Julian Castro’s softly spoken comments were made to only a handful of ears at the National Council of La Raza convention Monday. But he captured what Hispanics need most from America.
Allies. People who will stand up for them, voices who will fight for their rights and dignity in the face of a backlash that has been suffered by every immigrant group who ever reached the shores of America.
Of all the commentary made before the packed rooms at the Kansas City Convention Center — and there was plenty with three presidential candidates taking the stage — Castro offered clarity, a focus.
His prepared remarks were from his role as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
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But he agreed to take some extra questions by a few reporters. Not surprisingly, he was pressed about Donald Trump. Castro was asked about the hotel mogul’s bigoted comments of late about Mexican immigrants and what can be taken from the replies of the other GOP candidates.
Castro noted that both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio had taken stands against the comments. But, he also correctly pointed out that both did not speak out quickly.
So Castro asked: Will Bush or Rubio be able to stand up and fight their own party to pass comprehensive immigration reform, when they were initially hesitant to even reply to Trump’s outlandish comments?
“That ought to tell folks a lot,” Castro added.
He’s right of course. Both candidates know full well that Trump is a fool. He doesn’t speak for them. But if standing up for what is right, if protecting people who are being unfairly attacked must be weighed, how can we trust either candidate to make difficult stands?
In contrast, Bernie Sanders, the first of the candidates to speak Monday, connected genuinely with his audience. He is the son of immigrant parents from Poland. Several convention-goers later noted that by discussing his family’s loss of life in the Holocaust, he resonated as someone who deeply understands oppression.
Martin O’Malley connected through conversations about his great grandparents, immigrants from Ireland. He said he’d kept a sign on his desk when he was in office from the 1890’s — “Help Wanted_No Irish Need Apply” it read.
And of all the candidates, he had concrete examples of standing up for immigrants in Maryland through the passage of laws when he was governor.
Hillary Clinton’s connection was less about her own family. She told of being a young girl and volunteering to babysit the children of migrant workers while their parents worked in agricultural fields. Like the other candidates, Clinton readily offered support for and an understanding of, comprehensive immigration reform.
Here was another statistic from today, one bearing great relevance to voting: 66,000 Latinos turn 18 every month. If all are registered and turn out at the polls, they will constitute a powerful, emerging voter block.
But still, no immigrant group ever moved forward in our society without help, without the support of their fellow citizens. That will be true for Latinos as well. And Latino audiences will note who is authentic. Who will have their interests in mind, especially when it would be just as easy to sit back and say nothing.
Finally, the NCLR conference is one of the few gatherings where one gesture was particularly poignant.
A simple thank you. It went out from the podium several times and was offered to the servers and the kitchen staff who bustled about the ballroom. Many, if not the majority, of these workers were Latino. And many were immigrants.
My gracious server was from Mexico. She has five children, all of them are in school. English is not her first language.
But her children; they all speak Spanish and English. Convention speaker after speaker spoke about immigration,the hopes and struggles of migrants — and the audience listening included these servers.
For once, they were not invisible.