Erica Castro wants to be known as a Latina working mother because despite having a husband who is running for president, she’s worked hard to achieve her own success.
The Mexican-American teacher has dedicated 16 years of her life to education and this summer she celebrated 12 years of marriage to Mexican-American presidential hopeful Julián Castro. Caring for her daughter Carina, 10, and her son Cristián, almost 5, takes up her evenings after a day working as an elementary math instructional coach for Harlandale Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’ve dedicated 16 years of blood, sweat, and tears into that field and public school education has not gotten the attention it needs over the years,” she told HipLatina.
Though Julián’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination means he’s in the limelight now more than ever, Erica has always maintained a low profile while still strongly advocating for education.
That’s me 🙋🏽♀️ For 16 years, I have dedicated my life to being an educator. I’m ready to help ensure every student receives a quality education—from Pre-K through college & beyond.
— Erica Lira Castro 🎃 (@EricaLiraCastro) September 13, 2019
After being elected mayor of San Antonio in 2009, Julián successfully led an effort to launch a Pre-K program which was reportedly influenced by her. Later, she was a part of a campaign with Jill Biden encouraging people to pursue a degree in education and her influence is also evident in the development of her husband’s current educational plan.
“I’m still in the field of education and it’s important because still being in the trenches I know and understand how important it is for the teaching profession to continuously recruit quality candidates, especially when those candidates are reflective of the demographics of the school district or the campus that they serve,” she said. “A large part of a student being successful is that they are able to connect with their teachers, first and foremost.”
Growing up in San Antonio, where currently the Latinx community makes up 64 percent of the population, meant she grew up in a “bubble,” surrounded by fellow Mexican-Americans in her neighborhood. It wasn’t until she attended the University of Texas at San Antonio where she earned a degree in English, and later a master’s degree in educational leadership, that she was immersed in a diverse community.
Living in D.C. when Julián served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Obama administration also exposed her to a community more diverse than any she’d lived in before. With the current political climate, she and her husband have been vocal about supporting the Latinx community in the face of racist rhetoric and the border crisis.
“Now in the time we’re living in and the rhetoric that Trump is playing after, it definitely stings,” she said. “The Mexican-American community, we’re hard-working and proud community and we want to be respected.”
Similar to about half the residents in San Antonio who have a household income of less than $50k, she grew up in a working-class home. She’s one of four kids with three brothers raised by a single mom who was the senior secretary at San Antonio Community College.
“I was raised by a single mother, she did everything,” she explained. “She was the plumber, she would cut the grass on top of her full-time job and so seeing her do all this on her own only motivated me even more so to make sure that I’ve got all my ducks in a row, to be able to have a successful future.”
She’s no stranger to hard work having put herself through college by working full time and managing family and work for more than a decade now. She believes anyone can have it all, even though it’s never a perfect balance.
She gives credit to her “village” of supporters that includes family and colleagues who are also working mothers. “They help me get through it and find the best of the balance between work and home life as possible, even if that balance isn’t equal,” she adds.
That balancing act also extends to being a Mexican-American, that state of being in between two cultures that many Latinx can relate to.
She recalls how she enjoys listening to Daddy Yankee and Maluma but also Taylor Swift and how her music choices reflect her biculturalism. It shines through in the workplace where she presents math model lessons in Kindergarten through 2nd-grade dual language classrooms. She speaks conversational Spanish and can read and understand it well though her husband has been vocal about how not speaking Spanish doesn’t make you any less Latinx since he’s not fluent.
“I guess the best place to start is to say that there are Latinos who have lived here for generations,” he said in an interview with MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt. “My grandmother that I grew up with got here almost 100 years ago in 1922. In my grandparents time, in my mom’s time, Spanish was looked down upon. You were punished in school if you spoke Spanish. You were not allowed to speak it. People, I think, internalized this oppression about it, and basically wanted their kids to first be able to speak English. And I think that in my family, like a lot of other families, that the residue of that, the impact of that is that there are many folks whose Spanish is not that great.”
She echoes those sentiments and brings up how challenging it can be to straddle between two cultures.
“We constantly are on that tight rope that all the Latinx community are having to walk in living between two worlds. On one hand, we’re being told by some we’re not American enough and on the other, we’re told we’re not Latino enough,” she said. “Having to walk that tightrope can be tiring, can be stressful. Always having to prove ourselves to one community and the other as well.”
Like her husband, she’s third-generation Mexican-American and like fellow third-generation Latinx, English is more often used than Spanish. Their daughter attends a bilingual program and according to Erica, they are working to ensure they are not only immersed in both cultures but proud of it.
Grocery shopping and running errands on this beautiful Saturday. Wishing you all an amazing weekend! pic.twitter.com/BOMViClG9k
— Erica Lira Castro (@EricaLiraCastro) September 14, 2019
“My personal experiences living in both cultures have shaped and developed the person that I have become,” she said. “As a mother of two young children, it is a priority for me that they too also carry that pride of living in a bi-cultural world.”
If her husband were to become the 46th president of the U.S. they would be the first Latinx president and first lady in the history of the United States. As she considers life as the potential first lady, she names former First Lady Michelle Obama as an inspiration.
“As a professional woman and as a working woman while her husband worked in politics and even before President Obama took office, she exemplifies the working, political mom,” Erica said.
She also admires the Latinas working in news, specifically those on Univision and Primer Impacto and Adrienne Houghton from The Real, the first Latina daytime talk show host on English language television. “They definitely inspire me to continue growing in my own profession as they are in theirs,” she said.
Julián’s bid for the presidency spurred her to return to Twitter to support his run and her Instagram is littered with photos of work and family life but also her own personal interests. She enjoys watching reality TV (Dance Moms and Texicanas), reading books like The Handmaid’s Tale, and, of course, is a fan of Selena and Frida Kahlo. Now that she and her husband have a platform that can reach millions, she’s acutely aware of the limited narrative associated with the Latinx community and strives to combat it.
“Bottom line, we’re American too. We’re just as American as any other community in the United States and we ultimately want the same thing that everybody else wants. We wanna be able to have the American Dream,” she said. “We want to [have] careers, work hard, to send our children to great schools and live in great communities, so we don’t want anything different than other communities. We want the same things and to have access to the same things.”