Arizona Centennial: Raul H. Castro

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Co-author and Historian Dr. Jack August Jr. talks about Adversity is My Angel: The Life and Career of Raul H. Castro. The book traces the life of Raul H. Castro, the first and only Hispanic governor of Arizona, through his childhood as a Mexican immigrant to his election as governor of the state and presidential appointments as ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Richard Ruelas: As Arizona's centennial approaches, "Horizonte" continues to look back at how Latinos have contributed to our state's history and country. Raúl H. Castro is the first and only Hispanic governor of Arizona. The book, "Adversity Is My Angel: The Life and Career of Raúl H. Castro" chronicles how he overcame racial and personal prejudice to rise to the highest levels of accomplishment. With me is co-author Jack August, Jr. He is the executive director from the Barry Goldwater Center for the Southwest, and an historian and visiting scholar. Jack, thanks for joining us. Let's talk about how this book came about. How did Castro's story first come to your attention?

Jack L. August Jr: Well, I was approached by a couple of friends of Governor Castro's. I received a phone call. They said can you come down for lunch in Tucson? I get to meet the governor, and several of his friends. And they were familiar with some of my past work and they said we think we would like to get the story out immediately. Of course, I was honored and pleased and was on board and we started the oral history interviews with the research. And it really was a labor of love.

Richard Ruelas: Was some of the drive to do it, the idea that his story wasn't that well known?

Jack L. August Jr: It was not well known. And yet it was within at least many of my friends of my lifetime, when he was governor, I remembered the elation among a major portion, the majority of the population when he was elected in 1974 to the governorship. But that was really towards the end of a -- or maybe the middle of a rather distinguished career that really was inspirational and a story that had never really been known. And so I think one of the motivations to write this book was to inform this generation of people, not just Latino kids, but all of us, what can be done in America, the opportunities that can be brought forth.

Richard Ruelas: He was governor just for two years and he didn't -- he only had the one election statewide. When you read some of the contemporary accounts of his speeches, did he talk much about his background as he campaigned?

Jack L. August Jr: Yes, he did. At that time, 1974, his personal biography, if you will, on the stump was a source of strength and admiration. It was a time when we were celebrating our diversity and what could be done. He used that to great effect. He had run previously in 1970 and almost beat the incumbent Jack Williams, who retired. So there was an open seat in the '74 election. The time was right, and he was ready. He had run for elective office in the past. He was a Pena county politician and knew the ropes. He was no novice.

Richard Ruelas: His biography and maybe as you read it and as you discovered it, probably the reason you had such intensive fact checking is it seems almost like a fictional story.

Jack L. August Jr: It's incredible. Here's the guy, one of 10 kids, they come across from Mexico, he comes across at age 10.

Richard Ruelas: His family being kicked out of Mexico and told you have to seek asylum in the United States.

Jack L. August Jr: Because his dad was a labor leader and a leading -- across the border. They were copper people, copper miners. The family for the most part went into copper mining, the boys. There were 10 boys and one girl, it was a big family. They were working in the mines. He was number 10 out of 11. He said I don't want to live like this. I've watched my brothers work in the mine, go home, get drunk, go to sleep and that was a cycle and he wanted to break that cycle. So the key was education.

Richard Ruelas: And while he's still a kid, tell the story about going down to visit whatever governor was coming to visit --

Jack L. August Jr: Remarkable. There was a little town called Pearlville, which was the Mexican community that was a segregated community from Douglas. And they heard that a governor was coming down, the governor of Arizona who happened to be George Wiley Hunt during the early decades of the 20th century, and so he and his buddies, they were about 10, 11 years old, wanted to go down to get some free hotdogs or hamburgers. They were down at the park. And Governor Hunt gave his speech and the context of the speech, he said this is such a great country and Arizona's such a great state and even one of these Mexican kids could become governor and he pointed directly at Raúl H. Castro. That park was renamed Raúl H. Castro Park.

Richard Ruelas: We don't have video of that event, obviously. Were you able to find that quote somewhere?

Jack L. August Jr: Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: He did say one of these barefoot Mexican kids? Remarkable.

Jack L. August Jr: And other people corroborated that. That's one of the great things. Raúl H. Castro's 95, going on 96. One, he's still a good attorney. He could still probably prosecute a case because in the past, he was the attorney of Gila County. He was a legendary judge down there. And even a beloved figure during his legal and judicial figure in the '50s and '60s. That's how he gained a lot of notoriety.

Richard Ruelas: And you mentioned the time was right. What is it about those times and I guess as a historian, you look at these times and we just got through talking about immigration policies and politics. What is it that allowed a Mexican immigrant to be made governor in the mid-'70s and could that happen now?

Jack L. August Jr: One thing is he was a very, very, very conservative Democrat. He wanted to balance the budget. So at least politically and for the things -- the issues that the rising Republican tide in the last three decades of the 20th century, he wasn't too contrary to their interests. He was competent. He had accomplished a lot internationally because he had been appointed ambassador in El Salvador and Bolivia. When Richard Nixon was elected, Senator Goldwater said you know what, you better keep him in Bolivia and don't make the changes that the new administration would do because he could come back to Arizona and beat us, beat the Republicans. And indeed that's what happened.

Richard Ruelas: So do you think head -- he resigned to take another ambassadorship. Do you think had there not been a Democrat in office to take him away, how popular was he?

Jack L. August Jr: He was running into some frustration. He couldn't get the legislature to really go along with what he wanted to do and we have by design a kind of strong legislative branch and a rather weak governor compared to the other states. You have to use the bully pulpit to be persuasive and he was used to being in control. I think he was wired for and I think we've concluded that, you know, he was more suited to be an ambassador or a judge rather than governor, and I don't think he really enjoyed the governorship so much. And he was disappointed. He knew he disappointed many Latinos, the Native-American population who voted wholehearted for him. I think he could have, had he wanted, to be re-elected. I think he could have come back and said I've accomplished -- accomplished these things. The big variable was the Don Bowles situation, there were all types of rumors swirling, most of which were false.

Richard Ruelas: The book is told in first person and I imagine it's because you can tell a great tale. And it's available still at finer bookstores.

Jack L. August Jr: And on the web.

Richard Ruelas: And some of the not so fine ones I imagine, too, and Amazon.

Jack L. August Jr: All that. The Texas University Press. I've done several books with that group. They have wonderful editors and they're very supportive.

Richard Ruelas: It is an amazing tale, and again, there's footnotes in the back because most of it seems like it would be fiction if not. Mr. August, thank you for joining us. And thank all of our viewers are joining us tonight at "Horizonte." José Cárdenas is back next week. Have a good evening.

Dr. Jack August Jr.:Co-Author of Adversity is my Angel: The Life of Raul H. Castro and Historian;

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