On September 21, 2019, I followed Presidential Candidate Julián Castro around to get a behind the scenes look on a presidential campaign. As a first-generation college student in Missouri, this meant more to me than I could ever imagine.
It started seven years ago when I was a thirteen-year-old watching the 2012 Democratic National Convention. This was the second Democratic convention I had ever watched, my first being in 2008 when I was just nine years old. Then-Mayor of San Antonio Julián Castro’s speech stood out to me for a lot of reasons. I was already interested in politics at this point in my life, but it wasn’t until seeing Julián on that stage that I decided that someday I wanted to attend a Democratic convention.
I wanted to support candidates, to someday vote and volunteer, but it did not occur to me that I also could run for office until I saw Julián Castro on that stage telling the story of his family’s American dream. Like Castro, I come from a family of Mexican immigrants, and my story is not too far off.
A few months later, I joined Twitter to tweet about politics, and I decided to tweet Julián Castro to thank him for inspiring me. He immediately followed me on that account, and when I eventually got a new account, he followed me there too. I still have the original screenshot of when it happened because I was so excited. At the time, he was still Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and his twitter did not have a cover photo yet.
In one of my storages boxes, you could find a pamphlet detailing how to become a 2012 Democratic Convention delegate. Of course, I was too young then, but I had begun to map out how to make that dream a reality in the future.
When the 2016 election was nearing, I reached out to the Missouri Democratic Party to see if it were possible for me to run to be a delegate in 2016 or if I had to wait because I wouldn’t be eighteen before the primary. It was determined that since I turned eighteen before the general election, I could run.
I had worked so hard for another one of my heroes, Hillary Clinton. I still knew it would be a long shot considering just how many people wanted to go to the convention. I told myself that I would try my best, and if I didn’t make it, at least I would be representing my generation.
After running against fifteen people in Missouri’s 5th Congressional District for two spots, I was elected a convention delegate at seventeen years old.
Truthfully, I didn’t tell my family that I was doing that until after I was elected because I didn’t think I would win.
I dared to run because there were people like Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro leading the way and being trailblazers.
The 2016 election was devastating. I was in my senior year of high school, and although I loved school, I was reluctant to go back in the days following the election.
As the days went on, it got better, and I knew I had to keep up the fight. I stayed involved in local politics, continued to volunteer, and graduated high school.
Eventually, one day on my college winter break, I would get a news alert that Julián Castro was announcing that he was running for President of the United States. I clicked on it and watched live as he announced his candidacy.
What struck me the most wasn’t that he was running or his speech — it was the music that played as he walked off that stage. I had goosebumps and tears as I listened to “Baila Esta Cumbia” from famous Mexican-American singer Selena. I remembered that one of the first Twitter exchanges I had with Julián Castro six years ago was about how the movie “Selena” was one of my favorites.
Just fourteen days after Julián Castro announced he was running, I was appointed to the executive committee of the Missouri Democratic Party. I posted about it on my twitter, and it prompted a man to question my qualifications.
After I tweeted back defending myself, Julián responded, “Congratulations! Don’t mind the haters. Keep rising!”
I had asked myself what I had done to deserve his support, but the truth is I did not need to do anything. Julián Castro never misses an opportunity to lift other people up.
Almost immediately, I drafted a message thanking him for sending his support. He responded, “Congratulations on all your success. You’ve already accomplished a lot and will accomplish a lot more in the years to come, no doubt. Just want to encourage you to keep believing in yourself, surround yourself with people who believe in you, and always reach high. Cheering you on, Julián.”
I don’t think he knew how much I needed to hear that or how it made me feel coming from a Latino presidential candidate. I know there are so many young people out there like me that Julián inspires too.
Still, I told myself I wouldn’t choose a candidate yet because it was too early, and there were so many I liked.
As time went on, I supported my favorites in various ways, including small donations, volunteering, and creating amateur-made campaign videos.
Although his debate performances turned a lot of people away from his campaign, I saw someone who I would love to see on a stage with Donald Trump. The positions that many candidates were reluctant to take Julián showed a fearlessness that I admired.
