Castro can take solace in the fact that having one’s authenticity questioned is a rite of passage for minority politicians. In 2007, the media wondered whether then-candidate Barack Obama could relate to African-Americans, since he was biracial and had lived outside the U.S. Time Magazine ran a headline asking “Is Obama Black enough?” Obama ignored such speculation and the rest is history.
True, it would be better for Castro’s career if he were completely bilingual. But that doesn’t mean he is “less Latino” than anyone else. The late Tejana singer Selena studied Spanish with a tutor, and the actress who immortalized her on film, Jennifer Lopez, admits her Spanish is not great. No one ever accused these icons of not being “Latino enough.” And many Hispanics who say they don’t speak Spanish know more than they realize. They may be self-conscious of gaps in their vocabulary, or lack an understanding of Spanish grammar, but their comprehension is often quite good.
No one – not a politician, not a celebrity, nor an average person – needs to be fully bilingual to be a “real” Latino. Language is only one aspect of our rich culture. Most Hispanics know this; it’s just going to take time before the media catches on. For now, Julian Castro is a political star on the rise – and that’s all that matters.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.