BEING LATINO IS BEING AMERICAN: WHAT I LEARNED FROM JULIAN CASTRO’S SPEECH.
Like so may others last week, I listened to San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro’s speech to the Democratic National Convention with something of a sense of wonder. As I listened to his speech, I thought of my life, of my parents, my grandparents, of so many friends and acquaintances, of our collective experiences with trying to integrate ourselves into the fabric of this country’s culture. Sometimes these experiences can be painful, and sometimes, they can be rather joyous, and that’s what struck me about Castro’s speech.
He spoke about his family and his experiences, about menudo and abuelitas, and about how all of these experiences are what made him a proud American. I know the feeling.
As a matter of fact, it seems lots of us do. Everyone I have talked to about the speech has essentially shared the same sentiment. That, to them — to see a Latino man on a national platform talking about his culture proudly, like it was normal, and equating that culture with being American — was incredible as it was validating. So many of us have been trying to establish the same thing in our own respective fields, whether it be through media or education, that to see the same message broadcast on national television was almost a relief.
When I was growing up, my father the historian would tell me about the dramatic demographic shifts that were taking place around us. That in my lifetime, by 2050, Latinos would be 1/3 of the population and the majority of Americans will be from minority groups. Growing up in 1990s anti-immigrant California, living in South Texas and witnessing the SB 1070 anti-immigrant surge in Arizona, I would often wonder whether this shift would be pacific, or excruciating.
I think, in a sense, the shift has been both.
Sometimes there are triumphs, and sometimes there are challenges that we all must contribute to overcoming. As someone who has spent years writing about how Latino culture is American culture, and how racism hurts all Americans, Castro’s speech was a powerful contribution to the conversation. Perhaps most importantly because his speech reached many non-Latinos who, maybe for the first time, listened to someone who doesn’t look like them and wasn’t raised as they were talk about why he’s proud to be their countryman.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Arizona, and other states, will continue to try to use the law to exclude Latinos and others from mainstream American life. I know that racism will continue to exist in this country, but that doesn’t invalidate all of the little steps, conversations and contributions to making the U.S. a more inclusive place. Castro wasn’t the first Latino to share his American narrative. But, because he did so with such grace and honesty in a tremendously public way, perhaps more of us will feel safe to talk about our Latino American experiences, or even better, perhaps others will be more ready to hear them.
Copyright 2012 Sara Inés Calderón
Sara Inés Calderón
la vida es dura, pero es bella