the past and, more importantly, what kind of investments we need to make so that it can be a land of opportunity in the future, and why I believe think the President Obama is doing the right adjustments.”
Castro will be introduced on stage by his identical twin brother Joaquin who is running for a seat in the US Congress in November.
He played down comparisons between himself and Obama, whose 2004 keynote speech to the Democratic convention was seen as an important springboard for his presidential ambitions.
“I would not put myself in the same league as President Obama,” he said. “He is somewhat of a unique talent and abilities. I’m a mayor of a city. I’ll try to be myself tonight and do a good job.”
Castro, a second generation Mexican American, whose mother was born like him in San Antonio, said it was flattering to be talked about as potentially the country’s first Hispanic president.
“I’m confident that that will happen in time but it’s not going to be me,” he said. “That’s not what I’m aiming for. But I do think the United States is ready.”
Despite protesting to the contrary, Castro has several similarities with Obama: both were raised by single mothers and studied law at Harvard, both have huge electoral potential as flagbearers of large ethnic constituencies.
The White House drew parallels between Obama’s story and that of the young Democratic mayor from the South, who ticks several of the right boxes to be considered a very interesting prospect as a presidential candidate.
His story “reflects the president’s story and the American story — if you work hard, play by the rules, this is the land of the opportunity, you can get a fair shot and a fair shake,” said Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“Mayor Castro will talk about those values that define us and discuss the choice the American people face in the election between going forward and moving back,” she said.
Castro, who married his wife Erica in 2007 and has a three-year-old daughter Carina, speaks only a little Spanish but revealed that in his biggest pitch to American voters on Tuesday night he would dabble a bit for sure.
Castro, who was first elected mayor of San Antonio in 2009 and re-elected in 2011 with almost 83 percent of the vote, said the Latino community was firmly behind Obama.
In a historic development in July, the president suspended the deportations of young illegal immigrants under 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16.
The plan was largely welcomed by the Latino community and analysts say it could boost Obama’s chances for re-election on November 6.
“The Latino community is enthusiastically supportive of the president,” Castro said.
“Latinos recognize that he’s invested in education so that more Latinos can access Pell grants and afford college. The Affordable Care Act has made it possible for nine million Latinos to get health care coverage. That’s a huge deal.”
Obama has also called for the so-called DREAM act — a bill that aims to lead young illegal immigrants to permanent residency that has been blocked by his Republican opponents — to be given another chance in Congress.
There are 11.5 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, mostly of Hispanic origin, and efforts to deal with their status have foundered over sharp political divisions.
Polls show Obama enjoys a big lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney when it comes to Hispanic voters. It is estimated they will number more than 12 million in November, showing the enormous emerging clout of the Latino community.
[Image via NOWCastSA, Creative Commons licensed]