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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

There's a good chance America will eventually look a lot more like San Antonio. The Texas city has a majority Latino community, where English is the language of choice.

The mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, is young, photogenic, well-educated -and barely speaks Spanish. Yet he could be the model for a new kind of Latino leadership.

Maria Hinojosa, host of NPR's LATINO USA, has a profile.

MARIA HINOJOSA: The 36-year-old mayor is hard to pick out of a crowd. When he spoke at a rally for a San Antonio school bond issue earlier this year, Julian Castro looked a lot like the young people he was addressing.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mayor JULIAN CASTRO (San Antonio, Texas): We have an obligation, in this year 2010, to ensure that a whole new generation of young people has the best facilities, the best opportunity, to succeed in our schools. We need this bond issue for the future of our young people.

(Soundbite of applause)

HINOJOSA: And that future is going to be hard to ignore. Every 30 seconds, a Latino turns 18 in the United States of America. And that's just one reason to pay attention to San Antonio, where Latinos already are the majority.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you, good to see you.

Mayor CASTRO: Good to see you, yeah. How was the event today for...

Unidentified Woman: It was packed. It was packed.

Mayor CASTRO: Oh, good. Good.

HINOJOSA: We walked the streets of San Antonio with the mayor. It's clear that like Latinos across the United States, Latinos here are trying to figure out their place in mainstream American life.

Mayor CASTRO: In these last few months, especially with what's happened in Arizona, it seems like there is a target on the back of many Latinos, and a casting aside of their worth in the United States.

And the first instinct is to pull up your fist and try and fight that back, but I don't believe that that's necessarily the right course. I think the right course is to work within the community, to register voters, to turn them out, to focus on the positive. And if you get out and vote, politicians are going to have to listen to you.

HINOJOSA: Julian Castro learned politics at his mother's knee. He and his twin brother, Joaquin, who now serves in the Texas State Legislature, were politicized at an early age by the example of their mother, Rosie Castro, a single mom and Chicana activist. She was a driving force of La Raza Unida, a Latino third party in Texas founded during the 1970s.

Ms. ROSIE CASTRO: In my generation, we were not at the public policy table. You had to insert yourself into the political realities. You had to go to City Hall and demand things.

HINOJOSA: Today, Rosie's son sits at the head of the public policy table - at least in San Antonio.

Henry Flores is a political scientist and dean of the graduate school at Saint Mary's University in San Antonio.

Dr. HENRY FLORES (Political Scientist; Professor of Political Science, Saint Mary's University): Julian is a new generation of Latino leader in an interesting sort of way because he'll clearly tell you that two of his role models were his mother and Henry Cisneros - his mother because it kind of gave him the sense of community and activism; and Henry Cisneros because it showed a way to govern, and a way to hold himself up in public.

HINOJOSA: Henry Cisneros served four terms as the mayor of San Antonio before becoming Bill Clinton's secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Dr. FLORES: Rosie came up through the streets and was a community activist, but she came from the outside and was never accepted by the establishment, per se. Henry Cisneros was brought in by an Anglo establishment and eventually established himself.

Rosie and Henry kind of laid the groundwork for his arrival. And in an electoral sort of sense of way, in a participatory sort of way, he represents a third wave of Latino politicians.

Mayor CASTRO: You do have plenty of folks at the school board level, the city council level, the mayoral level, the state representative and senator level, who are a new generation of Latinos that are well-educated, that can make policy, and debate with the best of the folks around the nation.

And they take - hopefully - that legacy of what did happen in the past, and don't forget it, and learn lessons from it. But they're also able to operate in the America of 2010 and in that way, look out for everybody's interest and make policy that is going to help Latinos, yes, but is also going to help everyone that they represent.

HINOJOSA: Julian Castro: Stanford undergrad, Harvard Law, time on the city council, and now mayor. He may very well be the sort of Latino politician we'll see more of in the next American generation.

I'm Maria Hinojosa.

CORNISH: To hear more from Mayor Castro and his mother, Rosie, listen to NPR's LATINO USA, or visit latinousa.org.

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