After spending some time trying to convince the campaign to bring Julián Castro to my hometown and it was clear that he had no plan to come (yet), I made a plan to see him and other presidential hopefuls in Iowa with a group of Kansas City metro-area Democrats.
I decided to tweet to him that I would be there and ask if I could follow him around for a day to “learn more about running for president” for “future reference.”
No response would have been acceptable because I understand it could’ve gotten lost in notifications. However, less than an hour later, Julián’s campaign manager Maya Rupert responded, “DM’ing you. We are making this happen!”
I will admit that I was still a little skeptical and did not want to get my hopes up for something that wasn’t actually going to happen.
It wasn’t until the day before that it was confirmed. I had sent a follow-up message saying, “Will I really be able to follow Julian?”
The answer was yes. I had immediately begun to rehearse in my head what I might say when I met Julian and the way I would thank him for supporting me. Of course, none of that happened. I was nervous.
That’s what I said to my friend as I was approaching his photo line. “What? You’ve met a lot of political figures.”
This was different.
Everyone I had met did not know much about me, and that made it easy to introduce myself without repeating what they probably already knew.
As I made my way to Julián Castro and before I could say anything, he said, “Rachel Gonzalez!”
I was immediately caught off guard, and anything I had rehearsed in my mind saying to him was gone. Meeting Julián Castro was a lot different than I had imagined. I thought I would say what I wanted to say and end up crying. Instead, the conversation was more lively, and it felt like we had met before, although we never have. The closest I came to crying was when he said, “You are a role model in many ways and are inspiring so many people. It’s great to see you pursue your passion.”
He mentioned my Twitter and the message I had sent him in January. When I said that I was a college junior, Julián responded, “I remember when you started!”
I really did get to follow Secretary Castro around that day. His team was fun and transparent. At times when I thought maybe I shouldn’t be recording, I asked, and they did not mind at all.
I realized very quickly that Julián has an incredible memory. He seemed to remember details about every person he had encountered before, and Julián listened more than he spoke.
Julián held a very calm demeanor throughout the day. I watched as he quietly reviewed his few pages of notes before heading on the stage of the first event. When he was done, he looked up at me and asked more about my school and major.
Julián shared with me that he initially thought he wanted to go into journalism and at that point, never thought he would run for office. This would explain why, in addition to his degree in political science, he also has one in communications.
It was incredible to watch him go from the laid back and quiet person I watched backstage to a serious and fierce candidate on the stage of the People’s Presidential Forum. Julián was the first candidate that day to receive a standing ovation.
Almost immediately after going backstage again, Julián resumed his conversation with me. This time it was focused on my goals after college.
The car ride I shared with Julián and his team was adventurous. I learned two things; first, he really likes the Earth, Wind, and Fire song “September,” and second, he knows his movie references.
At one point, many of us leaned in and gazed at Julián’s phone as he played us a movie clip.
After Julián’s second speech at the Polk County Democrat’s Steak Fry, it was time for us to part ways, and I thanked him for giving me this opportunity. I went to two separate events with the campaign, marched in with them, watched as he talked to countless reporters, and stood behind him on stage.
But I wasn’t just behind him on stage that day; I am behind Julián Castro in his race for President of the United States.
Seeing a Latino candidate run for President at a time when we have an occupant of the White House that has said horrible things about Mexicans is encouraging. Julián’s voice is crucial to keeping many important issues talked about in this election cycle.
When Julián Castro or his campaign says they need to raise money to stay in the race, it isn’t a ploy. He is being outraised by most candidates and is in danger of not making the next debate.
For all the people Julián inspires, supports, and gives opportunities to I ask that you join me in making a contribution or share my story with your friends.
And Julián, thank you.
Regardless of the outcome, I cannot tell you how proud I am of your campaign. You’ve given me hope and courage to chase my dreams, and I am so happy to see you chasing yours.
Cheering YOU on,
Rachel R. Gonzalez
Originally posted on Medium. Re-posted with permission.
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