Hispanic Heritage Month Profile: Rosie Castro, Political Trailblazer, Mother And Mentor Of Twin Political Stars

  • Rosie Castro and her sons, Julian (l) and Joaquin (r).

    Rosie Castro and her sons, Julian (l) and Joaquin (r).  (Facebook)

  • Rosie Castro at a campaign event for her son, Joaquin, when he ran for Congress.

    Rosie Castro at a campaign event for her son, Joaquin, when he ran for Congress.  (Facebook)

  • Rosie Castro speaks at a campaign rally for her son, Julian.

    Rosie Castro speaks at a campaign rally for her son, Julian.  (Facebook)

At 66, Rosie Castro is finally retired.

But those who know the woman who as a teenager was class president, editor of the school newspaper, then a city council candidate at 23 years old and, later, a civil rights leader, also know they’ll never see a “Gone Fishing” shingle hanging outside Castro’s door.

No sir.

Castro, whom the New York Times described as “a firebrand,” has a dizzying schedule of panel discussions, presentations, media interviews and meetings for the numerous boards she sits on and organizations she is active in – inside and outside of Texas.

“I’m going to continue with the boards I’m on,” said Castro, who earlier this year retired from her job running a student services center at Palo Alto College in San Antonio. “I’m speaking to Latinas about managing working and going to school, and helping grandparents, who play a big role in their grandchildren’s lives, learn the tools that help them to help their grandchildren go to college.”

She also has another important job, one that she never will retire from – being the mother of, and the force behind, twins Julian and Joaquin Castro.

Julian is the mayor of San Antonio, and Joaquin is a member of the House of Representatives. The brothers, Rosie Castro’s only children, at 39 years old already are considered potential presidential candidates someday.

The way she taught us, the message was there was no option, backing away from doing something about a problem was not an option.

- Lauren Garza Gonzalez, on Rosie Castro as a mentor

Julian made national headlines last summer when it was announced that he would be the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. It was a move that made history; Castro was the first Hispanic ever to deliver the keynote speech at a Democratic convention.

Joaquin, who was a state representative, won election to Congress, succeeding Charlie Gonzalez, who retired from politics after representing the 20th district since 1999. (Before that, Gonzalez’s father, Henry, had represented the district since 1961.)

It didn’t take long for Joaquin to stand apart from his colleagues. With hardly a week on the job, and one of the youngest members of Congress, he was chosen by his peers to be president of the freshman class of Democrats.

“He’s already out of the crowd,” Texas political consultant Bill Miller told reporters last summer. “He could go far and he could go fast."

The brothers’ success does not surprise those who saw how their mother raised them – alone – in San Antonio. Their mother and their father, Jesse Guzman, a retired teacher, separated when the twins were 8 years old, according to published reports.

With toys and play time, Rosie Castro made sure that community activism also was part of their childhood.

The daughter of a single mother who did not have the opportunity in Mexico to go past the fourth grade, Castro stressed the importance to her boys of doing well in school.

“I said to them ‘Your grandmother has job, I have a job, your job is to do well in school,’” she recalled.

Rosie Castro’s mother worked cleaning hotel rooms.

Even when the boys could barely reach a doorknob, they were at civil rights rallies and marches and local and state government meetings with their mother.

She took them to voting booths when she cast her ballot, and to Parent Teacher Association meetings when she was president.

“I tried to show them that one has to be a citizen who is actively engaged,” she said in her methodical, soft-spoken style. “By no means were they always happy with it. For a child, it’s boring. You learn to accommodate them, taking their toys and footballs, and homework.”

And the Castro twins’ exceptionally tight bond helped too.

“They would take care of each other” at events that were particularly dry for children. “They played with each other, chased each other around.”

As adults, the Castro brothers praise the determination their mother had to instill in them a sense of thinking outside themselves, and feeling a responsibility to the larger community.

“My mother is probably the biggest reason that my brother and I are in public service,” said Julian Castro to The New York Times in 2012. “Growing up, she would take us to a lot of rallies and organizational meetings and other things that are very boring for an 8-, 9-, 10-year-old. What I did get from my mother was a very strong sense that if you did public policy right, and you did well in public service, that it’s a positive influence on people’s lives.”

When he became mayor in 2010, one of the first moves he made when setting up his office was to hang a large poster that featured his mother during her unsuccessful 1971 bid for a City Council seat under La Raza Unida, described as a “radical” movement devoted to the civil rights of Mexican-Americans and the Chicano identity.

Rosie Castro was a leader of the movement, which also fought for better living conditions in the city’s poorest, often predominately Latino, neighborhoods.

Castro said it was a teacher, Margaret Kramer, at the Catholic college she attended who showed her the value of being present at government meetings and making important connections.

“She invited me to certain political functions and introduced me to certain politicians,” she said. “There were not a whole of Latinos in elected office, so I met most of them.”

She pushed for changes at the local and state level, speaking at City Council meetings and testifying before state legislators.

She fought for Texas to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, for San Antonio to invest in programs to address parenting and education in low-income communities.

“Things were difficult for Latinos,” she said. “We had to take action, we had to get involved, especially politically.”

No one, she said, was going to fight for Latinos if Latinos did not do it themselves.

While Castro fought for justice, her sons were taking heed of their mother’s advice, excelling in school academically and staying active in sports and clubs.

They got admitted to Stanford University, and later attended Harvard Law School.

When they campaigned for office, Rosie Castro was there, proudly wearing shirts emblazoned with her sons’ names, and looking visibly moved when in the audience, listening to them speak at campaign rallies. And of course, she is a tireless campaign worker when her sons run for office.

A whole legion of younger generation Latinos credit Rosie Castro with being a mentor and motivator. In turn, they have showered her with tributes and awards.

Lorena Garza Gonzalez described how Rosie Castro encouraged her and other Latinas to attend government meetings and speak up, with confidence.

“She is a very silent teacher,” Garza Gonzalez said. “She doesn’t go out and tell you what to do, but she guides you and then puts you in situations and places where you just do it.”

Castro, she said, urged them to stare down the unsympathetic middle-class and affluent men who dominated government bodies, and tell them in no uncertain terms what the issues and concerns were in Latino communities.

“They didn’t support the programs in the housing projects, in the barrios,” Garza Gonzalez said. “I was not a natural speaker, but she pushed us. The way she taught us, the message was there was no option, backing away from doing something about a problem was not an option.”

Castro was always there, she said, supporting the women, being their silent guardian angel.

“Rosie put many of us younger Latinos in real, learning incubators,” she said, “where we learned to stand for justice for Latinos communities. To this day she’s encouraging us, pushing us.”

Is Rosie Castro ready to be First Mother someday?

“It would be nice, we have to see how things play out,” she said. “Joaquin and Julian have worked to make sure there’s good policy created for people. They have maintained their values.”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for, and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.