For the first time, Latinos and Latinas were adequately represented on the national stage by both major political parties. At their recent national conventions, Democrats and Republicans finally acknowledged that Hispanics are full-fledged Americans. Bert Corona, a Los Angeles immigrant activist, spoke at the 1968 Democratic convention, but non-Latinos were not listening. Now they are listening, at last.
After the Democratic National Convention, Julian Castro is now a familiar political name. Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, was keynote speaker and is a rising star in the party. He was introduced by his twin brother Joaquin, who is running for Congress. Julian Castro is only the third Hispanic mayor of San Antonio since the battle at the Alamo. Juan Seguin served in the 1830s, and Henry Cisneros served in the 1970s. This is in a city where Latinos are the majority. No Hispanic woman has held that position.
But Julian Castro did not become mayor on his own. He attributes his rise to the Chicano movement, a political movement of the 1960s and ’70s. His mother, Rosie Castro, was a member of the Raza Unida Party (RUP), a political party seeking to elect Latino and Latina candidates to office. Pundits such as Michelle Malkin have misunderstood “La Raza” to mean “the race,” but “the people,” the Latino people, is a better translation.
A few days before the Democratic National Convention, Raza Unida activists held their own reunion in El Paso, Texas, to commemorate the 1972 national convention held in that city forty years ago. Without the Raza Unida Party, the Democratic Party of Texas would not have as fully embraced Latinos and Latinas. Without the RUP and its predecessors–the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American G.I. Forum, and other volunteer empowerment organizations–there would have been no Henry Cisneros and no Julian Castro.
In Texas in the early 20th century, institutionalized racism such as the poll tax, the white primary, and gerrymandering disenfranchised Hispanics. The Texas Rangers and the Ku Klux Klan also discouraged Hispanics’ political activity–as does the good-old-boy network today. In recent decades, the Southwest Voter Registration Project, founded in San Antonio, has registered millions to vote, and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund has filed the necessary legal cases.
Rosie Castro was part of the ’60s generation, and in the ’70s she moved in RUP circles. In 1989 activists held a national Chicano Activists Reunion in San Antonio, which was attended by iconic leaders such as Reies Lopez Tijerina, Jose Angel Gutierrez, and Rudy Acuna. Women were also present. Emma Tenayuca, a San Antonio labor movement and 1930s icon, was there. Other less-well-known women were there as well, and a tribute to women was part of the festivities.
I was there, too, as a young graduate student recording what these historic folks had to say. One of the women who spoke at the 1989 gathering was Rosie Castro.
“Twenty years later the role of the women has been obliterated, left out,” Rosie Castro said, referring to male-centered histories of the movement. She sought to correct the historical record.
“We too made decisions,” she declared. “We also ran primaries. We also were election judges. We walked our barrios to gather the petitions. We suffered separation from family and friends. We made signs and did mail outs. We proclaimed an idea. We led marches. We organized and empowered people. We worked side by side with our men.”
Castro and other political women also took their children to political events, and it was there that Julian and Joaquin were baptized in political waters.
Again pointing to the historical record, she said the work of the women had been forgotten. “We became non-entities. We merited only a few words. What difference does that make? It makes a difference, particularly to our daughters and our sons.” She urged women to “start writing. We need to write. We need to reclaim our history.”
Twenty-three years later, Hispanic women’s political record is still not adequately recorded, taught, or known. Texas Board of Education committee member Mary Helen Berlanga tried to add stories like Castro’s to the Texas state public education curriculum, but her efforts were blocked.
Rosie Castro was not at center stage at the Democratic National Convention, but she made it possible that her sons and more women could be.
Cynthia E. Orozco is professor of history & humanities at Eastern New Mexico University, Ruidoso. She is author of “No Mexicans, Women or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.”