Last week, America watched a new type of Democratic National Convention. It was more representative of our country and we were glad to see Latino entertainers, workers, immigrants, mothers, daughters, and elected officials representing constituencies at different levels of government.
Who was not highlighted in a prime time speaking role was former presidential candidate and secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration, Julián Castro. Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York was included only at the invitation of former presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders. While she maximized her 90 seconds, party protocol ate up her speech time. Why did the DNC miss this opportunity to showcase the promise of a progressive Latino voice for the future of the Democratic Party?
Castro was the first presidential candidate to advance a police reform plan that called for a national use of force standard, sentencing reform, the end of qualified immunity, cash bail reform, and investment in public defenders, and diversion programs. He called for the federal government to seek accountability for excessive use of force months before George Floyd’s tragic death forced people across the political spectrum to publicly affirm that Black Lives Matter.
As the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, the 7th largest city in the country, Castro made important contributions to improving the lives of Americans. He did not just present lofty ideas, he established policies to directly address them. Castro ran a bold presidential campaign that highlighted the plight of immigrant children detained and caged by the Trump administration on the US border. He advocated the repeal Section 1325 of the immigration code that makes it a crime for immigrants to enter the United States without legal status. He set the agenda on immigration which many other Democratic presidential candidates subsequently adopted.
As the only Latino candidate for president, Castro deserved more than an offer of a cameo in a pre-recorded panel, he deserved a keynote speech like other former presidential candidates. This is the source of concern; role models matter and are crucial in creating a pipeline of future leaders.
Just as the convention provided a platform to bring moderate Republicans into the Democratic Party tent, it was also an opportunity to appeal to the progressive elements — including Latino progressives — who make the Democrats attractive to so many. As party officials court the Republican base and more conservative sectors of the Democratic Party, they must also pay tribute and respect to all parts of the base if the party is to remain relevant, and thrive.
This year, 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in November 2020 — that is the largest non-white voting bloc and that is projected to grow as the overall Latino population becomes 28 percent of the US population by 2060. Some 800,000 Latinos turn 18 every year. Ninety-three percent of these are US citizens by birth. It’s time to include Latinos at all levels of the political conversation, not only as political surrogates or as tools for a diversity photo-op, but as full members of the Democratic Party.
Latinos have not been elected to the highest office in America — yet. Giving Castro a primetime role at the DNC would have been an investment in the future of the Democratic Party, an acknowledgement that it regards Latinos as part of the movement. Not giving him or Ocasio-Cortez prominent roles is disheartening; accomplished Latinos must be included in a significant way.
The DNC has always counted on the Latino constituency to go along. A large percentage of Latinos will probably vote for the Democratic ticket this fall because the status quo is unacceptable. However, voting for the Democratic ticket in 2020 doesn’t mean Latinos will forget this slight.
Luis R. Fraga is a professor and director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Luz E. Herrera is a professor and associate dean of Experiential Education at the Texas A&M University School of Law. Leticia Saucedo is a professor of law at the University of California Davis School of Law.