Capital Hill, Washington, DC
I put in the interview request for Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquín Castro soon after he was elected in November–before he had office space and when his bare bones staff was still communicating on Gmail.
I keep checking.
“Congressman Castro can see you at 5:05P.”
(Not 5:00 or 5:10P. They’re that over scheduled)
I click-click-click up the grand staircase of the Cannon building where members of Congress and their staff work. I walk down the long hallway, passing one state flag, after another, including the flag of the Lone Star state.
I re-trace my steps. Despite my unintentional detour, I get to my appointment with 5 minutes to spare as opposed to my typical LST (Latino Standard Time).
“Congressman is running a little late,” informs a staffer.
I had built in some “pad” thinking this may happen, although secretly, I am hoping “running a little late” won’t make me late for run club.
This thought disappears into a sea of random musings, including imaging Congressman Castro as a House of Representatives New Kid on the Block, complete with the NKTB newbie anthem “Hangin’ Tough” which must play in the mind of every member of Congress the first time she attends a committee meeting, caucus, or speaks on the floor.
“Hi, Viviana! Sorry I’m a little late,” he apologizes.
“Hi Congressman. No prob. We’ve got time,” I partially fib, kissing run club adio’.
He leads a staffer and I into his office.
I think I’ll walk into the equivalent of a Smithsonian gallery packed with memorabilia Congressman Castro has accumulated over the years.
No borrowed Cal v. Stanford (where he and his twin bro San Antonio mayor Julián Castro attended undergrad) Big Game trophy.
No mechanical bull from his homestate of Texas in the corner.
Not even a picture frame.
What does the bareness of his office say about him?
That he’s crazy busy settling in with two offices to staff and legislation to file.
It is also a metaphor of how fresh he is to Washington, so new that he would carve out a few minutes to speak, not with a big time network anchor but a simple reporter/blogger who writes for young Latina women.
How long will it last?
In today’s 24/7 media culture, Congressman Castro is wise to have a protective layer of handlers, staff, and political operatives around him.
Don’t believe me?
He also needs to learn and master this town’s “Game” in order to be effective for his constituents.
But the trick will be keeping an upper hand on the Machine so that he isn’t choked off from the real world or his instincts.
It’s a political tightrope onto which Congressman Castro is beginning to walk.
This Q & A was published as “Meet New Congressman Joaquín Castro” on March 5, 2013 in Latina Magazine where I am a politics correspondent. It first ran here as “State of the Union NKTB: Meet U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro.”
President Obama delivers on Tuesday night his first State of the Union speech since re-election. This Washington ritual is important because the commander-in-chief lays out his vision to the American people on key issues such as the economy, job creation, gun rights, and immigration. It is also significant because of where it happens: the U.S. Congress where the tone can get ugly, splitting down party lines.
Someone who will be supporting the President with applause and cheers is one of the freshest faces in the House of Representatives–Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX).
Elected in November, he has been on the job just over one month. And it physically showed. I caught up with him in his office–”minimalist” with little more than a phone, a stack of papers, and a computer on his desk.
But where the Congressman indulges are his ideas. He gave a prediction on when an overhaul to our immigration system will pass. He spoke about the need for Latinas to complete college and acquire skills to compete in the new economy. He revealed that this is the longest he has been separated from his identical twin brother, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and also opened up about being one of the new kids on the Congressional block.
Viviana Hurtado/Latina: Is it kinda like being a freshman in college?
U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX): I graduated from Stanford University and I remember when I showed up for college, there were people at a table waiting for you with a packet with your name on it. And when I showed up a few months ago for orientation here, there were people at a table with a packet waiting for me!
Viviana Hurtado/Latina: About jobs, what do Latinos need to do to prepare themselves for the economy of now and the future?
U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX): The best thing that we can do is get, acquire as many skills as we can. That we increase the number of folks going on to college, graduating from college. That’s still a big challenge in our community.
Viviana Hurtado/Latina: Do you believe that immigration reform is going to happen this year?
U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX): I believe that we’re going to get immigration reform in 2013. It’s not going to be an easy thing. It will be a bit of a heavy lift. Some in the right wing of the Republican party would prefer a guest worker program or permanent residency for folks.
Viviana Hurtado/Latina: But there’s a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center that shows that a big part of legal Mexican residents have chosen not to apply for citizenship.
U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX): I think the important thing is that those folks have the option and the choice to become citizens. And I certainly hope that as many people as possible would choose that option. We want folks who are here to become full citizens, fully engaged, and hopefully vote.
Viviana Hurtado/Latina: When you’re looking at the youth and new voters, what message do you have about civic engagement and community involvement?
U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX): I’m 38 years old of Generation X. The folks of Generation Y and younger have the most to gain and the most to lose on the big issues of the day. Not just immigration but social security, for example. Any of those changes would be for those who are 38 or 28 or 18 years old. So the young folks should make sure that their voices are heard and vote. For you, those stakes are the highest.
Viviana Hurtado/Latina: Is this the longest you’ve been separated from your twin? Because you guys grew up together, went to school together?
U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX): (Laughs) Well, we shared a room for seventeen years! Then we went to college and law school together. This is the period in my life when I see my brother the least. I’m not married yet. I’m still working on it. (Laughs) But my brother is married, he’s got a daughter who’s turning four next month. I feel like we’re at different junctures in our lives. We’re still very close. We talk almost every day. I see him a few times a week.
Click here to read other posts in the original TWLC series “Anatomy of an Immigration Debate” which analyze the charged political and social context of the immigration debate and the extraordinary demographic changes confirmed by the 2010 U.S. Census that are re-defining and challenging our notion of the body politic as articulated in the motto imprinted on American currency “E pluribus unum”–”Out of Many, One.”
To read more of Viviana’s Latina politics columns, click here.What advice do you have for Congressman Castro?