03 Julian Castro LEAD IMAGE
Washington CNN  — 

Julián Castro has dropped out of the 2020 Democratic race for the White House. But that’s not really the news. The news is what that says about the continued (white) state of US politics.

At a moment when President Donald Trump’s administration is keeping up its bigoted assault on both immigrant and US-born Latinos, Castro’s campaign illuminated the power of speaking in the first person, rather than being spoken for or about, on certain issues.

“It is meaningful to be able to run right now when the Latino community feels like this President has put a target on their back,” Castro told CNN’s Don Lemon during an April town hall.

With vigor, the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, scraped to reclaim a kind of authorship from a would-be authoritarian who has spent years demonizing Latinos (among others) in the American narrative – making sure that they know their place.

Now, Castro’s exit seems to confirm the opposite: that maybe America hasn’t come as far as some want to assume it has.

Or as Castro put it on Thursday: “I’ve determined that it simply isn’t our time.”

Which can be a hard pill to swallow. In a manner distinct from his peers, Castro, the grandson of a Mexican immigrant, embodied the notion of hard-fought belonging.

As the Democratic Party embraces its ballooning racial and ethnic diversity – an observable trend over the past two decades, according to the Pew Research Center – Castro’s candidacy felt like a natural response to that growth. Here was someone who used his identity as a means of prodding anyone who’d listen to think more truthfully about the many forms of marginalization in a country that still has its work cut out for it.

“What about Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Laquan McDonald and Sandra Bland and Pamela Turner and Antonio Arce?” Castro asked during the June Democratic debate. “I’m proud that I’m the only candidate so far that has put forward legislation that would reform our policing system in America and make sure that no matter what the color of your skin is, that you’re treated the same, including Latinos, who are mistreated, too, oftentimes by police.”

The sole Latino candidate in an increasingly monochromatic field, Castro was, in important ways, a progressive bellwether, having run on a platform that pushed his rivals on a variety of issues, including immigration.

For instance, during the June debate, Castro pointedly challenged fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke on the topic of decriminalizing border crossings.

“Let’s be very clear: The reason that they are separating these little children from their families is that they are using Section 1325 of that act, which criminalized crossing over the border, to incarcerate the parents and then separate them,” Castro said, referring to the government’s use of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. “Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O’Rourke, have not.”

It didn’t take long for Castro’s position to become a sort of magnet, pulling other Democratic candidates toward emulating it in their own policy plans.

And yet, with Castro, it was always about more than how he routinely kept one jump ahead of everyone else. It was about the radical, timely possibility reflected in his campaign.

The June debate was notable not just thanks to the sparring match between Castro and O’Rourke, but also because some of the candidates – the two aforementioned Texans plus New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker – attempted to speak Spanish.

Sure, their efforts were, on the whole, somewhat cringeworthy. (Castro has been candid about the fact that he doesn’t speak Spanish fluently.) But as Slate’s Lili Loofbourow wrote: “Staking out room for Spanish in these debates might not be quite the hilarious cosmetic affectation it’s been treated as; conservative displeasure suggests it’s a live issue in the ongoing battles over what belongs in our public sphere.”

Indeed, Meghan McCain perhaps predictably complained about “too much Spanish” in the wake of the debate.

But Castro did create room – a small room that was, in its own way, remarkably big.

“I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished together. I’m going to keep fighting for an America where everyone counts,” Castro tweeted on Thursday, along with a nearly four-minute video. And then, true to the bold spirit of his campaign, he added what felt more like a dare than a simple wish: “I hope you’ll join me in that fight.”