His advice to them was practical: Do your job and do it well. Find a mentor. And take risks — calculated ones.
But what the young rock star politician also brought from Texas to Omaha on Friday was a chance for the audience to look in the mirror.
For in San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro's Mexican surname and black hair, his relative youth and his loving stories of his telenovela-watching grandmother and Chicano-movement mother, the mostly Hispanic audience of corporate workers and college students saw themselves. And they saw what their future could hold.
Castro was in Omaha Friday because Union Pacific Railroad brought him here to speak to the company's Latino employees. The railroad also invited a Latino student group from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Castro was propelled to national prominence a year ago after giving the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., becoming the first Latino to do so.
His twin brother, Joaquín, was elected last year to the U.S. House of Representatives. Joaquín is a Democrat who represents part of San Antonio.
The Castro brothers, who turned 39 last month, are seen as rising stars in the Democratic Party. They are telegenic, Ivy League-educated and, as second-generation Mexican-Americans, represent the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S.
More than half the nation's population growth between 2000 and 2010 was Hispanic. In Nebraska, nearly all of the state's population gains were attributed to Hispanics and other racial minorities. In Texas, 4 million Hispanics were added during the decade.
Hispanics are why San Antonio, a city of 1.3 million people — most of them Latino — is now the second-largest city in Texas and the seventh-largest in the U.S.
Castro shared those figures Friday with his Omaha audience at the Latino Employee Network's third annual convention, held at the Magnolia Hotel downtown.
“This is a very special moment in our nation's history,” Castro said. “A lot of eyes are turned toward the Latino community.”
Castro spoke first to the UNO students. All 12 said their generation was the first in their families to go to college. They were studying everything from finance to social work and felt the pressure of being a “first” — coupled with a desire to achieve and give back.
Castro said they could serve their communities by being successful in careers and following their passion. He said it was OK if they didn't know exactly where they would land.
He urged them to take risks — but then cautioned against careless risks. For example, he said, he was asked to consider running for statewide offices in Texas such as governor. Instead, he decided to remain mayor, where he is starting his fifth year in office.
“The people that get ahead tilt a little,” he told them. “But move carefully. Find the right balance for yourself.”
Julián Castro said he didn't grow up thinking he would become mayor. Dragged to political events by his mother, who helped found the La Raza Unida, a political party for Mexican-Americans, Castro said he initially found politics boring.
And then he and his brother landed at Stanford, where he saw the contrast between his mostly Latino hometown and the broader world that seemed better educated and had more access to power. That's when he decided to jump in.
Julián and Joaquín ran for the student senate at Stanford. Then, after both graduated from Harvard Law, the pair returned to San Antonio and opened their own firm. Julián was elected to the City Council in 2001, and then mayor in 2009.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
Asked if he had any plans to run for president someday, Castro demurred. He said he planned to stay in San Antonio for now but would “never say never.”
Speaking to the UNO students, Castro stressed the importance of making a lasting difference. He used his own iPhone as a symbol of how the ease and wonder of technology creates an impermanence, noting that he hasn't printed a single one of the 1,736 pictures he has taken on his phone.
He told the students about the old Polaroid camera, with costly film that limited your chances to get the right shot. Waving an invisible Polaroid print in the air, he pantomimed how you had to wait for the image to slowly appear. But once it did, it stuck. It was permanent.
“As you go forward, you want to be the Polaroid leader,” Castro said. “Your leadership is permanent. It is not transitory.”
Perhaps Castro's visit will leave a lasting impression.
The UNO students appeared starstruck. And Luis Delgado, one of the U.P. employees, said Castro's message increased his own resolve to advance — not necessarily in politics, but in his career.
Delgado, 23, was born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico. He landed at U.P.'s Omaha office by way of St. Mary's University in San Antonio. One year into his marketing and sales job at the nation's largest railroad, Delgado is handling $30 million in revenue.
“He's just an inspiration,” Delgado said of Castro. “It's impressive all that he's done. He's a leader and I admire him.”