At 67, Rosie Castro may not be the full-time activist for Latino civil rights she once was and is retired as an administrator at Palo Alto College, part of San Antonio’s community college system, but if her Facebook page is any indication, she’s still got a lot to say. Rather than spend her days playing Candy Crush and just “liking” photos of her two cute granddaughters as any proud abuela might, she’s sharing voter registration links and posting Buzzfeed videos about the plight of poverty around the world. It’s clear this fireball is not ready to quit public life. To wit, she’ll not only appear at the upcoming Women in the World Texas forum in San Antonio on Oct. 22, she’s making her HBO Latina debut this month in an episode of the documentary series Habla Men.
Born in 1947 to an immigrant single mother who found work cleaning homes and babysitting, Castro was determined to make a better life for herself — but mostly for others. Growing up in the ‘70s in San Antonio, Castro saw first-hand how Latinos, and minorities, in general, weren’t given a fair shake in the political landscape. Her biggest concern, she says, was education. “The [high school] drop-out rate was 80 percent [among Latinos] and the college-going rate was four percent,” Castro says. “I came to understand that if you want to affect change one of the best ways to do that is through the political process.”
She did that by attending college herself at San Antonio’s Our Lady of the Lake University, where she organized a Young Democrats Club and a Young Republicans Club (“to be fair,” she says). Soon enough, in 1967, she was testifying before the Texas Senate on the right to vote at age 18. Then, at 23 years old she ran for San Antonio’s city council. While she lost the race, Castro didn’t stop trying to win equal rights for Latinos and became county chair of La Raza Unida, a political party focused on Chicano nationalism. “The statistics were so bad so the party really looked at issues [Latinos] like education, health — the main quality of life issues that we were not getting any funding for,” says Castro.
In the midst of these efforts, she was raising identical twin sons, Julian—“the reserved one” and Joaquin—“the outgoing one.” The pair received good grades at San Antonio’s Jefferson High School, but like any teens, spent just as much time wrestling with each other on the living room floor and watching thrasher films. “They loved Halloween,” she says. “The movies and the holiday.”
Still, a mother’s influence always seeps through, and it’s no more evident than in the current success of both men, now 40. The pair graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law School, and are political heavyweights in their own right. Julian is the former mayor of San Antonio and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, while Joaquin, who also will appear at Women in the World Texas Oct. 22, is a Democratic U.S. congressman.
“They learned you can do well in this life for yourself and your family, but it’s not always just about yourself and your family,” says Castro. “It’s about the community, too. And what you want to do is make sure everyone is getting equal opportunity not just a chosen few.”
While Castro believes there’s still one group that needs to rise even further —women— she’s proud of how far minorities have come. Her sons are clear evidence of progress. “They’ve taught me to hope,” she says. “Their determination, their sense of the American Dream and their pride and ability to be a voice for people in trying to create opportunities gives me hope.”