Biography of Julián Castro, 2020 Presidential Candidate

Julian Castro
Julian Castro announced his presidential candidacy on Jan. 12, 2019.

Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images

Julián Castro is a Democratic politician who has served as city councilman and mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, he served as U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. In 2019, he announced his decision to run for president of the United States.

Fast Facts: Julián Castro

  • Occupation: Attorney and politician
  • Born: September 16, 1974, in San Antonio, Texas
  • Parents: Rosie Castro and Jesse Guzman
  • Education: Stanford University, Harvard University
  • Key Accomplishments: San Antonio mayor, San Antonio City Council, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, 2020 presidential candidate
  • Spouse: Erica Lira Castro
  • Children: Cristián Julián Castro and Carina Castro.
  • Famous Quote:Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them. But we also recognize there are some things we can’t do alone.”

Early Years

Julián Castro grew up in San Antonio, Texas, with his identical twin brother Joaquín Castro, who is younger than him by just a minute. His parents never married but remained together several years after Castro and his brother were born. The couple took part in the Chicano Movement; Castro’s father, Jesse Guzman, was an activist and math teacher, and his mother, Rosie Castro, was a political activist involved in the political party La Raza Unida. She served as Bexar County chairwoman for the group, helping register people to vote and organizing political campaigns. She eventually launched her own failed bid for the San Antonio City Council in 1971.

In an interview, Rosie Castro told the Texas Observer that as Julián and Joaquín grew up, she spent most of her time trying to make enough money to raise them as a single mother. But she remained politically active.

Aware of their mother’s sacrifices, both Julián and Joaquín Castro excelled in school. Julián Castro played football, tennis, and basketball at Thomas Jefferson High School, where he graduated in 1992. He and his brother won admission to Stanford University and, later, Harvard Law School, graduating in 1996 and 2000, respectively. Julián Castro has credited affirmative action with helping him get into Stanford, pointing out that his SAT scores were not competitive.

Political Career

After Julián Castro completed his studies, he and his brother worked for the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and later left to start their own firm. Both brothers also pursued political careers, making Rosie Castro’s influence on them evident. Julián Castro won election to the San Antonio City Council in 2001, when he was just 26 years old, making him the youngest councilman to ever serve the city. Later he set his sights on a mayoral campaign, but lost his initial bid. Joaquín Castro won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 2003.

In 2007, Julián married Erica Lira, an elementary school teacher. The couple had their first child, a daughter named Carina, in 2009. That same year Castro was finally elected San Antonio mayor, serving until 2014, the year his son, Cristián Julián Castro, was born.

During his tenure as mayor, Castro gave an inspiring keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, that earned him comparisons to the speech Barack Obama, then a U.S. senator, had made at the convention eight years earlier. In his keynote, Castro discussed the American dream and the sacrifices his family had made to help him achieve it.

“The American dream is not a sprint, or even a marathon, but a relay,” he said. “Our families don’t always cross the finish line in the span of one generation. But each generation passes on to the next the fruits of their labor. My grandmother never owned a house. She cleaned other people’s houses so she could afford to rent her own. But she saw her daughter become the first in her family to graduate from college. And my mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone.”

The speech helped draw national attention to Castro that grew when President Obama named him the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. The then 39-year-old was the youngest member of Obama’s cabinet. Serving as HUD secretary did not just thrust him into the national spotlight, though, it also landed him in the middle of a controversy.

The HUD Controversy

During his tenure at HUD, the department sparked concerns about its handling of mortgage loans. Specifically, HUD was accused of selling mortgages to Wall Street banks, causing lawmakers like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren to call out the agency. Warren criticized HUD for selling off delinquent mortgages without first giving borrowers the opportunity to modify their loan terms. Rather than financial firms, Warren wanted nonprofit organizations to manage these mortgages and help struggling borrowers.

Although Castro took the heat for HUD’s management of mortgage loans, the agency’s practices in this area predate his appointment as secretary. A 2015 Bloomberg analysis found that since 2010, HUD had sold 95 percent of such loans to investment firms. That’s four years before Castro came on board. Still, critics of Castro continue to hold him accountable for the problem, some arguing that it should disqualify him from serving as vice president or president. HUD’s stipulations for selling delinquent loans was subsequently changed.

Presidential Run

Since his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, speculation that Castro would one day run for president has followed him. The speculation intensified when Castro’s memoir, "An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up From My American Dream," debuted in 2018. Many politicians write books to personalize themselves to the public and broadcast their political views.

On Jan. 12, 2019, in San Antonio, Texas, Castro officially announced his presidential candidacy. During his speech, he provided an overview of the issues that have been important to him throughout his career, including early childhood education, criminal justice reform, universal healthcare, and immigration reform.

“We say no to building a wall and say yes to building community,” Castro said. “We say no to scapegoating immigrants, and yes to Dreamers, yes to keeping families together, and yes to finally passing comprehensive immigration reform," Castro said to applause.

Castro has also been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights and of Black Lives Matter. If Castro wins the Democratic nomination, he would be the first Latino to earn that distinction. 

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