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Julian Castro becomes first Hispanic to deliver keynote for Democrats

San Antonio mayor Julian Castro touts the Democratic education platform and President Barack Obama's record while portraying GOP nominee Mitt Romney as a danger to the American Dream. "It's a choice between a country where the middle class pays more so that millionaires can pay less—or a country where everybody pays their fair share," says Castro.

 By Sandra Lilley, NBC Latino

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For the first time in the Democratic party’s history, and in a sign of Latinos’ growing significance as a key voting block, San Antonio Texas Mayor Julian Castro was the first Hispanic to deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Castro, the son of a Latina community activist and an increasingly visible young Latino Democrat, had one overarching message to his speech — America is the land of opportunity, as long as it is a collective priority.

“Of all the fictions we heard last week in Tampa, the one I find most troubling is this: If we all go our own way, our nation will be stronger for it,” said Castro, adding, “because if we sever the threads that connect us, the only people who will go far are those who are already ahead. We all understand that freedom isn’t free — neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it,” said Castro.

The 37-year-old Mayor of San Antonio spoke lovingly of his grandmother, who left Mexico as a little girl, never made it past the fourth grade, worked as a maid, cook and babysitter, and later in life taught herself to read and write in Spanish and English. Castro said only in America would the grandsons of this woman would end up as Mayor (himself) and the other on his way to the U.S. Congress (his twin brother Joaquin). In fact, it was his twin brother Joaquin who introduced Julian, a powerful image of two young Latino politicians who were raised in modest circumstances and are now in the national spotlight.

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“The dream of raising a family in a place where hard work is rewarded is not unique to Americans,” said Castro. “The dream is universal, but America makes it possible, and our investment in opportunity makes it a reality — America didn’t become the land of opportunity by accident,” said Castro. Castro then gave a vigorous defense of Obama’s policies, saying Obama saved a million jobs by rescuing the auto industry, made a historic investment in public schools, and expanded college opportunities through Pell grants. Castro also said Obama succeeded where seven other American Presidents had not, in passing health care legislation.

Then Castro praised Obama for taking action on the Dreamers. “And because he knows we don’t have an ounce of talent to waste, the President took action to lift the shadow of deportation from a generation of young, law-abiding immigrants called dreamers.” He then urged Congress to “enshrine into law their right to pursue their dreams in the only place they’ve ever called home: America,” bringing cheers from the crowd.

Castro’s speech then went on offense against the Republican presidential candidate. “Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it,” said Castro. Criticizing Romney for telling students to “borrow money from your parents,” and saying to laughter, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Castro said, “I don’t think Governor Romney meant any harm.  I think he is a good guy.  I just don’t think he has any idea how good he’s had it.”

Castro then added, “The Romney-Ryan budget doesn’t just pummel the middle class — it dismantles it.”  He then said Romney says “no” to getting the middle class back to work, respecting women’s rights, “letting people marry whomever they love,” and expanding access to good health care . He also accused him of undergoing an “extreme makeover” on issues.

Castro  then ended his historic keynote speech on a note that touched on his immigrant grandmother’s journey.

“In the end, the American dream is not a sprint or even a marathon, but a relay…My mother fought hard for civil rights so that instead of a mop, I could hold this microphone,” said Castro, urging the re-election of Barack Obama to build on “shared prosperity.”  Castro’s speech was well received on the convention floor, eliciting enthusiasm and cheers of “four more years.”

Opinion: Castro should act like he belongs

After Castro, First Lady Michelle Obama gave a heartfelt speech in defense of her husband.

“After so many struggles and triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are — it reveals who you are,” said the First Lady to rousing applause. “But at the end of the day, all you have to guide you are your values — so when it comes to rebuilding our economy, Barack is thinking about folks like my dad and like his grandmother,” said Michelle Obama, who talked of her father’s struggles with multiple sclerosis, his pride at paying part of her college tuition, and Barack’s childhood as the son of a single mother who spent much time with his grandparents.

And in a pointed remark aimed at Republican comments that Obama has pitted classes against each other, the First Lady said “our families didn’t begrudge anyone else’s success or care that others had much more than they did — in fact, they admired it.”

Michelle Obama then passionately defended her husband’s record, saying he tackled health care reform, signed the Lily Ledbetter act,  and kept student loans from increasing, because for Obama, “these issues aren’t political — they’re personal.”  Saying he reads letters from Americans late into the night, she says, “I see how those stories … that’s what drives Barack Obama every single day.”

The First Lady also said, “If immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores, then surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at the American Dream.”  She then said, “we must once again come together and stand together for the man we can trust to keep moving this great country forward,” her husband, Barack Obama.

Castro’s and Michelle Obama’s speeches definitely roused the convention floor, and Democrats hope the energy and enthusiasm continue in the next two nights of the convention.

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