WASHINGTON — In the early 1900s, the grandmother of Julián Castro crossed the border from Mexico to the U.S. as a seven-year-old and an orphan, her future uncertain. She found work as a maid in the city of San Antonio, working various jobs and raising her daughter and later her grandchildren. Now, nearly a century later, one of those grandchildren officially announced his candidacy for president before a crowd of thousands waving “JULIÁN 2020” signs not far from where the Castro family settled on the west side of San Antonio.
Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama, cast himself as a progressive Democrat who would run an optimistic campaign focusing on giving all Americans, immigrants or native-born, the same opportunity that he had. Standing at a podium bearing his 2020 slogan, “One Nation. One Destiny,” the 44-year-old Castro recounted the path that his family from newly arrived immigrants to presidential contender in a span of two generations.
As he’s done in the past, Castro connected this life story with his vision for the country, recalling his 2012 Democratic National Convention speech when he described the American dream not as a sprint or a marathon but a relay. “Right now, the relay isn’t working,” he said on Saturday. “Today, we’re falling backwards instead of moving forward. And the opportunities that made America the America we love, those opportunities are reaching fewer and fewer people. Today we’re at risk of dropping that baton.”
In his speech, he sketched a deeply progressive agenda that included a nationwide universal pre-kindergarten program called “Pre-K for the USA,” and making the first two years of college, certification program or apprenticeship more accessible and affordable. Joining a growing pack of Democratic candidates, Castro threw his weight behind Medicare-for-all, calling for “universal health care for every American.” He also vowed to “overturn” the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision while vowing to not take political action committee money for his campaign.
He called climate change the “biggest threat to our prosperity” and vowed that, as president, his first executive order will recommit the United States to the Paris climate agreement, a pact that President Trump has sought to pull the U.S. out of. “We’re gonna say no to subsidizing big oil and say yes to passing a Green New Deal,” Castro said.
Castro’s speech spent little time dwelling on President Trump, but he did mention Trump’s recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas, where Trump spoke of a national-security crisis and “invasion.” He went on, “There is a crisis today—it’s a crisis of leadership. Donald Trump has failed to uphold the values of our great nation.” Castro, for his part, called for comprehensive immigration reform, without offering much by way of details.
Castro, whose mother, Rosie, rose to prominence in Texas as an influential Chicana activist, invoked the abolitionists who fought slavery, the suffragists, the civil rights movement, the LGBT rights activists at Stonewall and the March for Our Lives, and connected his campaign with those past fights for justice. In a previous interview with Rolling Stone, Castro spoke of the effort to defeat Trump as a generational challenge, something that also came through in his announcement speech. “Today, I’m convinced that a lot of young people are waking up, realizing that their generation has this new burden to choose light and optimism and expanding opportunity instead of a dark, pessimistic, divisive vision for the country that Trump and others have embraced. That’s the charge of the new generation.”
And by officially running for president, Castro, who is the only Latinx candidate in the race and also one of the youngest, clearly wants to lead that generational change—one that he hopes can sweep him into the White House.