AUSTIN, Texas – In all of the analysis on the political ramifications of Julian Castro’s appointment to President Obama’s Cabinet, few commentators have focused on South Texas’ connections to the battleground states.
This is the view of state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, a former migrant farmworker who was born in Crystal City and made Dallas his home.
“People do not realize that when you look at the battleground states, places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, so many of the Mexicanos who were pivotal in President Obama’s victory have their roots in South Texas,” Alonzo told the Guardian. “In 2016, Julian Castro can strengthen and highlight that South Texas connection in the battleground states.”
Last week, Obama nominated Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, to become the next secretary of Housing and Urban Development. The nomination, which needs ratification by the U.S. Senate, was greeted with enthusiasm in the Hispanic community, from both Democrats and Republicans alike.
Alonzo told a story to illustrate his point about how Hispanic communities with roots in South Texas are playing an influential role in the outcome of presidential elections in a number of the battleground states. He gave a speech a few weeks ago at the SER – Jobs for Progress national convention. SER is an offshoot of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Alonzo said he wanted to explain how Texas helped Obama win the presidency. He said there was silence in the room. After all, Obama lost Texas by a wide margin in 2008 and 2012.
“Forty years ago the farmworkers from South Texas started working in places like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio. They stayed there and they had babies and then their babies had babies. I made the point that the growth of the Mexican American community is turning these states into swing states. It is because of the farmworkers who came from South Texas,” Alonzo said.
After his speech, Alonzo’s point was made when the president of SER National, Ignacio Salazar, came up to him and said, “I am originally from Cotulla, Texas.” His bio tells the story: “Salazar was born to migrant farm workers who split time between Texas and Michigan and ended up in the northern state after a medical issue depleted family funds. As his parents transitioned to the manufacturing industry, they grew to call Michigan home. Salazar, after completing his doctoral studies, and became involved in a fledgling program out of Detroit called SER.”
Asked if he thought Julian Castro had the potential to be chosen as running mate for Hillary Clinton in a 2016 presidential bid, Alonzo said: “Yes. He has the skills, he has the experience; he has the track record. And, he will be vetted when he gets to Washington. He has a real opportunity and as a national figure he will make even more connections.”
Alonzo added that South Texas already has strong connections with the Hispanic communities that are making a splash in the battleground states. He said those connections will become even more interwoven through Julian Castro.
“I hope the people of South Texas, especially the migrant farmworkers, understand the difference their families are making on the political landscape of this country. President Obama realized it in 2012. All those towns in South Texas, towns like Elsa, Texas, their families are making a big difference,” Alonzo said.