Former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro officially announced his presidential bid in San Antonio on Saturday, beginning a campaign that will look to turn his uniquely American immigrant story into a direct repudiation of President Donald Trump.
"When my grandmother got here almost a hundred years ago, I'm sure she never could have imagined that just two generations later, one of her grandsons would be serving as a member of the United States Congress and the other would be standing with you here today to say these words: I am a candidate for President of the United States of America," Castro said.
His identical twin, Rep. Joaquin Castro, will serve as his campaign chairman, according to a campaign press release provided to CNN.
Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, had been considering a bid for nearly two years and announced a presidential exploratory committee in December. He has long been viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party since he first landed on the national scene by delivering the keynote speech for President Barack Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Castro, in an interview with CNN ahead of his official presidential announcement, acknowledged that he will enter the race looking up at the cadre of other Democrats considering running for the party's nomination.
But Castro, whose grandmother, Victoria Castro, was born in the Mexican border state of Coahuila, and crossed into the United States at Eagle Pass, Texas, in 1922 after her parents died during the Mexican Revolution, added that at no time in his life, from growing up on San Antonio's impoverished West Side to his run for mayor in 2009, was he considered the favorite to get ahead.
"I am not a frontrunner in this race, but I have not been a frontrunner at any time in my life," Castro said, adding that people who grew up in the neighborhoods he grew up in were never considered frontrunners. "I am going to go speak to them in a way that resonates with them."
He added: "My family's story is a testament to what is possible when this country gets it right."
Castro's personal story, along with that of his twin brother, Joaquin, has been central to his rise on the national stage and made up the bulk of his 2012 convention speech.
Castro was raised primarily by his grandmother -- who he called Mamo -- and Rosie Castro, his Chicana political activist mother, eventually excelling enough to attend Stanford University and, eventually, Harvard Law School. He returned home and served as a member of the San Antonio City Council and, from 2009 until 2014, the mayor of the city. Obama picked him to be housing secretary in 2014.
The former mayor was among a handful of contenders to be Clinton's vice presidential pick in 2016. Although he was eventually passed over for Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Castro said Clinton's loss and Trump's victory was the moment he began considering a run.
"Donald Trump represents the opposite of what I am and what I believe," he said. "For many Americans, a lot changed when Donald Trump got into office. And that is what has compelled me to think about running."
Castro's entrance makes him the only declared Latino in the Democratic field, a relatively powerful position given how the party has leaned on Latino voters and turnout efforts to tilt states like Nevada, Arizona and Texas their direction in recent years.
But Castro told CNN that he believes he can perform well in Iowa and is backing that confidence up, according to a source with knowledge of Castro's operation, by naming Derek Eadon, the former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, to a senior role on his nascent campaign.
Castro and his team have signaled in the lead up to Saturday's announcement that he will lean into his Mexican-American heritage in a presidential run. When the former mayor filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, he had to hand write in an accent over "a" in Julián, a fact that Castro and his team have held up as proof that he is already changing the system.
Evidence of this strategy peppered the plaza on San Antonio's West Side where Castro announced on Saturday: A mariachi band welcomed guests, as taco trucks fed people outside. The venue was blocks from Castro's childhood home and across the street from where he was baptized. Even Castro's logo - which emphasizes the accent over the "a" in Julian - highlights the former mayor's heritage.
Castro does not speak fluent Spanish, writing in his 2018 memoir that his mother spoke English at home, like many immigrants at the time, and that he declined to take Spanish classes in school because he spoke it with his grandmother.
"I've resolved that before I die, I want to speak it fluently," said Castro, who has used the program Rosetta Stone to learn the language.
Castro said ahead of his run that he hopes to provide a "positive example" to young Latinos with his run but won't solely focus on courting voters in heavily Latino states and shirk visiting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
"I am just going to be myself," he said. "My focus will be about representing everybody but of course there is a special significance to the Latino community especially because many Latinos feels like there is a target on their back from this administration."
Castro was reflective days before his announcement, acknowledging how his wife's support and mother's political work helped him get to this point. If he had a disappointment, he said, it was that is grandmother, who died when he was younger, could not be there to see him.
"I wish my grandmother could be with us to see it," he said. "Win or lose, I hope that I will have a chance to inspire a lot of young kids out there to reach for their dreams."
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