In 2004, a little-known senator from Illinois was chosen to speak at the Democratic National Convention, thrusting him into the national spotlight and setting the stage for one of the most improbable presidential victories in history.
That senator, of course, was Barack Obama, and this year he’s anointed another young trailblazer, San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, to deliver his party’s keynote address. It’s the first time a Latino has been given the honor; so here are seven watercooler-worthy facts that might surprise and inform you about Texas’s rising star.
1. He’s the Youngest Sitting Mayor of a Major U.S. City
In 2009, at age 34, Julian Castro became the youngest current mayor of a major U.S. city. Impressive as that might sound, Castro was actually expected to win in 2005, when the then-30-year-old gained a plurality in the initial vote before narrowly losing in a run-off to retired judge Phil Hardberger. (Congressman Dennis Kucinich was 31 when he was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977.)
2. He Was Raised by a Single Mother
Like Obama, Castro was raised by a single mother involved in socio-political issues. During the ’70s, Rosie Castro was among the leaders of the La Raza Unida movement, which was dedicated to defending the civil rights of Mexican-Americans and promoting a strong Chicano identity.
3. He’s a Twin
Castro and his identical twin, Joaquín Castro, were both raised in San Antonio, where they jointly attended Thomas Jefferson High School, starred on the tennis team, and skipped 10th grade. Today, Joaquín—who is a minute younger—is also involved in politics, representing District 125 in the Texas legislature.
4. He’s a Harvard Grad
After majoring in communications and political science at Stanford, Castro attended Harvard Law, where he graduated in 2000. Like Stanford, it was a joint decision—Julian’s first choice was Yale Law, but when brother Joaquín didn’t get in, they settled for Harvard.
5. He’s a Fan of Affirmative Action
Despite his many accomplishments, Castro is well aware of the policies that benefited his and his brother’s Ivy League pedigree. In Zev Chafets’ 2010 profile of Castro, the mayor humbly acknowledged that affirmative action helped place his foot in the door.
“Joaquín and I got into Stanford because of affirmative action,” he said. “I scored 1,210 on my SATs, which was lower than the median matriculating student. But I did fine in college and in law school. So did Joaquín. I’m a strong supporter of affirmative action because I’ve seen it work in my own life.”
6. He Didn’t Grow Up Speaking Spanish
Despite his mother’s passion for Chicano causes, Castro grew up speaking English at home (in high school, he took Latin and Japanese). Once elected mayor, he quietly requested his chief of staff to hire him a tutor, and he is now taking Spanish lessons.
7. He’s Not Eyeing the White House...Yet
Even before he was tapped to speak at the convention, Castro was considered the most promising newcomer to the Latino leadership. Now, with the stars of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fading, his rise is looking more like destiny.
Still, if Castro is considering a presidential run in the future, he’s holding his cards close to his chest. Asked in 2010 about any aspirations for the White House, Castro said, “It is way too early to be thinking about that.” Two years later, thrust onto a national stage, the Oval Office may finally be on his mind.
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Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung