The crowd was mostly Latino, and eager to cheer and give a standing ovation to Julian Castro as he entered the Christopher Columbus Family Academy in New Haven Friday afternoon. Castro is the U.S. and Urban Development secretary, but as evident during his visit to Connecticut, for many Latinos, he represents more, a source of pride and a chance to have a Latino someday on a Democratic national political ticket.
“Amazing ” and “emotional” were some of the words Eloisa Melendez, the 21-year-old Latina on the Norwalk City Council, used to describe the atmosphere among the 70 people packing the room to meet the 41-year-old member of the Obama Cabinet.
“It felt like family, it felt so comfortable … it felt like we were welcoming somebody back,” Melendez said of Castro’s appearance.
Joseph Rodriguez, chairman of Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, observed, “For Latinos, Castro brings hope and certainly makes us all proud.”
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy invited the former mayor of San Antonio, to visit the various local and federal partnerships in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, and to learn from officials and community leaders what was still needed.
In Hartford, Castro discussed how HUD’s Promise Zone designation could help a poverty ridden neighborhood; in Bridgeport, he helped cut the ribbon on a new federally supported housing project.
But Castro’s visit also gave the state’s leading Latino leaders and community advocates who turned out a chance to meet him. Since Julian Castro gave the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic convention, he and his younger-by-a-minute twin brother Joaquin, a second-term congressman from Texas, have been greeted with “rock star” fascination, similar to the treatment accorded President Obama during his campaign visits to Connecticut.
“Secretary Castro is a rising star within the National Democratic Party,” Rodriguez said. “Similar to President Obama, Castro has a fascinating story, a American dream story that many, especially Latinos can relate to,” said Rodriguez, who himself is part of a new generation of Latino Connecticut politicians.
State Rep. Christopher Rosario who came to New Haven from Bridgeport along with City Clerk Lydia Martinez, described the HUD secretary as “impressive.” He said that during a recent trip to San Antonio he had seen first hand Castro’s work as mayor and looked forward to working with him on issues such as “quality, safe and affordable housing.”
Castro expectedly side-stepped the question perhaps on everyone’s mind about the possibility of his being the vice-presidential candidate on the national democratic ticket. His lack of an answer did not dismay the crowd, which cheered and yelled cries of “yes, yes” from the crowd when Tomas Reyes, Chief of staff for New Haven Mayor Toni Harp dared to ask. Nor did the lack of an answer. “I hope he runs for vice president,” said state Rep. Robert Sanchez, one of several Democratic state legislators at the New Haven meeting.
“He is the real deal,” said Melendez, the youngest elected Latina public official in the state. “It is possible that some day he will be the first Latino president,” she added.
When the program ended Castro immediately was besieged by dozens of admirers, most of whom took photos taken with the HUD secretary. “We are so proud to meet someone so high up who is like us,” Melendez said.
Earlier in the day, Castro attended a more structured event at the Parker Memorial Community Center in the North End and later a private luncheon at the nearby Spanish American Merchant Association, Rodriguez said, where the invitees included SAMA’s statewide executive director Julio Mendoza and the mayors of the state’s largest cities as well as Governor Dannel Malloy, Murphy, Blumenthal and DeLauro.
Castro said he looked out a window and to his surprise advertising tamales at a shop on Grant Avenue. The HUD secretary said he took a photo of the sign to show to his friends back in Texas. The underlying message would be that although northeastern and southwestern Latinos may be different in some ways, there is much that binds these communities together.
Other Latino leaders at the two events were, Seila Mosquera, executive director of Neighborworks New Horizon, Ingrid Alvarez-DiMarzo, Connecticut director of the Hispanic Federation, Rep. Hilda Santiago and Mereidenet Council members Cardona and Miguel Castro of Meriden, state Reps. Larry Butler of Waterbury, Matthew Lesser of Middletown, Christopher Rosario of Bridgeport, Juan Candelariaof New Haven, Jason Rojas of East Harford and Sanchez; Bridgeport City Clerk Lydia Martinez, LPRAC executive director Werner Oyanadel and several commissioner including Chairman Richard Cruz, Secretary Emanuela Palmares and Vice Chairman Yolanda Castillo; Lucas Codognolla of the CT Students for a Dream, and Yanil Theron, Director of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford.