Governor Raul H. Castro

More from this show

Raúl H. Castro, Arizona’s only Hispanic governor died at the age of 98. Playwright James Garcia, former Arizona lawmaker Art Hamilton, past Chairman for the National Council of La Raza and attorney Danny Ortega and Promise Arizona Executive Director Petra Falcon talk about the life of former Governor Castro.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. He was a governor, a leader, and a diplomat. Tonight we remember former Arizona governor RAUL H. Castro, who died last week at the age of 98. He made history as Arizona's only Hispanic governor. But that is only part of his story. Castro followed an unlikely path that led to the state's highest office and presidential appointments. He came here from Mexico, spent time on the streets and in the farm fields. He even boxed for money at carnivals.

Video: Raul H. Castro, born in Cananea Mexico. Castro endured much discrimination in his youth. He graduated with a teaching degree, but because he was Mexican, he couldn't get a teaching job, so to make a living, he took on grueling physical labor, working on farm fields. He returned to Tucson looking for work, worthy of his degree. And he did. He was able to get a job with the U.S. state department in Mexico's American consulate. This was his first experience in the field of law. He saved enough money to attend the University Of Arizona College Of Law. In 1949, he received his juris doctor degree and was admitted to the Arizona bar.

Raul H. Castro: I remember asking my mother one day, mother, what shall I be? All of my brothers were working, in the mines, etc., dirty and sweaty. Get up at 5:00 in the morning, cook their breakfast and their lunch and go to work. And I thought to myself, is this my life and the future? She said, no, son. The -- shall I be pretty, I knew better than that because I had a mirror. She said you shall be what you want to be. Judge for the Superior Court, governor for the state of Arizona, diplomat for 14 years in Latin America.

José Cárdenas: Joining us now to discuss the life and legacy of governor Castro are James Garcia, playwright and Castro family spokesman, art Hamilton, former Arizona state lawmaker, Danny Ortega, valley attorney and past chairman for the national council of La Raza. And Petra falcon,executive director for promise Arizona. Thank you for joining us on this occasion. Remarkable life. We had just a thumbnail sketch there from the governor himself about all of the things that he did. And James, you didn't know him as early as the rest of our group here, met him, but you studied him a lot. You wrote a play about him. Let' talk a little about that early life, discrimination he faced. His other careers as a boxer, as a farm worker.

James Garcia: A couple of quick things. First of all, this man crossed the border during the Mexican revolution. Very tumultuous time in terms of our relationship on the border. And then grew up during the great depression. So, he was in a world already that came with hardships, but on top of that, he was Mexican born. He crossed undocumented. Didn't become naturalized until he was around 21 years around, along those lines. He faced again and again, the kinds of things -- you Google now, some of the stuff you can find on the internet no, found that no Mexicans and dogs allowed in restaurants, in the times when he was elected to be a Pima county attorney and elected to be a judge, in that era and in this state there were signs like that and somehow he managed to succeed. His story is extraordinary in a lot of levels. But I think ultimately he was doing these things far before the civil rights movement. Making these accomplishments, headway, way ahead of his time.

José Cárdenas: Part of it, toughness, exemplified by being a boxer, for example. We have a picture from the play. That's you as a young --

James Garcia: Governor Castro,trying to act as if I can box. I am not a boxer by any means. He came from a -- he came from a world -- his father was a union leader in Mexico, Cananea, and mining town. Imprisoned for a time and exiled. That is how they came to the United States. He grew up in that world. Blue collar world. Miners, people who worked hard for a living. He somehow ultimately escaped that life but that is the world he came from. As a boy, one of his jobs was to help his mother, a mid-wife, very -- his job was to bury the after births as a boy. This was the world that he was in.

José Cárdenas: The rest of you, Danny, art, you came to know the governor in connection with his campaigns for governor. I'm not sure people realized he lost the first time out, which was 1970. Petra, you got involved in the 74 campaign, but what drew you to him and how much contact did you have with him before that?

Petra Falcon: First of all, thank you for inviting me to be part of this evening. And, secondly, my condolences to the family and friends of Governor Castro. I was a teenager at the time. I was 19 years old at the time of the second campaign. And I came from a farming community on the west side, in Glendale, and that -- the context at the time, farm working movement was growing. We were students at Arizona State University. And -- I didn't know it at the time, but the relevance of having a Latino, Mexican-American running for governor. And it was just a movement time. We were -- we were going out to the fields. There was a recall, attempted recall of governor Jack Williams and then there was this Latino running for governor. I was a grunt, in those days, we didn't have the voter activation. We didn't have turf papers and all of the technology that we have today for campaigns. And to think that we were able to elect a Mexican-American in 1974 was pretty significant in my life at the time.

José Cárdenas: Danny, you have become quite an admirer of the governor and came to know him well. But when you were about the same age, and particularly when the governor was first embarking on the first campaign, you didn't view him as somebody that you would necessarily want to support.

Danny Ortega: Absolutely. I don't think back then we appreciated what RAUL Castro meant to our community. He was the only Mexican-American that I knew that ran for governor, and I'm proud to say that today, not fully realizing back when I was a young man, how important he was going to be to our lives. And I can tell you that we didn't appreciate it. We were activists. We were fighting discrimination in a very aggressive way. We believed that he was part of the same group of people that were discriminating against us, though he was Mexican. We thought he was an apologist in many ways and didn't give him the respect he reserved. He earned everything he got given the tremendous background and history. He came so close to winning the first time that he ran that we realized wow, this guy is for real. Though we didn't appreciate his politics because he was running to win. Just like everything else that he did in his life. Because he was running to win, there were certainly a lot of things that we thought he should be doing that he shouldn't do if he was going to win.

José Cárdenas: How much of it was -- in his book, Hope is Not a Sin, describe the governor -- he said a Mexican American of a different generation. Didn't like the word CHICANO -- and some of it was generational, don't you think?

Danny Ortega: We had a clash with that -- clashes with that, with that group and that generation in many, many ways. They wanted to be as American as they could be, even to the point of forgetting their culture, forgetting who they were from the standpoint of language and moving to north Phoenix and moving into other neighborhoods where there were Anglos and we resented that, we wanted to preserve the culture, preserve our neighborhoods. That clash existed. But it existed even more so with Raul Castro because he was running for governor -- I think what is important here is to recognize that Raul Castro was just unbelievably successful in the way that we never could measure back then. Because he's -- he stands to be the only Mexican-American governor in the history of this state. When he left government, when he left being a diplomat and went back to his private practice, he began to talk like the Raul Castro we wanted him to be back in the '70s. He would talk about his life and the discrimination that he faced. He did it in a way that said I didn't let that get in my way. I fought harder. Despite all of the obstacles that I faced because I was Mexican, I never let it hold me back.

José Cárdenas: In the interview we showed a segment of to start the show, he did say the thing that gave him the greatest pleasure of all of his jobs as he described them, talking to young people how you can overcome with a good education and just being tough. Art, you were involved in the first campaign and the second. Why? What attracted you to him?

Art Hamilton: Well, just the fact that he had the courage to run, and the absolute belief, I mean just the absolute belief that he could win at a time when people wouldn't -- really wouldn't give him any real opportunity to win, particularly after the first campaign and frankly with some of the racist things that were used against him in the second campaign. But it was -- side of him that was absolutely tough as nails. Very polished and incredibly gifted in terms of how to handle himself in all kinds of crowds. But that fighter, that boxer was always just beneath the surface. And I was happy to be a part of the campaign. I was helping Bruce Babbitt as well, but in the end, really didn't think we were going to get there. Even though he had run very well in 70. He refused to except anything other than the reality that he was qualified, he was capable, as Danny said, earned the right to serve as governor and that is where he was headed. At some point you have to back up, salute, and respect that.

José Cárdenas: I think people feel that his tenure as governor wasn't all that they would have hoped for do say that. It was his life that was a remarkable example, the kind of thing you were talking about, Danny. But as governor, it was short, and not filled with that many accomplishments, suggestion being that he didn't like the kinds of deal-making, back slapping, hand-holding that you had to do to be successful in that arena.

Art Hamilton: It was not his natural bend-- he believed that you put good ideas on the table, they were rationally and thoughtfully consider and people would make good judgments about what was in the best interest of the citizens of the state. He was simply doing that, he ought to be successful. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, all too often, that has very little to do with what a successful -- maneuvered through the legislature. And the kind of hand holding, glad handing, ego stroking that is required just was not his cup of tea. He believed that civility, comedy, and good sense ought to be sufficient in a world where frankly all too often, the bottom feeders do far better than they deserve.

José Cárdenas: James, your play touches on his tenure as governor and the confrontations basically with Alfredo Gutierrez-- A young Alfredo Gutierrez who is kind of your generation, Danny --

James Garcia: They become symbols for me in the play ultimately. I mean governor Castro was a man who came from -- this is a scene, character on the right -- and he does a terrific job, by the way. This was a clash of personalities, but also a clash of philosophies. Governor Castro spoke often about a disdain for what he considered glass bakers, people who seemed intent on challenging the system, rather than somehow using the system to advance the process. He believes himself to be that person exactly, someone who manipulated the system, used it, moved ahead, worked it, understood it, etc., and he came up through the system. He came up through the ranks in terms of how he got himself through law school and came up through the ranks in terms of his politics, and he just believed in that as an approach, and he never quite understood the CHICANO movement, never understood why you had to March in the streets and be so radical--

José Cárdenas: His career, first job working in the U.S. consulate and a series of ambassadorial appointments. That had to shape his outlook --

James Garcia: It does. Shapes his outlook, his style, and it had a lot to do with his approach to politics in general.

Danny Ortega: One thing that was part of our culture at the time when I think created this clash truly was successful. It was look at me. If you work hard, you can be successful like me. You don't have to be in the street. You don't have to be yelling CHICANO power. You don't have to do all of the things you are doing. I'm the prime example of you can be in America if you want to be. Of course we disagree. But we can't disagree with what he believed. That he was immensely successful with his approach to life and the way he managed it.

James Garcia: One was his belief wholeheartedly that education opened every future door for him. That was played out in the way he lived. The other one, this almost kind of obsession to verify and validate to people around him that he was fully American. Even though he had crossed undocumented. He had come from Mexico. Everything about his life showed evidence to you that I'm as American as you are. And he had an extreme pride and effect that he represented the United States of America overseas three times as a diplomat. That was probably for him the pinnacle of his profession.

José Cárdenas: Every time we talk about the governor, of course in the last week or so, since he has passed, line is, the first and last Latino elected governor. What is the impact of his having won that election?

Petra Falcon: Again, you think back 40 years ago, four decades ago, and the fact that we elected the first statewide Mexican American as governor of Arizona, and it has been all that time that we haven't been able to win statewide, the impact, I think, goes back to young people, and I'm glad that he has this legacy of wanting to really engage young people, but I think his story is one of yes, education is the door, being disciplined, having a goal. That sends a message to our young people that yes, they can aspire to be the mayor of a major city in the state of Arizona. They can aspire to be governor of the state of Arizona. I think to me that is the strongest message and the strongest impact that he still has because for those of us, many of us out in the community working with young people with civic engagement, we can relate to that story. A lot of our young people don't even know that we had a Mexican American who won as governor for Arizona, especially immigrant community. This is the moment to be able to tell that story and to tell it over and over again. We're sad that he is gone, but he is leaving a real, real important part of an area of our state.

José Cárdenas: Impact on politics --

Art Hamilton: I think he changed politics in Arizona for the better forever. I think much of what came after him that may not have been directly related to his style or the way that he conducted himself is nonetheless related to the fact that he was there. He created that first. He demonstrated what was possible to do, and he did it in a way that surprised many of us. But the reality is, I think much of the success that was -- has been enjoyed by people who came after him is tied to the fact that he demonstrated that it could be done and demonstrated to us within our own communities, minority communities, but outside at large community. He was a force to be dealt with. You almost had to kind of get up close to him to recognize that he did not apologize for anything, earned what he achieve, thought he represented himself and his community well and I think the coalitions that were formed to help get him there, both in the Hispanic community, African-American community, the native American community, I think many of those things live on and I think all of us who had the privilege of serving in public office to some degree are part of his legacy and owe him a debt of gratitude.

Danny Ortega: Fact of the matter is, I remember in those days, it was just unbelievable to watch the lines at the polls when he ran for governor, you know, I mean, he was --

James Garcia: Latinos --

Danny Ortega: South Phoenix. Long lines, people still out there at 10:00 at night waiting to vote. The lines were so long. Inspired me to want to study how it is that this man could inspire so many people to go support him. You know, we used to get angry with him, believing we represented the people. We didn't represent the people. He did. 99% of the Latino community that got out to vote voted for Raul Castro, and part of the paper I wrote was the statistics of how he increased the Latino vote in ways that we never imagined or could have done without him.

José Cárdenas: James, you had the most recent contacts with the governor, extensive -- did he ever express regret about leaving his term early and accepting the ambassadorship?

James Garcia: He did, he expressed regret. First of all, he said that the decision was one of the hardest decisions he had ever made in his life. But he regretted that there was -- he understood a clear sense of disappointment in the Latino community about him leaving in that term. He left about almost two-thirds of the way through that term.

José Cárdenas: We have talked about maybe his distaste for the bare knuckle politics, but you also had --

James Garcia: Several things. I think like anything particularly at that level. A lot of complicating sort of factors. One of them the fact that a prominent journalist was assassinated during his term --

José Cárdenas: A friend of his.

James Garcia: A friend of his, Don Bolles, and it swallowed up the news for months. There was an umbrella of suspicion about who might have been associated with who or any ties to that and ultimately he was cleared. But it did sour his taste for how he was being treated by the media and by the public. That was part of it. I think also, though, we have to remember, again, this was a man who wore his Americanism on his sleeve. When as he put it to me, when the president of the United States, Jimmy Carter in this case, comes to you and says I would like you to represent me overseas in Argentina, in a very troubled nation at the time, and I want you to do that for me, he thought that was something that you cannot refuse. You just can't tell the president no. And that was also sort of part of his persona and so forth. I think it drove him in ways that certainly had something to do with his decision to leave early. His regrets in terms of letting the community down, he expressed them. And those were real for him. There is a, you know, going back for a moment to -- sort of their different styles, I have a piece in the play. The play is fiction. It is not a documentary, but I have a scene in the play, and there is a kind of a critical line in which the character says -- don't you understand that the reason I March in the streets is so that people like you can make it? And Castro's response is, don't you see that the reason I don't March in the streets is so that people like you can point to someone who really has made it. I think in many ways that line sort of defines the essence of his philosophical -- moving through the political system.

Danny Ortega: Absolutely. And if you look back at his example -- I think we are on parallel paths, you know, and there was a -- parallel paths, and the clash appeared, but it was a different approach -- believed in all of the things that he represented and I think all of us can take a lesson from him, not necessarily from, you know, what happened before his election and the path that he took, but that if you make up your mind and if you work hard and if you're educated and you believe in something, and you have goals, that in America, that's the place to do it.

José Cárdenas: What kind of impact do you think his election had and his life and -- on improving relationships between the different communities in Arizona? Because ironically, even within his final few years, he was stopped by border patrol and questioned in a way that, you know, former governor shouldn't have been questioned.

Petra Falcon: I guess as I have been listening to this conversation, and the tension between -- and the governor, I keep thinking throughout my years, Danny, there has always been this tension between Tucson and Phoenix. And I am even thinking is that something that played out during that time and still continues to this day, yet, someone from southern Arizona was able to win statewide. And here we are, you know, many, many years later, and we are struggling in winning statewide as -- Garcia came close this last year. But --

José Cárdenas: An example that we haven't gotten past some of those biases. Given his opponent who spent no money, basically, and David was -- and David was supported across the state and people speculated maybe it was the last name that hurt him.

Petra Falcon: And, again, we have to think about what was happening 40 years ago and what is happening now, nationally. Our world has changed. Social media, stories and who do you believe and don't believe? And I think also the population was different 40 years ago. All of us were Arizonans. We all were born here at that point. And here, now, we've got a diverse population. People coming from other states to -- people perhaps who have crossed the border? The loyalty isn't still Arizona --

José Cárdenas: We're almost out of time. James, you're a spokesman for the family. Temp us about the -- tell us about the services.

James Garcia: Church service in NOGALES and Tucson on the May 15th. And then they will come here on May the 16th at St. Mary's Basilica here for a service and then Governor Ducey will host a memorial service on May 16th at the capital at 11AM.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us to talk about the life of this very remarkable man.

Group: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: That is our show tonight. For all of us here, thank you for watching. I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.

James Garcia:Playwright; Art Hamilton:Former Lawmaker, Arizona; Danny Ortega:Past Chairman and Attorney, National Council of La Raza; Petra Falcon:Executive Director, Promise Arizona;

Donald Trump arrives in New York ahead of historic arraignment

Justice Department releases Trump indictment

Diners eat outside on an episode of Check, Please! Arizona

Be a guest on “Check, Please! Arizona”

Morse & The Last Endeavour
airs June 11

Morse and The Last Endeavour: A MASTERPIECE Mystery! Special

Super Why characters

Join a Super Why Reading Camp to play, learn and grow

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: