Presidential candidate Julian Castro offers a blue vision of America to students at UCLA
Presidential candidate Julian Castro, who served as U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Barack Obama, told students at UCLA on Monday that America would be a better place if it had more affordable housing, comprehensive immigration reform, a higher minimum wage and universal health care.
Castro, 44, who is part of the large and growing cast of Democrats looking to run against a likely re-election bid by President Trump, also shared the story of his Mexican American family.
“I’m running for president because… I want to make sure that in years to come, no matter who you are… wherever you come from, that you can reach your dreams too,” Castro told some 450 students.
His first act in office, he said, would be to return the U.S. to the Paris Agreement, also known as the Paris climate accord, which is aimed at helping the world reduce carbon emissions and which President Trump withdrew the United States from in 2017.
Peppering his talk with the names of unarmed black men killed by police in recent years, Castro said he wants to see changes in the criminal justice system, so that possession of a small amount of drugs doesn’t land some people behind bars because they can’t pay bail or an attorney.
“It’s time to legalize marijuana in the United States,” he said, drawing loud applause from the students.
In response to questions revolving around immigration, Castro likened the government’s separation of migrant parents from their children to kidnapping and said the practice “borders on criminal.” Referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he said that on this front, “ICE has failed.”
Castro also called for an expansion of early childhood education across the country, noting he helped broaden access to pre-kindergarten during his five-year stint as mayor of San Antonio, Texas.
And citing his own grandmother, her struggles with diabetes, and how she benefited for Medicare when she needed a foot amputation, Castro called for Medicare-type health insurance for everyone.
“I believe everyone should have Medicare in this country who wants it.”
Castro cited his family several times and spoke of his humble roots. His grandmother never got past elementary school and worked as a maid to support her family. Castro said his grandmother taught his mother about working hard and fighting for a dream, ideals he believes were then passed down to him and his twin brother, Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman who has represented San Antonio since 2013. Castro noted that his mother, Rosie — a retired educator and Chicana activist and single mom — taught her two sons to be politically active.
Most of the UCLA students in the audience were there for their Introduction to Chicano Studies class, and the diverse make-up of the crowd was not lost on Castro.
When he asked how many in the audience were the first in their families to go to college, at least half of the room raised their hands.
Students later said they were excited to see a presidential candidate up close and many lined up after to pose for selfies with Castro.
Valerie Osegueda, 20, a Chicano studies major at UCLA, called the experience “pretty monumental.”
“Being a student of color, it’s amazing to see a candidate who looks like us running for president. And he’s here,” she said.
Professor Matt Barreto, who invited Castro to his class, said it would be wise for all candidates to court the youth vote, especially Latino youth.
“They could be an important part of his support base,” Barreto said, noting that Obama focused on college campuses and reaching other youth through events and social media.
Castro’s visit also “highlights the importance of California,” Barreto said, just one year before the state primary.
Unlike previous elections, when California voters cast primary ballots after many other states, Barreto, who also runs a political consulting firm, believes the state next year could be a deal breaker for Castro and other candidates because it will hold its primary on one of the year’s earliest “Super Tuesday” elections, March 3, 2020.
“California has the most democratic delegates of any state. It’s the highest prize. And it has the largest Latino vote of any state.”
Other Southern California spots on Castro’s campaign trail Monday included a morning visit to Bell Gardens High School and an afternoon meeting with the Los Angeles-based Community Coalition.
At UCLA, student Mario Reyes, 19, said he came into the Moore Hall auditorium with an open mind and wanted to learn more about Castro.
“Elizabeth Warren has been on my radar,” said Reyes, a biology major from Santa Ana, referring to the U.S. Senator who is a declared presidential candidate. “But after hearing (Castro,) he’s now on my radar too.”
Still, don’t count Reyes on the side of any one candidate, he said. It’s way too early.