Graduate of UA law school overcame obstacles to reach the highest levels of government in Arizona and as a U.S. ambassador to three countries.
University of Arizona alumnus Raúl Héctor Castro, who overcame hardship and discrimination to become Arizona's only Mexican-American governor and a U.S. ambassador, died Friday in San Diego at the age of 98.
Castro had many ties to the UA, including his graduation from the James E. Rogers College of Law, his support of a scholarship fund in the Center for Latin American Studies in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and his donation of a manuscript collection to the University.
"Governor Castro had an amazing life — if there’s an ‘American Dream’ story, he epitomized it," said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "One of my favorite stories was how he came to the UA. He walked into the dean’s office and said, 'I can teach Spanish much better than any of your instructors, but you will have to do me a favor: Call the dean of law and tell him to admit me. You see, they won’t admit Mexicans.' The dean did, and that’s how he got into law school."
Born in Sonora, Mexico, in 1916, Castro was one of 14 children. His family moved near Douglas, Arizona, in 1926, and Castro attended Douglas High School, where he played football, edited the school newspaper and graduated with honors.
Castro attended Arizona State Teacher’s College (now Northern Arizona University) on a football scholarship, graduating in 1939, the same year he became a U.S. citizen. He applied for a teaching position in Douglas but was denied because the school board voted not to hire teachers of Mexican descent. Disappointed, he stowed away in railroad boxcars and traveled the country.
Castro eventually found employment as a foreign service clerk for the U.S. State Department in Sonora, where he often was the U.S. representative for Americans jailed in Mexico. The experience motivated him to apply to the UA College of Law. He taught Spanish at the UA while in law school and graduated with a J.D. degree in 1949.
After graduation, he practiced law for five years, was a Pima County attorney from 1955-59, and served as a judge of the Pima County Superior Court from 1959-64. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador from 1964-68 and as ambassador to Bolivia from 1968-69.
Castro made history in 1974 when he became the first and thus far only Mexican-American to be elected Arizona governor. After completing two years of his four-year term, he was chosen by President Jimmy Carter as ambassador to Argentina, a post he held until 1980, when he returned to Arizona to resume practicing immigration law and international law until his retirement in 2003.
"Raúl Castro’s life story is one that continues to inspire us. It is narrative about perseverance, overcoming adversity, the value of hard work and the power of education," said Marc L. Miller, dean of the James E. Rogers College of Law. "Even beyond that, his is a story about how to lead compassionately, with dignity and grace, never ceasing to look for opportunities to make things fairer and more just for others. His civic and professional accomplishments attest to his lifelong interest in improving the lives of others, and in building a caring society."
In 2005, Castro donated his manuscript collection to the UA Center for Latin American Studies. His papers, housed in Special Collections at the UA Libraries, include official documents, photos and memorabilia from his entire career.
"We are honored to preserve Raúl Castro’s papers in Special Collections, where they are available to Arizona citizens and scholars worldwide," said Karen Williams, dean of University Libraries.
Williams noted that portions of Castro’s papers have been digitized and a Web exhibit is available for viewing at http://digitalcommons.arizona.edu/x/exhibits/rhcastro. In addition, a physical exhibit of Castro’s papers is on display in the Special Collections reading room, as part of a legislative exhibit that recognizes key government leaders who have made significant impact.
In 2008, the UA Center for Latin American Studies and the Raúl H. Castro Institute at Phoenix College partnered to create a documentary on Castro, titled "Raúl H. Castro: Two Cultures, Many Challenges," which was directed by Sy Rotter and LuisCarlos Romero-Davis, a UA alumnus, and produced by Alberto Moore and Ginny Healy.
Castro also lent his name and financial support to a scholarship for undergraduate students in the Center for Latin American Studies. The Raúl H. Castro Scholarship Fund is awarded annually to outstanding UA students who study Latin America and are engaged in service learning.
"Raúl Castro was an important supporter of the Center for Latin American Studies," said Linda Green, director of the center. "He loved meeting LAS students and sharing stories of his younger days. And those who were fortunate enough to hear his stories couldn’t help but be inspired by his grit and success in the face of tremendous odds. We are proud to carry on his legacy through the Raúl H. Castro Scholarship."
In 2009, a floor-to-ceiling portrait of Castro was unveiled on the Heritage Wall in the Lewis and Roca Lobby at the James E. Rogers College of Law.
At the event, Castro said, "I owe my allegiance and heart to the University of Arizona law school. Getting a law degree was paradise from heaven. It made my whole life different."
Castro has received other accolades from the UA and Tucson community, notably a Lifetime Achievement Award from the James E. Rogers College of Law, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the UA Hispanic Alumni Association and the Legacy Award from the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce last fall.
To learn more about Castro, see photos and post on the message board, go to http://governorcastro.arizona.edu/.