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Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford, autora de Raulito's Journey: El Primer Gobernador Latino de Arizona. Foto: Arizona Daily Star
Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford, author of Raulito's Journey: First Latino Governor of Arizona. Photo: Arizona Daily Star

The life of historic Arizona Governor Raul Castro becomes a children's book

Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford, author of Coco, brings children the story of a Latino leader who faced discrimination by overcoming all barriers.

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In the mid-1970s, an unprecedented event occurred in Arizona. In a state that had traditionally been the fiefdom of the most reactionary whiteness: a Mexican immigrant born in Sonora and of very humble origin became its first Latino governor. His name was Raul Castro. 

At the time, Hispanics made up only 10% of the country's population, not a third as they do now. Arizona was also experiencing a time of great internal migration, with thousands of white people from the industrial belt in California and other parts of the south moving there with their conservative ideas and their need, as had happened in the half-decade before, to prevent Spanish speakers at all costs from treasuring any rights, especially the right to vote. 

Castro, who had been homeless and survived by scavenging, did not tolerate the segregation suffered by Latinos and his anger and drive to change the situation led him to become a prosecutor, judge and even an ambassador. 

But most of all, he rose to the post of governor of one of the most fierce WASP states. How did he do it? 

This, in a nutshell, is the story told by Raulito's Journey: Arizona's First Latino Governor, a children's book that Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford, author of the book on which the Disney movie Coco was based on, including the title. 

"I just had a dream and I think I'm supposed to write a children's book about the governor," Rivera-Ashford said. "'Raulito becomes the Governor' was the title of my dream."

The announcement of the bilingual book by the University of Houston could not have come at a better time, given the situation in the United States, and moreover it does so on the 104th anniversary of Castro's birth. 

"It's very relative to the times we're going through right now," said the author, "He [Castro] suffered discrimination from the moment he was born."

The long road to leader 

Raul Castro was homeless during the Great Depression, and also tried to make a living as a boxer. He had attended university, but his dream of becoming a teacher was shattered because they didn't hire Mexicans as teachers.

Finally, the desire for change and a dignified life for Hispanics led him to become a lawyer and climb up to the role of governor, which he was only able to fill two years before Jimmy Carter ascended to the presidency and sent him as ambassador to Argentina. During his short term, the Mexican had supported women's rights and fought to increase the budget dedicated to fighting poverty. 

When he left Arizona, the state took a right turn, a matter that had been anticipated in 1976 with the arrival of radicals such as Preacher Jack, who prepared his militia for an all-out race war. Later, in 1986, Evan Mecham succeeded in becoming governor with a campaign based on fiercely attacking the Republican elite, with whom Castro had tried to establish good alliances during his term of government for the good of all. During the time Mecham was Arizona's top leader, peace and justice in the state seemed lost. He asked for a list of gay state employees, canceled the holiday in honor of Martin Luther King and chose a reporter to liaise with the Hispanic community arguing, according to NYT, that he liked her physical appearance.

Things were never the same in the two years that Castro was governor. But his memory is still very much alive. The Mexican showed that every ditch can be jumped, and every change is possible. Even if we have to be vigilant at all times.

"I was very moved by his story," Rivera-Ashford concluded.

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