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San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro lauds Convencion Hispana here

James Ewinger, The Plain DealerBy James Ewinger, The Plain Dealer 

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on October 19, 2013 at 6:38 PM, updated October 20, 2013 at 7:36 AM

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Julian Castro, San Antonio's dynamic young mayor, applauded the Cleveland Hispanic Roundtable and the triennial Convencion Hispana today, and his audience responded in kind to his keynote address at the convention on the St. Ignatius High School campus.

More than 2,500 people filled a gymnasium at the school, clapped throughout the talk, and mobbed Castro afterwards. It took him at least an hour to leave the gym so he could get to the airport.

Castro did not come to politic. He came to promote education, ambition and achievement in the Hispanic community here and around the country.

Thus, the 39-year-old mayor, the Roundtable and the Convencion that it puts on every three years have common priorities.

They share the objectives of encouraging greater engagement of the Hispanic community in business and politics, and making maximum use of educational resources as a means to these goals

Castro called San Antonio, with a population that is more than 60% Hispanic, "the new face of the American dream."

He said the Latino population is not just growing in places like Texas and California, "It is growing in Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and right here in Cleveland, Ohio."

San Antonio acted proactively to underwrite a pre-kindergarten program, he said, because Texas is not among the states that are serious about underwriting quality education.

To fund the Pre-K for SA program, as it is called, San Antonio voters approved an eighth-of-a-cent tax increase, he said. The program's web site said it aims to improve the educational trajectory of 22,400 four-year-olds over the next eight years.

He shared his own story as an example of how education and selflessness can build stronger communities.

His grandmother came from Mexico to the United States when she was six. Because of her lack of education, he said, she spent her life working as a maid, a cook and a babysitter. She also hated politics.

She encouraged her daughter to go to college and that woman, mother of Julian and Joaquin Castro, encouraged her two boys to go to college. At the same time she dragged them to political events in spite of a disinterest they would only shed in adulthood.

They went on to Stanford in the early 1990s, despite the high tuition and the family's lack of wealth. Then they went to Harvard Law School and eventually entered politics. The mayor's brother now represents the 20th Congressional District in Texas.

Castro said that we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. In addition, "always find a way to give back to someone else," he told his listeners, "lifting up the generation behind us."

"That's the work of the Hispanic Roundtable (here)," he said.

Castro touted a San Antonio program geared to increase high school graduation rates and college attendance, while offsetting deficiencies in the public school system.

His city's high schools have a student to guidance counselor ratio of 420 to one.

The solution is called Cafecollege, a one-stop shop for college advice and guidance. It also has a truancy-intervention program.

The mayor said there is no substitute for ambition and self-confidence. He said that at age 15 or 16 or 17 "one of the most powerful things you can do is to believe in yourself."

He also advised that young people should "always reach for more than you think is possible."

Castro gained notoriety last year when he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He is the first Hispanic to give that address.

His speech today steered around politics and his ambitions.

But Magda Gomez, president of the Hispanic Roundtable, echoed a belief that seems to be gaining traction in some quarters. In introducing Castro, she said "we believe he could be our first Hispanic president.

Jose Feliciano, chairman and trustee of the Roundtable, was more circumspect on the topic of the presidency when he spoke earlier in the day.

"There is a Hispanic president," he said. "Somewhere in the United States, there is a Hispanic president. We just don't know who she is yet (pause). Or who he is."

During a press conference before his address, Castro was critical of the Republican Party and House Speaker John Boehner.

He said Boehner had tried to placate the Tea Party radicals in his party by refusing to bring a bipartisan spending bill to a simple vote. Ultimately the speaker "did what he should have done in the first place and allowed a simple vote," on a spending bill that ended the recent government shutdown.

Castro said that if Boehner would just allow a simple vote on immigration reform, there are at least 17 or 18 Republicans who would vote for it," allowing passage. 

The Roundtable began the triennial event in 1984. An estimated 3,000 attended this year.